A survival horror game in which an unfortunate individual finds themselves trapped in an abandoned mental asylum with a horrific, bloody past? No, it’s not Outlast. It’s Daylight, available now on Steam and PS4.
I make the Outlast comparison so early on in this review because I don’t think the similarities are a coincidence. Daylight’s protagonist Sarah even carries glowsticks that give the asylum a sickly, green hew in the same vein as Miles Upshur’s night vision camera.
Perhaps Zombie Studios hoped to capitalise on the emergent success that indie survival horror games have been enjoying recently. However, the aforementioned similarities to Outlast serve only as a nagging reminder that Daylight is nowhere near as good.
Our unlucky protagonist Sarah wakes up in a trashed mental asylum guided only by a vague, male voice on her mobile. Sarah is voice-acted, but I can’t think why. She has no character, and could have easily been silent. When she does speak, her commentary is often completely unrelated to what is happening on screen.
“I can’t see a thing” she’ll moan, even though the light on her camera phone and the glow from the glowstick seem to be lighting the room well enough.
“What was that noise?” she’ll shriek when greeted with complete silence.
“I know there’s someone in there” she’ll assert, despite the fact that the room is clearly empty.
Demonstratively, the voice acting feels completely disconnected from what is actually occuring on screen. The same could be said about the sound design. Sometimes a bell will suddenly ring out, but it feels hollow and distant. At first the sudden vague noises and screams unnerve, but before long you’ll realise that it’s just the soundtrack, at which point they’ll lose all effect.
In the vein of recent popular horror titles, Sarah has no weapons and has to deal with threats by either running away or banishing them with flares. The enemies are intimidating, and they have this disquieting habit of appearing on screen but not attacking until noticed, which does do a lot to keep the player on edge. Unfortunately, the fact that they can be completely dealt with by pressing one button reduces their threat level considerably. It never feels like Sarah is in danger, and as a result, it largely fails to be scary.
Each levels involves Sarah looking for six ‘remnants’ of the past, i.e. notes and memos detailing the history of the dingy institution , then collecting a random item that serves as a key, then unlocking a door with said key at the end of the level.
Daylight is procedurally generated, meaning that the layout of each level is randomised, but despite this it’s not difficult to find your way around. However, it does result in the levels being incredibly bland. I feels as if the developers only made four or five different environments and just chose to randomise how they were attached together.
The only reason I’d imagine anybody would want to play this game more than once would be to try and get a grip of the story. The island’s history is detailed in clichéd notes that coyly hint that all might not have been well in the hospital (surprise surprise) and that possibly, there might be supernatural elements at work.
The story is communicated mostly by the vague man on the telephone, who occasionally pipes in with some irrelevant, faux-deep line like “blood is thicker than water”. The story is fairly convoluted and not worth the effort it takes to understand it.
Daylight’s biggest flaw, of which there are many, is the fact that it has absolutely no atmosphere. Perhaps I’m becoming desensitised to the tropes of survival horror video games, but drawers opening and closing on their own just don’t do it for me. It does have fairly effective jump scares, but I jump out of my skin when an ambulance zooms past me on a busy road, and I wouldn’t consider ambulances scary.
It’s a shame that Daylight is such a failure, because there are clearly some decent ideas on show. The only time the game felt alive was when, out of nowhere, the environment shifted to somewhere completely different, filled with cacophonous noise. Then as quickly as the shift occurred, I was dumped back into the boring, repetitive environments yearning for the moment I actually felt something.
Daylight is one of the worst survival horror games I’ve ever played. It is ineffective in it’s attempts to scare, and it tells an unenergised story wrought with clichés. It’s hard to get immersed in a game when you keep noticing that you’ve seen each room at least twenty times before. Perhaps the employees at Zombie Studios should have gotten a bit more daylight when they were working on this game.
P.S. There are bags of glowsticks and flares distributed through-out the asylum. I assume this is just because the inmates liked to party hard.
A jaded horror enthusiast, I get my kicks hiding in cupboards from whatever hideous creatures happen to be around. However, I'm more than happy playing a wide range of genres on both consoles and PC. Apart from writing for Z1G, I'm also a History student.