The success of a horror game is, very simply, measured by its ability to scare or disturb you. Daylight manages neither of these things and its fairly appealing hook of ‘constantly regenerating’ environments that allow for no two playthroughs to be the same is, in fact, fatuous and meaningless. Daylight initially looked to be a decent survival horror game and I hoped for something along the lines of Amnesia and Outlast only with a bit more unpredictability thrown in, which is always a good thing. The reality is that the game is bland, uninspired and lacking in character. The initial jump scares quickly become predictable and uninteresting once you realize they pose no real threat whilst the story itself is not only weak but agonizingly dull.
The game puts you in the shoes of a young woman called Sarah who wakes up in an abandoned, dilapidated hospital with no memory of how she got there. You’re armed with a mobile phone with seemingly endless battery life that has on it a map of the area and as you explore more of the hospital, more of the map is revealed. Along the way you can pick up flares and glow-sticks hidden throughout the environment. Flares are a rudimentary weapon whereas glow-sticks illuminate the area and reveal objects you can interact with. The cliché setting and standard ‘use a light source’ gameplay would be forgivable if the actual game was interesting, frightening and engaging but as it’s not, so it also loses points for a complete lack of originality.
Daylight sounds great on paper and what drew me to the game was its promise of replayability due to the randomly generated layout of the hospital and other environments. It also, promisingly, utilizes the new Unreal Engine 4 but it was soon after starting the game that this meant very little. Daylight is clearly not using the Unreal Engine 4 to its full potential as there is nothing particularly spectacular about the graphics compared to games using earlier engines. As a final spin on your regular survival horror game Daylight is also fully compatible using Twitch which allows users to enter commands that can trigger in game scares such as flickering the lights or causing a cat to meow in the distance. Thankfully, all commands have timers on them so viewers cannot spam commands so that’s something at least but the truth is is that the scares have very little effect on your experience as they are essentially just random noises. Once you’ve learnt that these scares have nothing to do with what’s going on in the game and that they don’t actually foreshadow any oncoming danger it’s very easy to just ignore them all and the usual mix of uncertainty developing into fear simply does not exist in Daylight.
As if things weren’t bad enough already, Daylight poses an utterly nonsensical plotline that has such a jumbled and confused timeline, it’s difficult to take the game seriously. You uncover the excessively gloomy history of the hospital through memos, newspaper extracts and journal entries that are found nailed to walls and left on table tops. Due to the randomly generated environments these notes may be found in different places though regardless of where you’ll find a particular bit of history it will always say the same thing. There are, however, a large variety of journal entries that give you a fairly comprehensive idea of what has been going down in the building. Now, these notes tend to date from anywhere between 1850 and the 1980s and its when you start noticing the order of events that things get a little odd. The building that Sarah is wandering around is has been both a hospital and a penitentiary, fair enough, but the hospital became a prison, then a hospital again, then a prison again, then at one point it appears to have been both at the same time due to either cutbacks or an oversight on the developer's part. Then the hospital/prison closes down for a solid 20 years, one can only assume the patients complained about all the inmates in the cafeteria, before finally it reopened again. Since Sarah is now in some disused place we’re left to assume that the place shut again at some point or the cleaning crew are on strike. The point is the location's history is just so jumbled, so excessively ‘it was everything and it was all nightmarishly cruel or disturbed’ that you just feel like there’s too much going on with none of it being very realistic. Every location is just struggling under the weight of a horror cliché whether that’s neglected patients, strange experiments or abused prisoners you’ll be tired just thinking about it.
Poor storyline, boring scares and uninteresting environments aside the game doesn’t play very well either. It’s extremely repetitive and mostly consists of finding a sort of sigil that will be in identical rooms covered in glowing patterns, grabbing the ‘key’ that hovers in the middle then running off and using it in a barrier to open up the next area. Now and then a ‘witch’ will pop up who is supposedly terrifying but if you just keep away from her for several moments, she will leave you alone and let you to go back to whatever it was you were doing. Initially, I was freaked out at the appearance of her ghostly form hovering in the middle of the corridor and some stuttering noises but after a couple of interactions and charging into her wielding flares I realized that really, there was no point and could run past her with no detrimental effects. Those eerie noises I mentioned earlier that cropped up now and then turned out to be just random atmospheric stuff with no impact on anything I was doing whilst the rambling older man who talks to Sarah cryptically was more bothersome than unsettling. All in all, it was boring, nonthreatening and a little irritating. The randomly generated environments simply meant ‘table is on the other side of the room’ or ‘this room you encountered first is now encountered third’ which, as you can imagine, aren’t exactly game changers as you still have to piss about trying to find the sigil room then the barrier room. Later on you get to explore a forest, ooh, and some sewers, ahh. Though a change of pace is nice you’re still just running around trying to advance with very little to look at and very little to do.
For a change I was actually relieved this game was short lived because by the time I hit the sewers my patience was wore thin and I was genuinely tempted to end my misery and play something else. Alongside its short length, it is not a very difficult game. It’s extremely unlikely you’ll ever die, so if you want to play it you should definitely crank up the difficulty level.There are admittedly some really nice elements that have been poorly implemented like the flashing visions, nice unobtrusive HUD and a few of the mechanics like the flopping about teddy bear or doll and nicely floating about fabrics but it's just not enough to account for all the chaff in-between. The audio does have its moments but Sarah’s constant little whines of ‘What was that?’ or ‘Who’s there?’ will grate on your nerves as there’s never anything there. Graphically it’s also unimpressive considering the engine it’s using whereas the gameplay is simply uninspired, tiresome and dull. The ability to see searchable objects by shining a glow-stick in their general direction was annoying as it makes them glow all over with patterns and symbols which completely broke the immersion for me from very early on in the game. Things like that should be saved for something actually important or impressive, not just for drawers and tables. If you want a real survival horror then find something else because this one is not worth your time.