There's a reason why the original three Resident Evil titles are so beloved. Through a mixture of terror, tension, and a good amount of cheese, Capcom birthed the survival horror genre back in 1996 and changed the way we perceive those bumps in the dark forever. However, there's also a reason why the industry has moved on from the design and structure of those PSone classics. Dawn of Fear proves both those points nearly 25 years later with an experience that's more of a tribute than a throwback. It's not a good video game, but there is so much to love.
To be frank, describing Dawn of Fear as a tribute to Resident Evil is actually a rather large understatement. The game from developer Brok3nsite wholeheartedly wears its inspiration on its sleeve with fixed camera angles, tank controls, zombies, limited ammunition, finite save points, and ambiguous puzzles. It gets to the point where the studio has quite literally recreated the opening minutes of S.T.A.R.S teams’ exploration of the Spencer Mansion almost beat for beat. A deliberate choice by the studio at the reins indeed, but it's one that pays off.
Backed by a truly ludicrous plot, you return to protagonist Alex’s family home -- uncovering a scene of complete and utter madness in the process. Zombies and various grotesque monsters have taken over the house's hallways and rooms to great effect, leaving you with only just enough bullets and medkits to survive the night if you're good enough. Exploring the environment is what you'll spend a vast amount of time doing, however, as you search for keys, clues, and puzzle pieces to aid progress through the house. Locked doors are an ever-present, elaborate brain teasers remain aplenty, and obscure files spread themselves far and wide.
It is classic Resident Evil in almost every shape and form. To the game's credit, you won't have to deal with limited inventory slots, ink ribbons, or item boxes, but it really does take the traditional survival horror concept and runs with it. It even pays homage to Silent Hill. An unsettling soundtrack provides the backdrop to many an encounter, except it's the tune of a piano which stands out the most. Had you told us beforehand that it was a track taken from the 1999 original, we would have absolutely believed you. It's that good.
The visuals don’t fare nearly as well, however. The game finds itself in an odd spot where it clearly looks much better than a PSone title, but then it isn't trying to push the limitations of what the small developer can achieve. As such, it appears to be stuck in no man’s land. This isn't a good looking game, although it doesn’t look bad enough to actually justify the style when its inspirations are taken into account.
However, that almost becomes an afterthought once the game's technical performance is brought into the equation. We're not entirely sure how it managed to pass PlayStation 4 certification to be perfectly honest. Dawn of Fear is absolutely plagued by game-breaking bugs and glitches which have the potential to force you into restarting the entire experience over again. From entire environments which fail to load in to the camera getting stuck between fixed transitions leading you to lose all control of Alex, it’s a game in very rough shape.
Unfortunately, however, it gets worse. We were able to replicate a glitch which puts a stop to all progress as you become stuck in an interface asking for a safe code. An hour or so later, a simple puzzle failed to trigger correctly, leaving us without the key it spawns. We had to start over again on both occasions.
The title is a technical disaster and yet, if its premise and set of mechanics are something you’ve wanted to see make a comeback, we still recommend you check the experience out. There's a whole lot of passion and love at the heart of Dawn of Fear -- proven by its commitment to being all things classic Resident Evil. You'll be frustrated by its issues time and time again, but then it will all be forgotten about in a flash of brilliance as a camera transition expands the scope of what’s hiding within Alex’s family home.
Dawn of Fear is not what you would typically consider a good video game and it most definitely does not perform like one. However, when it works, there hasn’t been anything else quite like it for the best part of two decades. Dawn of Fear is the best and worst tribute to Resident Evil at the same time, and we can't think of anything more intriguing than that.