Daymare: 1998 has had a long and fascinating road to release. Dating back a number of years, Invader Studios' project actually began life as a Resident Evil 2 remake. No, not that remake. It actually dates back to before Capcom’s announcement of its legendary return to Raccoon City. Once the publisher made it known it was tackling the title itself, the developer pivoted to this new, but eerily similar project. And while the product may not be up to the standards of a AAA project from a major publisher, the end result is a decidedly retro experience that gets just enough right to be worth your time.

The rural town of Keen Sight, Idaho finds itself as ground zero for a bizarre pandemic. A sinister corporation – Hexacore Biogenetics – has a massive presence in the town, and as you progress through the game’s surprisingly varied locales, their influence is felt more and more, as some sinister plans start to unravel. The game places you in the shoes of three different characters: Liev and Raven, members of the elite H.A.D.E.S. team, and Sam, a local forest ranger. These three navigate the town as it falls into chaos. While the characters technically change, Liev and Raven are barely distinguishable. Sam is a little different, but the gameplay doesn’t change any for him.

Daymare is a third-person action-horror game that plays near identically to what you’d expect from a Resident Evil title, albeit on a massively truncated budget. Budgetary restrictions wind up holding many aspects of the game back, but it still captures the spirit of its inspirations. Sure, the textures are muddy, and the animations are limited in scope, but the actual gameplay is still quite fun even if the presentation can be dicey.

The environments have an impressive breadth despite the graphical missteps however, as you’ll see many locales familiar Resident Evil fans: a hospital, the streets of Keen Sight, and even a high-tech secret lab. All of these places are chock-full of items to scoop up, as well as collectibles, and exploration winds up being the strongest asset at the title’s disposal.

Power weapons, better ammo, and lots of world-building collectibles adorn the eerie halls of Keen Sight. If you want to get the most out of these collectibles be prepared to do some reading as well; many of the collectibles span multiple pages of text and are sometimes so lengthy they completely disrupt the flow of gameplay.

The most rewarding items that you can find are the weapons, even if the total firearm count is threadbare. At any one point, you’ll have a pistol, a more powerful pistol, and a shotgun. And that’s it. The management of ammo is one of the game's most unique features, though. You have to juggle multiple magazines and hand load them, using a “combine” system that – again – Resident Evil fans will recognise. Not to mention the script, which is full of so many incredible lines of ridiculous melodrama and cheese that the game could have been plucked right out of the 90s. Nothing quite hits 'Jill Sandwich' level, but it comes closer than you might expect. That’s an unreasonably high bar to hit anyway.

The Resident Evil comparisons extend beyond the gameplay and narrative, too. There are many homages and winking nods to the series, from finding things like typewriters all over the place to movie posters, and more. In fact, this game is absolutely loaded with pop-culture winks. Under normal circumstances, these kinds of things can come off as eye-rolling and unsubtle, which is technically the case here. But these nods are so frequent and so fun that rather than be a source of irritation, they reinforce how passionately the development team feels about these subjects. There are some movie poster parodies in particular that are genuinely funny.

So between the exploration and truly fun pop culture integration, we were coasting through our 10 hours with the game. For a while. But the late game brought our enjoyment to a screeching halt. You go up against a recurring boss enemy a handful of times towards the game’s conclusion, and these encounters are, to put it lightly, aggressively unfun. We had particular trouble during a gauntlet sequence where we kept tripping fail states where it made no logical sense for them to be. After doing this 20 or so times, we wound up so discouraged by the game, we put it down for the rest of the day and tried to start fresh the next morning. These last forty-or-so minutes stand out massively in comparison to the rest of the game, as we were having quite a good time to that point.

Looking through another lens, however, it’s quite impressive that we didn’t really run into issues prior to the conclusion. A lower-budget title with AAA aspirations will almost always have some jank to it, but performance-wise, Daymare is actually quite sound; no crashes and no framerate hitches, which was honestly dumbfounding. Given that the amount of content isn’t really scaled back in relation to a AAA title targeting the same goals, it’s truly admirable. Hit detection when firing your guns will pop up now and again. It’s usually a minor problem, as the game provides an abundance of ammo, but once in a while, if a tougher enemy takes a hit that should’ve knocked them down, it can briefly create a panic.

Elsewhere, the UI is phenomenal, with your inventory management, collectibles, and map being integrated into the game via a wrist communicator that doesn't pause the action. This helps with the tension, as swapping magazines once you run out can be a very real problem if you don’t prepare prior to the encounter. This makes for some of the game’s best moments, as finding the exact right time to open that UI is critical. The soundtrack is also excellent, greatly enhancing the atmosphere of an already spooky title. The ambient tracks and more sombre tunes stand out quite a bit more than the action music, but all in all, the soundtrack is pretty excellent.

Conclusion

Daymare: 1998 is a low budget release with an ambition that outpaces its production values, but it's still a good attempt. There are stumbling blocks – hit detection, boss fights, animations – but the lighting is good, the soundtrack is great, and the exploration is satisfying.