Daylight is the procedurally generated horror game from Zombie Studios, the indie outfit best known for free-to-play first-person shooter Blacklight Retribution. It has the distinction of being the first game released using the new – and largely impressive – Unreal Engine 4, making this an attractive proposition for visual aficionados eager to see what the new technology can do. It’s just a shame that the software’s been tied to such a desperately disappointing game.
This is a rushed release that has very few redeeming qualities other than those mentioned above. Despite the promised graphical grunt of Epic Games’ tantalising toolbox, this dismal outing does a very poor job of demonstrating its advantages. Granted, the textures do look decent, but the environments are desperately boring. The game only has three or four levels to start with, and they all feel familiar; whether it’s a hospital, sewer, prison, or forest, they’re all decorated by a bland grey colour palette, meaning that you’ll be hard pushed to distinguish one corridor from the other.
And that leads us to the procedurally generated aspect. It’s undoubtedly a great concept that’s proven that it can be done well in the past, but it just doesn’t feel right here. As opposed to the carefully crafted layouts of more tailored releases, you’re instead tossed into nightmarish mazes, which are both a nightmare to navigate and also terribly dull. You’ll encounter the odd enemy or obstruction from time to time, but nothing to necessarily hold your interest.
Speaking of the enemies, the “combat” in this game is a breeze. There’s only one type of antagonist – at least, as far as we could tell – and it’s stopped by light. That means that you merely need to pop a flare and shine it at your pursuer in order to stop them in their devilish tracks. The enemies do increase in frequency as you progress, but it’s never challenging in the slightest. Indeed, the only death that this writer experienced came when a foe spawned inside our body – a nightmarish scenario for sure, but one that resulted in an unfair instant fail.
True, that may have been a bug – but this game is riddled with them. The first five or so minutes run at less than ten frames-per-second, while the entire affair chugs below 30 frames-per-second, with regular drops punctuating the experience from start to finish. This means that the controls never really feel as tight as they should, with the aiming handling loosely and simple actions such as climbing acting slow and stilted.
Not even the audio is up to par, which is a pretty pivotal part of a horror experience. One neat idea is that Twitch viewers can trigger sound effects by commenting on your session as you stream, but while this is clever, it’s little more than a gimmick, and adds very little to the experience. Moreover, the sound effects themselves are very poor, with enemies creating noises more akin to dubstep than the undead. Jump scares, meanwhile, are limited to rattling cabinets and clanging pipes, but they have almost zero impact, meaning that you’ll get through the game without even breaking a sweat. Even the soundtrack and voice performances feel out of place, cheapening the production of the campaign.
And then there’s the story, which has been penned by Jessica Chobot of IGN fame. Unfortunately, this falls flat on its face, as its tale – which we assume is supposed to tell the story of a mother and daughter’s relationship – never really comes close to reaching its full potential, and is subsequently disappointingly unclear. Even with collectibles available to flesh out the fiction, it’s never more than passable, and while there’s the promise of a plot twist to keep you going, this amounts to little more than a toe-curling conclusion which caused this writer to legitimately laugh out loud as the credits came into view.
However, it’s the fact that these issues are underlined by wonky design that’s the real disappointment. For example, the interface – which is restricted to your smartphone, and represents the most basic source of light in the game – is awkward, and the information on it seems largely redundant. Furthermore, the abovementioned forest level feels far too reminiscent of PC indie game Slender, to the point where it almost verges on plagiarism. To avoid comparisons, the solution may have been to cut it, but that would have made a short game even shorter.
Horror games can be tricky to get right, but Daylight fails on virtually every front. It’s a shame to see such a promising product slump so spectacularly, but despite being a rather short affair, this is still a pain to play through. As a result, there are far better experiences that deserve your attention ahead of this – especially with Outlast recently being offered for free on the PlayStation 4. Don’t shine your torch in the direction of this one, as you’ll only find bitter disappointment in its beam.