I ain’t afraid of no ghost – Daylight
Minimalist exploration games have been in vogue for a while now thanks to titles like Dear Esther, Gone Home, and Amnesia. These games wholeheartedly embraced the “less is more” mantra to deliver interesting experiences – with differing degrees of success. Daylight by Zombie Studios takes its inspiration from these games and tries to drag them into the next generation, on Unreal Engine 4 no-less.
The game begins abruptly as you awaken in a dark and dusty room, strewn with files and old furniture. Your only company is a cellphone and the creepy voice of an old man talking to you through its speaker. Daylight certainly does a good job of setting the tone. Other than knowing that your name is Sarah, you aren’t immediately aware of what series of events has lead you to this moment. Searching through rooms, while using your phone as a map, reading memos and letters reveals that you are in an abandoned asylum.
The asylum was used to house individuals that were haunted by supernatural phenomena. As you continue to explore it, it becomes clear that something is far wrong – even for an asylum for the haunted! Memos reveal the untimely deaths of residents and nurses, and even guards end up mutilated. It’s on Sarah to find out why these things are happening and why she is there.
Daylight’s action should be familiar to anyone that has played Amnesia or Slender. To progress the story you guide Sarah through the asylum, piecing together the story by picking up letters, or, “remnants”. Each area contains 6 different remnants and you must find them before you can progress. Finding remnants in the dark can be tricky and they can be easy to miss, but thankfully there’s no shortage of glowsticks in the asylum, which is…. convenient. Glowsticks have a couple of uses, for one, they reveal points of interest such as cabinets and hidden memos, and they also show Sarah’s footsteps on the floor to keep you from doubling back on yourself. As well as glowsticks there are also flares which are used to fend off witches – the sole enemy in the game. Running into a witch without a flare will weaken Sarah and can kill her if you don’t manage to escape quickly.
If you find all of the remnants a sigil will spawn somewhere nearby. Sigils come in the form of a doll, a pair of scissors and other spooky things. Obtaining the sigil and returning it to a designated area unlocks new locations and allows you to progress through the story. This particular mechanic proved more than a little frustrating though. Finding the room that the sigil spawned in isn’t easy, and we ended up walking around in circles. This issue is exacerbated by how similar each area looks. Points of differentiation are so few and far between that it is easy to get disoriented. Levels are endless corridors that mostly look the same. Presumably, the developer thought that this would further immerse the player, but the exact opposite is true.
While holding the sigil, Sarah cannot carry glowsticks or flares, meaning you must quickly run through the corridors to get to the next area. This mechanic introduces an element of uncertainty and fear. You will be cast into the shadows of the asylum, in its never-ending hallways with no means of defending yourself. Bounding down the corridors looking for the exit, with the distinct feeling that you are being followed is positively exhilarating. A couple of times we ran head-first into a witch and let out genuine screams of terror. Daylight is at its best when it uses its unpredictability effectively. Sadly,the scares aren’t always so thrilling. The game is largely a scare-by-numbers affair, with events plagiarised from the haunted house you’d see at the fair. It sometimes borders on cliché, using such standards as the “creepy little girl laugh”, or the “shadowy figure running quickly across the screen”.
Graphically the game is a mixed bag. Textures are largely brown, low resolution and unremarkable. Models are the same deal. Glimmers of Unreal Engine 4’s power do shine through though. Lighting and visual effects are superb and immensely atmospheric. Light shafts shining through boarded up windows, and the glowstick bouncing off of glass doors are particularly impressive. By and large though, it’s a disappointing debut for Unreal Engine 4,
Daylight can be, at times, a nightmare. Not only because of its content, but also due to its poor performance. Zombie Studios have neglected to optimise the game in any way. At present a large number of players are having issues from not being able to start the game, to having it run like a slide-show on dual Titans. During play we experienced extreme performance degradation and were forced to restart the game at each new area to keep the frame rate steady.
Despite the uneven performance and lacklustre action, we still found Daylight quite enjoyable. It’s story is immersive and interesting, and it can provide some real scares – especially at night with headphones on, in a dark room. It’s difficult to recommend the game given its ghoulish performance and so-so presentation, but if you are a fan of the horror genre it’s worth picking up on the cheap.
Daylight is available now on PSN and Steam.