Review: Daylight (Sony Playstation 4)

Daylight
Genre: Adventure / Horror
Developer: Zombie Studios
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: 04/29/2014

Since the invention of the survival horror genre of video games, we’ve seen quiet a few variations of the initial “make every shot count” formula that started the ball rolling. Psychic links, setting traps, and even utilizing occult powered cameras from the 1800’s are just a few examples of what developers have given us as a means to survive the onslaught of whatever unspeakable terrors inhabit their horror themed games. Recently, in an attempt to heighten the element of true fear with an interactive experience, quite a few developers have built their game around the concept of not being able to completely eliminate whatever it may be that is out to get your player character. While we’ve seen similar mechanics in survival horror games such as Clock Tower in the past, newer games like Outlast take the mechanic of running for your life to new and sometimes even more harrowing levels.

Zombie Studio’s Daylight attempts to weave its tale of supernatural horror along these lines, giving you, the player, very little to use in your battle against the malicious spirits that stalk you through its dark and decrepit landscapes, while putting its emphasis on uncovering clues and items as your ultimate means to move forward.

As the protagonist Sarah, you find yourself inside a derelict building at the start of the game. A mysterious voice that identifies himself as a doctor seems to be speaking to Sarah via her mobile phone, which also acts as her main source of light. The doctor has instructed Sarah to scour the ruins of the building and put together the clues so that she can discover the truth of its sordid past. Though it’s never mentioned as such, I believe Sarah is using her phone in a video mode that is allowing the doctor on the other end to see what she does as she explores the game’s various settings. I personally thought this was an interesting concept in and of itself, but sadly, as I played through Daylight‘s short and predictable funhouse romp, this sole concept is really the only thing interesting I can say about the experience.

As Sarah’s main goal is to learn about past events that have led the building to the state it’s in and why this is important to her personally, the majority of the game is spent reading assorted documentation that can be found easily thanks to bright glow said paperwork emits. Collecting these notes fills up a scrapbook of sorts that, when completed, should make for a plausible record of events that explain the grim fate of the building, which you’ll learn was a mental hospital… which was then converted to a prison. Because a prison with a spooky history is even scarier when it used to be a mental institution with a spooky history, right? It’s through these notes that Daylight bombards you with just about every trite and cliché horror staple that one can imagine. It seems there was never a point in the building’s history that the place was not plagued with despair and suffering. The notes run the full gamut of “OMG THAT HAPPENED HERE?” back story. Disease, famine, multiple people falling to their deaths for unexplained reasons, patients going crazy, inmates going crazy, staff members going crazy, you freaking name it, and chances are there will be a note penned by some scared shitless guy from the 1940’s mentioning it to be found in Daylight. It’s literally a buffet of commonly used horror tropes, sprinkled generously over top of a single core story theme (that is also pretty common).

Since there are so many accounts of various terror and spookiness, very little is put into focus, and as such, there is no way to become invested or even contemplate any one underlying theme from the game’s narrative, and this is a real detriment, since the sole purpose of the game is to uncover these notes and put together the story. Instead of writing a scenario with a few, or even a handful of connecting narrative concepts in mind, Daylight assumes that the more potentially creepy back story it crams in, the more creepy the overall story will be. Such is really not the case.

The actual gameplay in Daylight definitely doesn’t deliver either. Much like the myriad of commonly used used horror concepts one can piece together by reading the many notes found within the game, the element of horror present in the actual gameplay is painfully by the numbers, repetitive, and woefully predictable.

Throughout the two or three hours it will take you to play through Daylight, objects will randomly fly off shelves here and there in attempts to startle you, ghostly moans and whispers will echo through the environment, and the protagonist Sarah will tremble and whimper… most times at nothing. Sarah often calls out into the darkness, “I know someone’s… there,” and while it’s possible you many encounter the game’s lone threat, a ghostly figure in a dress with light coming out of its eyes and mouth, chances are, again, it’s nothing. That is probably the biggest complaint I have with Daylight as a video game. Nothing really happens.

The goal of each of the game’s sections is to procure notes, which it refers to as “remnants”. Though they are usually easy to spot, using a glowstick item will illuminate the surroundings and highlight containers and objects one should check for either more glowsticks, flares, or notes. During this time, it’s possible to be accosted by the “shadows,” as the game calls them, which are the previously mentioned ghost enemies. Looking directly at the spirits will cause the screen to border with the maze like pattern that is often seen throughout the game, and if you can’t break the line of sight with the shadow in time, Sarah dies. Sarah can run away, as they typically do not chase far, or, in many cases, simply stare at a wall or floor until they go away. Using a flare item will chase the shadows away if none of the aforementioned tactics work. After enough remnants are collected, Sarah will have to collect a specific object known as a “sigil” within the level, and use it to unlock the way to the next area. While holding the sigil, Sarah cannot use a flare or a glowstick. Oh the horror.

Besides evading shadows, a handful of banal puzzles have been tossed into Daylight as a weak attempt to break the monotony of the overall experience. Pushing boxes to reach a higher area, turning on a switch to send power to another switch that opens a door, a “creative” use of a flare and a gas tank, etc… actually, that might be the extent of the puzzles offered. So forget that “etc.” It IS worth mentioning that Daylight is the first game to use the new Unreal 4 engine, though, and while nothing technically looks bad in Daylight, it really doesn’t seem to do anything with its visuals to utilize this new technology.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Daylight is a short, banal, and thoroughly forgettable survival horror experience. The game’s purpose is to uncover a story, but the core story itself is as predictable as its gameplay, and is covered with so much random filler that chances are you’ll forget what the point was by the end anyway. Your $15 would be better spent on a good horror film, or $5 more dollars can buy you Outlast, a game with similar intentions that actually delivers in most respects.

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