Zombies, guns, and angry dudes in combat fatigues – together, these elements formed the holy trinity of 2000s survival horror, and birthed such everlasting classics as Resident Evil, Prey, and Left 4 Dead. Now, they bring us a new offering – Invader Studio’s Daymare: 1998, a third-person survival horror set to release later this year.
Invader’s Daymare riffs on a familiar theme; with the game kicking off after a biochemical experiment (read: zombies) goes wrong. Now, a small town in the middle of nowhere is transformed into a pit of bloodthirsty monsters, and a helicopter pilot, paramilitary trooper, and forest ranger must work to contain the break-out and uncover what caused it.
The plot is as cheesy and predictable as it sounds, but that’s okay – Daymare isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it leans into the 2000s survival-horror tropes that birthed the genre. The game drips in the visual cues that made games like Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid such hits, with rattly old computers that scroll vibrant green text, combat helicopters, and buff military commandos with names like ‘Sandman.’ The levels I played through were dominated by gloomy metal gangways, underground research caverns, and soviet-era machinery that were reminiscent of an earlier time in gaming.
The core mechanics aren’t anything new either. Players are encouraged to manage ammo, solve environmental puzzles, and hack doorways while battling their way through waves of zombies. The lack of innovation here is to the game's benefit, with much of Daymare's charm coming from its willingness to lean into mechanics and stylistic charms that have since fallen out of favour. Daymare returns players to a time when manual saves weren’t a thing, grey, skin-tight lycra suits were considered the future of military clothing technology, and survival horror was synonymous with controller-throwing bouts of frustration. And, for the most part, it succeeds.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. Outside of the visual aesthetic of the game, Daymare suffers from a number of mechanical issues that left a sour taste in my mouth.
The game’s autosave mechanic is the biggest offender. Players can’t save and reload on their own, instead – like the good ol' days of Resident Evil – they have to reach pre-determined checkpoints to save their progress. These checkpoints are few and far between, meaning that more than once I found myself restarting a level ten, fifteen, or sometimes even twenty minutes behind where I had left off, much to my chagrin.
It wasn't just the scarcity of checkpoints that I found frustrating. Their timing – often appearing at the absolute worst moments – sometimes meant I was beginning areas with major disadvantages. In one playthrough, for instance, I reached a checkpoint with almost no ammo left. To advance to the next room, I had to kill a monster – but, unfortunately for me, I didn’t have enough bullets to kill it. There was no ammo in the room, the monster couldn’t be killed with melee, and I wasn’t able to reload a previous save to start from the checkpoint before. So, after almost twenty minutes of dying, restarting, and dying again – I was forced to restart the whole game.
Another time, I reached a checkpoint on 5% health. Again, because there was no way for me to reload to a previous save (and because, as far as I could tell, there were no healing items on this part of the level) I had to make a choice between restarting the game or painstakingly grinding my way through a hallway stacked with zombies. Since I had already restarted once, I chose the grind – and hated every minute of it. It took me almost an hour to get through a level which shouldn’t have taken more than 15 minutes... but the auto-save mechanic had left me with very few options.
And that wasn’t the end of the mechanical issues either. Other problems included melee animation being inconsistent and difficult to use – not ideal for a game all about conserving ammo. Furthermore, puzzle instructions were unclear, and gun-play felt floaty and unsatisfying.
With these issues in mind, Daymare's nostalgia-inducing trappings are less charming than they are cloying. My time with the game left me wondering whether Daymare used the aesthetic of older games to hide their problems, rather than add to the overall feel of the game.
With all that said, I should make one thing clear: the game isn’t finished yet. Invaders Studio still have time to make significant changes in the next few months. Here’s hoping they do; the issues I encountered were frustrating – not only because they caused me mechanical issues, but because they distracted from an otherwise enjoyably cheesy game.
I have to say: as it stands, there’s not a lot to love about Daymare: 1998. The cheesy dialogue, throwback 90s aesthetic, and unique survival mechanics make for a tongue-in-cheek horror game that’s interesting and potentially fun to play. But the mechanical issues and occasionally too shlocky story-telling frustrated my attempts to enjoy the preview.
But that’s not to say Daymare won’t work for others. Fans of survival horror might want to stick around – I’ve no doubt that Invader Studios will be hard at work refining the game over the coming months.