Daylight Review: Random access misery
Successful horror is 90% unpredictability and 10% actual creepiness. Look no further than Slender: The Eight Pages for a perfect example -- the monster itself looks ridiculous, but it gave so many people nightmares because it was unpredictable. Daylight is a new game that attempts to expand on Slender's concept but fails utterly in that vital 90%.
Daylight wears its game design on its sleeve. You use glowsticks to light the way, you use flares to ward off ghosts, you look for five pages, you find a key, and you open a door. Rinse and repeat three more times and you’re done. From top to bottom, this randomly generated game is ironically more predictable than any horror game should be. Its systems are laid bare for the player -- anyone who plays games regularly will figure out its tricks within the first 30 minutes of this brief, two hour experience.
You play as Sarah, a woman who wakes up in a horror game mecca - a former hospital-turned-institution-turned-prison, built upon a large sewer system, with some creepy woods right outside. She’s armed with a cellphone that A) Features some very convenient video game mapping software, B) Gets perfect service throughout the entire game, and C) Can run a flashlight, GPS, and a non-stop phone call for hours at a time. On the line is a male voice who provides cryptic guidance and hints at Sarah’s purpose for being there -- a mystery with a twist you’ll probably guess within the first five minutes.
Each new randomly-generated area is preceded by a loading zone filled with additional notes and some canned jump scares. I assume it wasn't the goal of the game to telegraph that these are safe areas, or that they're masking load times while Daylight generates its next level. The loading is especially bad, and at least on PS4 the loads aren't masked at all, rather the game hitches and sputters for several seconds at a time. It wouldn’t be fair to throw legitimate enemy encounters at you under those conditions.
Between the five notes in each randomly generated area, and many, many more in the sections between, Daylight features a ton of reading. Notes are scattered across this game's world like coins in a Mario game. Note after note exposes the entirely dull history of this abandoned hospital. From patient reports to journal entries, each note is jam-packed with typical horror cliches and dry writing. Bottom line: this isn't a good way to tell a story.
The more important question, or course, is whether the game is scary. The answer is a resounding yes, at least in the opening half-hour or so, but as the systems reveal themselves it quickly falls apart. Daylight’s randomized levels fall into all the traps you’d expect. Areas are assembled from a handful of hallways and rooms that are sloppily copy-pasted together. My version of the prison block featured a main office and common area that was pasted into the environment in two or three different spots. That complete disregard for realism stripped away any atmosphere the game had.
The notes you collect, extra glowsticks, and flares are all randomly distributed throughout the environment, as are the frequency of ghost encounters. Their distribution is a mess, though, resulting in instances where I never found the items I needed, followed by second attempts where I completed the level in a minute or two. In one particularly rough instance, I ran out of flares and glowsticks, I was convinced the last page I needed was nowhere to be found, and I was assailed by so many ghost encounters that they started doubling up on each other. On my next try I found three notes in one room and maintained a full stock of items.
Daylight accomplishes nothing. Its attempt to expand on the Slender formula is only enjoyable for as long as you’d ever want to play Slender anyway, and it isn’t nearly as effective. The one wrinkle it has over better horror games, like Amnesia (or even Outlast), is the randomly generated environments, but they simply don’t work. The story is a mish-mash of urban exploration and lame ghost stories with one bright spot -- that it features a female protagonist. Yet even that goes to waste, as she’s just a plot device for the end-game twist, rather than a developed character. There’s simply nothing about Daylight that hasn’t been done better elsewhere, leaving me with no choice but to recommend you avoid it at all costs.
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