The ’90s was a time where a very particular type of survival horror game ruled. These glacially paced bullet-sponge laden meanders down dark corridors were quite commonplace but are seldom seen these days. Invader Studios aims to give old-school survival horror fans a little taste of what they’ve been missing. The waters of 90’s video game nostalgia are deep and ripe for trawling, but one aspect of nostalgia is that it seldom represents reality. Nostalgia, by its very nature is an idealised, almost fictionalised recollection of past events, feelings, and experiences. Sometimes you can go back, but you might find unexpected horrors when you revisit these almost forgotten places, and no number of successful headshots can put them or you out of their respective miseries.
Daymare 1998 began its development as a fan remake of Resident Evil 2. But as Capcom ended up jumping on that idea themselves, the team at Invader Studios decided that rather than scrap all their hard work, they instead would develop their own IP. The team’s passion and dedication are apparent throughout, as is their obvious drive to deliver a title leveraging all that made the Survival Horror genre (in)famous in the ’90s. For better but mostly worse, they have succeeded.
The dead have risen! Your job is to shoot them! I am sure there is more to the story than that, but I rarely gave it much attention. After the first few clunkily written and appallingly voice-acted cutscenes, I gave up even attempting to pay attention to the overly cliched story. I am also not sure if the awful acting and writing are a result of budgetary limitations or a genuine design choice made to pay homage to all of the terrible voice-acting and eye-rollingly awful writing infecting every Japanese developed horror game in the ’90s. I think it might be the latter because that design ethic weighs down every aspect of this title, and every single one is as tone deaf as the acting itself.
The real problems in the game, however, are not with the story, writing, or acting but in the action itself. When I first started playing, I thought my controller was malfunctioning. My character’s movement and the camera were oddly unresponsive, almost like there was some lag or frame-pacing issue that made moving the sticks not quite match the in-game responses. After some testing in other games, I concluded that it was the game and not the hardware that was at fault. Sadly this jank infects all of the on-screen action. The game by design is slow and deliberate, but by not making the controls feel right I was more frustrated and distracted than anything the game was trying to make me feel.
Combat is pretty much as you would expect. While eschewing the traditional fixed camera of the early RE titles for an over the shoulder view, I still struggled to effectively aim my weapon at the meandering monsters shuffling their way to my delicious flesh. As expected, our otherwise well-equipped soldier protagonist is living in a world of perpetual ammunition deficiency. Again like with the writing and acting this borrowed game element is clunky in its execution. Where RE and its ilk made conservation of ammunition a core part of building tension and increasing the threat of the monsters, here it just feels like sloppy pacing and poor monster design. As a result, combat is an overly laborious series of slowly backwards walking exercises in tedium, which I think were supposed to be tense. The combat feels like a copy and paste of earlier ideas with little to no understanding of the design behind them.
The same issue repeats with the puzzles. They’re there because that’s what these games had back in the day, but once again they feel pasted in rather than designed to work with the game as a cohesive whole. Everything in the game is borrowed from other much better games. This is not the issue, as that is what Daymare: 1998 wants to be. Where Daymare fails is in doing something interesting with these ideas. The slavish dedication to recreating a 90’s survival horror game above all else has ended up leading the team down its own darkened dead-end corridor.
On the presentation front, I was both impressed and underwhelmed. For a small indie team, I think they’ve done a solid job of giving their dark corridors and decomposing enemies a decent level of polish. That said, they are very derivative and not quite up to the level of quality you would expect from a game released in 2019, even one that is attempting to deliver a retro experience. Thankfully, there has been a lot of attention given to all of the environments. They all feel meticulously handmade and for the Easter egg hunters out there you’ll no doubt delight as the countless nods to 90’s horror. This was one feature of the game I truly loved. If I could go back to explore the game without the zombies just to find all of the half-hidden tributes I probably would.
Daymare: 1998If Daymare: 1998 was a mod, I could forgive many of the issues it has, but when you’re asking for money for a product that product needs to meet a certain standard and be fit for purpose. Sadly it is not. I am sure that the hardest of hardcore fans of the genre will find something to enjoy here, but even this horror nerd could not find any joy, fear, or fun here.
- Amateurish writing.
- Ponderous action.
- Mediocre graphics.
- Constantly confuses tedium with tension.