The last few years have seen numerous attempts at the asymmetrical multiplayer experience, but none have exactly hit the mark to such a degree as say, the infamous Team Deathmatch format. The most memorable of these attempts is Evolve, which saw an alright reception, progressively dwindling player numbers, and a confusing fumble into the free-to-play model. Dead by Daylight clearly seeks to step out of the shadow of these previous genre failings, adding complexity and thrill into an often quick to stale format, but does it succeed or simply remain stagnating in the darkness?
The interactive slasher movie theme for this genre is such a natural fit, it’s starting to feel overdone – especially when you consider that this PS4 edition of Dead by Daylight released in such proximity to Friday the 13th: The Game, which follows almost exactly the same formula. Nevertheless, Dead by Daylight seems to have a few tricks up its murderous sleeve to not only differentiate itself but to also try and stay relevant past the first few games. Set within randomly generated arenas with themes such as an abattoir, scrapyard, cornfield, and – but of course – an asylum, up to four Survivors are tasked with engaging five generators to power the exits and escape, while the Killer hunts them down to hang them on sacrificial meat hooks. Once hooked, survivors are duly sacrificed to The Entity, an ominous dark being that helps lend cause to the Killer’s murderous romp.
Everything in Dead by Daylight synergises well in a continual effort to remain balanced. By including the goal of sacrifice, actually removing survivors from the game is a lot harder than simply bludgeoning them into oblivion, giving cause for tactics and forethought. The Survivors can escape or be rescued from these hooks, too, meaning you’ll have to decide between guarding your prey, hunting the rest or deviously utilising the impaled player as a lure. Playing as one of the six Killers is extremely good fun and each one has a unique ability that suits very specific ways of play – The Trapper works great with those that can preempt Survivor movements, using his bear traps to capture or wound them, for example.
It’s worth giving each Killer a few runs to see which one suits you best; that being said, not all Killers are created equal as some have abilities with trade-offs that are wholly not worth it. The Nurse, for example, can blink short distances, which sounds neat until you realise that there’s an awkward cooldown that shakes the screen and slows your movement for a few seconds. In most cases this renders the blink utterly pointless as your prey’s already legged it out of view. There’s a trade-off of sorts for all the Killers’ abilities but in the right hands we’re sure they’re all ruthless, some just have a far steeper learning curve. Beyond individual abilities, each Killer can level up using the Bloodweb, an array of perks and single-use boosters that are purchased using in-game points and can really give the edge in some games, especially ones that reach the climactic rush for the exit.
While the Killers feel deep, individual and tailored to playstyles, the five Survivors seem like more of an afterthought. They don’t have unique abilities from the get go and instead can gain perks by reaching higher levels or through the Shrine of Secrets. The Shrine is a selection of perks that refreshes weekly and offers perks that can be purchased using a separate and harder to gain point currency. We played over 30 games and still don’t have even half the amount required for a perk from the Shrine. Survivors just have more of a grind to obtain anything of dramatic note in comparison to the killers, which doesn't help them feel like a rewarding or engaging mode of play at all. This is only amplified by the lack of a playable tutorial, leaving your first few games a very confusing, short-lived, and bloody experience.
The Killer views everything in first-person whereas Survivors get a handy third person perspective, giving them the ability to survey their surroundings. It's nerve-wracking stuff and you’re always on the lookout for things that could giveaway your position: the thumping heartbeat that notes the Killer’s proximity or the terrifying red glow of their eyes. So games can be tense and thrilling throughout but so much of the gameplay feels weighted in favour of the Killer that it feels like wasted effort playing as anything else. It's worth mentioning that we actually never managed to escape an arena in over 15 games as a Survivor, while we killed at least three survivors in almost every match as the Killer. This was probably not helped by the constant and most notable bug we faced, which caused our camera controls to invert whenever we were hooked by the Killer – something we're dearly hoping gets patched stat.
The asymmetrical multiplayer genre seems to be a real tough nut to crack with each heavy hitter coming out swinging, only to be plagued by nuances that trip up the experience and expose debilitating cracks in the mechanics. Unfortunately, it seems that Dead by Daylight suffers much the same fate. It’s honestly really good fun, but the more you play the more its issues rear their head and become points of ire.