Horror games are going through somewhat of a renaissance recently, with more and more genre developers taking away the guns and action set pieces of past games and replacing them with scares. Newer hits like “Outlast” have proven that a minimalist approach to horror can be more effective — and marketable — than yet another “Resident Evil” clone.
“Daylight,” the first-person survival horror title from Zombie Studios and gaming personality Jessica Chobot, follows this minimalist trend. The game is simple, both in story and gameplay, sometimes to its own detriment. The simple approach begins with the storyline, which is largely a simplistic retread that uses nearly every overly familiar horror trope available.
You play as Sarah, a young woman who awakens in an abandoned mental hospital with a bad case of amnesia. A disembodied voice tells her to wake up and find the secrets of the hospital. Being the dutiful video game protagonist that she is, Sarah grabs her dying cell phone and takes off on a journey that will uncover secrets not only about the hospital, but herself.
This translates into gameplay that has your protagonist searching through levels for notes, newspaper clippings and memos that also tell the story. In order to progress to the next level, Sarah must collect a certain amount of these notes, which are randomly distributed in file cabinets, medical boxes, crates and the like. Glow sticks, sprinkled throughout the game, can be used to highlight the containers that can be interacted with, which eases the tedium of searching everything.
This means that the entire game revolves around moving from one end of the level to the other, clicking on every glowing piece of scenery, hoping it contains a note so that you can progress to the next level to repeat the process. If that sounds a bit dull, that’s because it really is.
With this being a horror game, the trek from one locked doorway to the next isn’t completely without excitement. As you wander the halls, disconnected phones will ring, boxes will fly off shelves and spooky voices call from the shadows.
The main scares come from ghosts that manifest suddenly, and at random, usually directly behind you. These ghosts can kill and must be driven off using only the light from flares you find throughout the levels.
At least, that’s what the game tells you to do. The enemies pop up quickly and the health they drain seems to be arbitrary. Sometimes you’re dead before you can react. Other times the ghost just stops and stares before vanishing. The tactic I found most effective was to simply ignore them. If you keep moving, they do nothing to you. The fright factor is somewhat lessened when simply ignoring the supposed threat is the best approach to staying alive.
The game also does a very poor job of telling the story, or even expressing the simple tasks it wants you to accomplish. For instance, the voice that is directing Sarah’s action will tell her to “find the sigil” after collecting the required amount of notes. Astute players will know roughly where this might be found, but what is not explained is that in order to progress, you must then click on a specific, unhighlighted bit of junk found among other floating bits of junk.
The notes that tell the bulk of the story are so boilerplate as to not elicit any sense of emotion. Guards are hearing noises, doctors are conducting illicit experiments, a bad thing happened on hospital grounds long ago, etc. A very basic story can still be told well, but when it’s not, as is the case with “Daylight,” it becomes a weight that drags the entire experience down. The double team of amnesia and poorly explained story elements sink what could have been an interesting, if somewhat predictable, storyline.
The visuals on a PC are solid enough, though I can’t say there is anything breathtaking on display here. It is the first game to use the new game engine that we’re going to see in the industry for years to come, so if you’re interested in checking out the new tech, this might be worth a look.
The last thing to mention is that the game is extremely short. I took my time trying to track down every note in the game, and even with my meanderings, I finished the game in little more than two hours. That might be a bit short for some, especially at the $14.99 price point. Zombie Studios seems to know this, so PlayStation 4 users will be able to get a discount on it for the next two weeks.
“Daylight” has the components of a decent game. A new writer tackling an underutilized bend to the horror game genre and a new game engine were enough to get my attention back in January. Sadly, the game feels more like a collection of neat ideas left largely unfulfilled.
Bottom line: If you’re a hard-core horror fan searching for something new to play, “Daylight” might give you some enjoyment for a couple of hours. Other gamers can probably skip this one.
Platforms: PC and PlayStation 4