Wot I Think: Daylight

By Alec Meer on May 9th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

Daylight is a first-person horror game made with the Unreal 4 engine, set in a spooky hospital with a procedurally-generated layout, and is focused on evasion rather than combat. I turned the lights out to see what I could see.

I don’t scare easily, at least not unless someone puts dead shellfish in front of me. Or tries to stick a needle into my arm. Or starts a conversation with “have you heard the new Coldplay song?” Or asks me to perform sums. Or tells me the house is out of milk. Or inquires about what I think I’ll be doing for a living in ten years’ time. Daylight did scare me though – well, not quite scare, so much as pull me into a sustained state of dread and tension, even though I was simulatenously sneering at its tidal wave of horror stereotypes.

Borrowing liberally from the legion of ‘aiee! A spooky, skinny person over there!’ Slender Man games which launched the demi-careers of a hundred thousand pantomime YouTube babymen, this also throws in the abandoned hospital’n'spooky ghostlady memes that horror films and games have made hay with for years. It’s a walking game rather than an action game, with a fairly contrived structure which sees you collecting a fixed amount of menace-laden documents from each level in order to open up an exit. A limited supply of jealously-guarded flares keeps the growing number of murderous ghosts at bay for a time, but in a neat and reliably harrowing twist, you can’t hold a flare at the same time as you do the object which acts as a key to the exit.

What this means is that holding a large, stuffed teddy bear in one hand becomes one of Daylight’s most effectively terrifying moments. Because of Reasons, that bear is a mystic totem that will let you out of this section of the hospital, so it can’t be put down. Sure, sure, we can do the Doom 3 torch argument here (though the defence is that a mobile phone with a map and a weeny flashlight is forever held in the offhand), but let’s just roll with the concept. It’s that bit that every FPS used to do, when you have your guns taken away from you for a spell, and are beset by panic at the loss of your only means of defence. There’s no searching for the backpack which handily contains every last lost bullet here though – instead you helplessly sprint, as the Ringu-inspired ghosts tirelessly pursue you, terrified that if you don’t reach the door in time they’ll…

Wait one cotton-pickin’ minute. What exactly was I so afraid of? A loading screen? Lost time? Some grisly animation? Simply the concept of unthinkable, unseen things being done to me by this pale-faced, long-armed horrors? No – all those are short-term issues, ones that would burn out after a few Game Over screens. Instead, Daylight has another smart trick up its geriatric meme-adorned sleeve. When you die, or otherwise restart a level, its layout will be randomly-generated afresh. Whatever your phone had mapped, or whatever doors and unsettlingly-dilapidated furniture you’d memorised the location of, will be lost forever. Tears in the rain. Or ‘grey-brown corridors in the memory cache’, but no quite so poetic, eh?

So you’ve got to figure out how to get out all over again, and the game will hurl scripted moments of falling furniture, slamming doors and mysteriously-extinguishing lights at you all over again. Because this is a very short game (90 minutes to three hours, depending on your play style and confidence), and one intended to be replayed multiple times, this does keep up the tension rather than incite ennui – at least on your first campaign. Second time around I was that much more conscious of what was in Daylight’s box of tricks, and different corridor patterns could no longer remix the game enough to keep it vibrant.

For those first couple of hours however, it is legitimately scary. Legitimately scary despite itself – the gibberish-laden Vincent Price impersonation from an unseen advisor (or is he, etc) and wooden attempts at goonish fearfulness from the lady you’re playing as are just about outshone by some extremely effective environmental sound design and a pounding sense of uncertainty and vulnerability. Horror’s at its most effective when it’s about imagining what might be around the corner, not when it’s about what you actually encounter around that corner, and so it is that the bulk of its monstrous audio cues are sounds from the far distance rather than in your face.

Booms and moans and screeches – standard fare, but well arranged to suggest terrible things in a place you might later have to go to, and usually occuring when you’re in an empty place. I had to take regular time-outs – not from overt fear, but simply as tension release. I was forever braced for something awful to happen. As it is, Daylight’s pretty formulaic and Terrible Things broadly fall into known quantities before too long, but for a couple of hours it pulled off an atmosphere of dread and made itself difficult to play for the right reasons.

Sadly it’s difficult to replay for the wrong reasons. On the first playthrough, it’s distracting that Daylight is one-note tonally, unconvincingly written and acted, and unwisely tethers progress to increasingly drearily combing environments for every last scrap of ‘oh no something terrible happened here once and everyone’s dangerously mental’ paperwork. On the second playthrough, it’s oppressive. At a guess, self-awareness of this is why the game’s so short, but by God another pass on the writing and more care about voice-acting would have made the world of difference.

Armchair designer time here – I’m confident keeping the protagonist in a state of Freeman silence would have been far more effective. As it is, there’s too much dissonance in the fact she can be simultaneously stuttering “who’s there?” three times in a row while confidently picking up flares or pushing door unlock buttons. The character’s pantomime fear is not the player’s silent but far more strongly-held fear, and that jars throughout.

(I say silent fear, but this is a game knowingly made to cater to the Twitch and Let’s Play crowd, with all their blue-faced clown wailing. Part of me wonders if that’s the reason the writing and acting is so woeful – was this a case of seeing all the Slender vids and thinking $$$ hurryhurryhurry?)

Also, apparently this is the first Unreal 4-powered game. I dunno, it looked okay, I guess.

Daylight is out now. You need a DirectX 11 graphics card to play it.

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44 Comments »

  1. CookPassBabtridge says:

    To (mis)quote Markiplier:
    “So much nope”

  2. Post-Internet Syndrome says:

    Got this with my new graphics card, so will try it out. Haven’t had the urge yet though.

    Unrelated: The “remember me” option on log in to the comments never remembers me. What’s up with that?

  3. Einhaender says:

    Fun fact: the game was written by Nerdist’s Jessica Chobot.

    • Pulstar says:

      ..and sucks more thanks to her!

      • Raiyan 1.0 says:

        “Commander Shepard, what are you doing? You are supposed to be hitting journos, not bedding them!”

    • jaguar skills says:

      Didn’t know her from the nerdist, I would guess most people know her as the feminist icon who licked a PSP.

  4. shaydeeadi says:

    I got this free with my 770 (wish I’d waited 2 weeks and got watch_dogs for free :( ) and even though I played it high, in pitch black, with headphones on and in the middle of the night I wasn’t scared at all. It’s not really an advert for UE4 to be honest either. Pretty disappointed but it was free so it’s fine.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      Yeah, from the videos the graphics look like crap. I could think of a bunch of Unreal 3 engine games (including the very similarly themed “Outlast”) that look way better, even on DX9.

  5. Pulstar says:

    It *IS* made for the Twitchtards.

  6. hypercrisis says:

    I would like to see horror games move away from this model, which has gotten very stale and in my opinion have never topped Penumbra. Give us something like the original Silent Hill trilogy, Forbidden Siren, or even early Resident Evil.

  7. Lizergamid says:

    “Also, apparently this is the first Unreal 4-powered game. I dunno, it looked okay, I guess.”

    Whuut?

  8. Shooop says:

    The devs of this game made abundantly clear they were making it entirely for the YouTube baby-men. That alone is enough to judge it on.

    Fortunately, there’s DreadOut which could go places.

    • pepperfez says:

      Reading your comment on the sidebar without context, I assumed that “baby-men” were the current overplayed cryptid. You know, “hideously wizened infants sustained by the blood of area teenagers” sorta thing.

      DreadOut looks interesting if only for its Indonesianness.

    • Jalan says:

      Two-part story, where the concluding half is DLC? Is one of the places known as “nowhere good”?

      Kidding aside, at least it isn’t Daylight.

  9. Laurentius says:

    So now Twitch.tv and Let’s Playing is something that is shunned and looked down by RPS (broadly speaking ) ? Didn’t see that coming and certainly I don’t get it.

    • jrodman says:

      It’s not those sites or the idea of a lets play of course, but rather a certain type of activity that happens there of dishonest over-emoting as entertainment. I look down on that too.

      I really like watching people play videogames, especially when they haven’t played them before. I don’t like it so much when it’s in service of very bad hammy acting.

      • jrodman says:

        To be clear, the claim is not that this is the ONLY type of activity or a majority. It’s just a popular segment.

      • Geebs says:

        Yeah, if you’re going to over-emote over a video game, it should be through the medium of text. Otherwise people might enjoy themselves during SERIOUS INTERNET BUSINESS

        • jrodman says:

          Thankfully that’s not what I said at all.

          • Geebs says:

            What you actually said was that you “look down on” people who are just having a bit of stupid fun on the internet. God forbid that we democratise the ability for people to express themselves.

          • Hahaha says:

            That is what the next gen of gamers is growing up on ;)

          • Big Murray says:

            I think he was saying more that he looks down on people who try too hard to be “characters” in LP vids.

            And I agree.

          • Laurentius says:

            Maybe that’s not what you said, but Geebs has the point. Even if you disagree that being over-emotional over video games is a premise of RPS, it is certainly something that both writing stuff and cummunity in general express in a very splendid way.

          • Premium User Badge AngelTear says:

            Why do people always mistake criticism for being against freedom of speech?

            People can watch PewDiePie all they want, I’m still gonna think it’s stupid and say that, but please do continue if you have so much fun.

            (And by the way, that’s an entirely different thing from what RPS does in writing. Polar opposites.)

          • Laurentius says:

            (And by the way, that’s an entirely different thing from what RPS does in writing. Polar opposites.)

            Polar opposites, really ? Sure there is a lot indiffernce these days in reporting on RPS, caused by general lack of enthusiasm of writing stuff but if something is rustling their jimmies, they certainly get over-emotional exactly like PewDiePie, just expressing themselves in different manner : Mr Walker heated defense of ME3 ending, Mr Meer getting over his head with Space Hulk, etc. And yes, I do belive Geebs is on to something with “democratiziation” because this is no isolated case, whenever there is some kind push to take away priviligies of “wordsmiths” caste, there is always the same response: from sneering and looking down (general ) to even verbal attacks.

          • Premium User Badge AngelTear says:

            I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing here.
            The thing jrodman (and I too) didn’t like is the extremely fake persona that certain streamers put on, like the “Oh I’m so scared” thing with mediocre horror games (and by the way, if you’re streaming and talking all the time, you can’t realistically be scared, you’re not immersed enough).

            RPS writing is often over the top, but jokingly so, playful and self-aware. As far as being funny goes, the two styles are polar opposites. More serious articles are an entirely different matter, I don’t see how you can compare them to those streamers.

          • Laurentius says:

            Yeah, yeah, first it’s over-emotional, then it’s fake, or bad -acting, or not enough self-aware, and tbh i could go on and refute all this points but i don’t see a point since for me it boils down to “I don’t like this” and imo it’s not enough to warrant sneering and looking down. So there is a lot of talk about making gaming community better place so there are people who streams horror games and pretend to be scared shitless and have audiance who likes that sort of thing so let’s looks down on them because of reasons. As I said i didn’t see that coming and and i don’t get it except for reasons Geebs suggested.
            PS. And no, many of RPS writing is over-emotional without self -awerenss and certainly not written in jokingly way. Read Walker’s defense of ME3 ending.

          • Premium User Badge AngelTear says:

            I’m not sure what you’re getting all worked up about.
            It’s not that I don’t like it (although it’s true, I do not like it), but that I think it’s stupid, for the reasons above. That’s how criticism works, you form an opinion and you give reasons for that opinion, and no, you can’t reduce those reasons to “I don’t like it”.

            You like it, you don’t agree with my reasons? Fine, go on. It’s your choice, I’m not even trying to convince you not to watch it, I just stated my opinion on the matter. Why are you so angry? Do you feel oppressed by my opinion? Besides, PewDiePie is the most subscribed-to channel on youtube, so it’s not like there’s no people to agree with you.

          • Laurentius says:

            (I say silent fear, but this is a game knowingly made to cater to the Twitch and Let’s Play crowd, with all their blue-faced clown wailing. Part of me wonders if that’s the reason the writing and acting is so woeful – was this a case of seeing all the Slender vids and thinking $$$ hurryhurryhurry?)

            Here is the part I get worked up about ! Who the fuck is “Twitch and Let’s play crowd’ and what is the reason for negativly stereotyping large number of people who done nothing wrong excpet liking certain things other people don’t. It’s not criticism, it’s sterotyping and inducing hostility for no apparnt reason. And yes i got even more worked up becuase off all this talk about making gaming commnuity a better place but things like this constatnly crop out, which are nothing but someting compleltly oppose. Aw, fuck this. I’m done.

          • Geebs says:

            FWIW, freedom of speech and democratisation of speech are two different things. I just happen to think that it’s ugly for a bunch of internlectuals with good written language skills to look down on younger people (who often don’t have good written language skills) goofing off.

            They’re just trying to find a way to express themselves; and they’re more likely to come up with the next fun/interesting thing than us hoity-toity old farts who mostly seem to be using the internet to express the terror of the mid-life crisis.

          • Premium User Badge AngelTear says:

            There’s not one word against the people who watch it in the paragraph you quoted. It pretty much says the same exact thing against the streamers I said with different words (in short, that they play a part), and that’s a third of a sentence. The rest of the paragraph is about the game, that was made to imitate the games that were most successful for those streamers, and most watched by their viewers.

            Certain streamers sell a lot of games by themselves, by streaming and playing them; see: Goat Simulator. Although I can feel that Alec doesn’t like them either, there’s not one judgmental word in the entire paragraph, especially against the viewers.

          • Geebs says:

            the demi-careers of a hundred thousand pantomime YouTube babymen

            I suspect that we are arguing at cross purposes; but is your argument that looking down on people doesn’t necessarily make one a snob?

          • Big Murray says:

            I don’t think this is about looking down at younger people goofing off. If people want to watch PewDiePie make loud screeching noises with dubstep intermissions then that’s their prerogative (And I watch PewDiePie on occasion too, it has it’s place as mindless fun).

            The concern that people are expressing is the possibility of that “crowd” (which is to say, the considerable fan-base of PewDiePie and similar Let’s Play/Twitch celebrities) having a feedback effect on the development of new horror games. I don’t mind mindless goofing off, but I don’t want the popularity of people like PewDiePie influencing what kind of horror games get created. I wouldn’t want some indie horror game developers turning away from putting plot and backstory into written notes just because PewDiePie skips past them all with his “TL;DR!!!1″ attitude, for example.

          • Smoky_the_Bear says:

            I would also question the integrity of developers making games purely to appeal to a youtube audience for some pewdiepie style idiocy. Stuff like this and goat simulator is clearly made with an agenda rather than trying to conceptualise and create something because you believe in its quality, it loses artistic merit because of this.

  10. Premium User Badge Kong says:

    After so many horror movies I saw I prefer to spend the rest of my days in that locker. I will Outlast eternity in that locker.

  11. Ramshackle Thoughts says:

    I spook easily, even when just watching horror games. But I found it was easy enough to get through this by giggling at the narrator’s Dr Lecter impression.

  12. haradaya says:

    Man I really thought this had potential. I don’t scare easily in horror games because of the scripted events where I know I can’t die. And even if I die the checkpoint is only 5 minutes back at most.

    Randomized removes all safety nets of knowing what to expect. And not knowing is to me more scary than a blood-splattered, deranged person chasing me down corridors with conveniently placed hiding spots.