Promoting itself as a procedurally-generated fright machine designed to induce terror, involuntary squawks, and full-body spasms, Daylight looks to connect with horror fans as well as a generation of voyeuristic screen junkies currently mainlining Let’s Play Twitch streams and the seemingly inexhaustible supply of YouTube reaction videos. Playing as amnesiac Sarah, the player is initially tasked with exploring an abandoned hospital guided only by a mysterious voice over her cellphone. The why is the mystery and central thrust of the game. It is up to Sarah to discover why she there, and perhaps discover something more about herself in the process.
While not an original idea, it works as a solid enough starting point for a horror game, and darkened corridors, an underpowered light source, and the lack of weapons certainly tick all the well-established boxes of the survival horror game.
Sarah makes her way cautiously through the dark, armed with only flares, glow-sticks, and her cellphone for light. The phone is also a mini-map, and is one of the few aspects of the game that actually works really well, as the map it provides allows for easy navigation for each of the randomly-generated levels.
The limited penetration of the phone’s light keeps large areas of the screen shrouded in deep shadow, providing plenty of dark corners for all sorts of nasties to hide in. If there were any nasties to be wary of, that is. The first hour of Daylight is all moving furniture and ghostly figures off in the distance. When the actual monster eventually does appear, it provides one of the very few actual scares to be found in the game, but it’s so easily countered by a conveniently found flare that it loses all its monster cred after its second or third appearance.
This problem is compounded by some strange design choices, amateurish writing, and immersion-breaking technical issues, which see Daylight flat-out fail to deliver on any of its promises of horror.
The clues and notes Sarah is tasked with locating to unlock levels and build the world are so badly written that they actually do more to break immersion than build it. Official patient and incident reports were obviously written by someone who took no time to research correct terminology outside of perhaps a bad made-for-TV movie, and actively weaken the game experience. The real game-breakers, however, were conscious design choices rather than creative shortcomings.
The first is that Sarah is able to sprint entire levels, presumably due to her ultra-marathon endurance. The second is the unlimited battery life on her phone. These break the mood of the game and completely destroy any potential tension before it has a chance to build. Add in awful clipping issues where a flare or glowstick will pass through any wall Sarah walks up to, some glitchy interactions prompts, and environment snags, and it becomes all-too-apparent that this game needed a lot more time to cook, and perhaps a whole new recipe as well.
Unfortunately, even the advanced tech of the Unreal Engine 4 can’t save Daylight, providing no real graphical improvements over any last gen title except for some nice lighting and some subtle post-processing effects. It’s a very underwhelming introduction this “next gen” graphics engine.
A good horror game knows that in order to succeed it needs to establish threat, then apply pressure and build tension. Once it’s ratcheted to almost unbearable levels, the payoff is triggered in an explosive, bowel-loosening instant. Those moments are what bring players to the genre. Knowing how to balance these moments and when to deliver them is why games like Amnesia and Outlast work so well, and why Daylight sadly fails.