Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: May 14, 2014
The release of a new game engine can be a significant milestone for the industry, especially if it is one of the more popular engines. Unreal Engine 4 has recently been released, but instead of the first UE4 game being a grand AAA title from a major developer or publisher, it is Daylight, a game from a much smaller team at independent games developer Zombie Studios.
Daylight is a survival horror game that sets you in a procedural generated, abandoned hospital. Every time you start a new game you get a brand new game world to surprise and shock you. The history of the hospital is revealed to you as you play, and simply put, it is an unpleasant one. You do not know why you are there, you do not know how to get out, you only know to move forward and hopefully escape alive.
Daylight has received an M rating from the ESRB for violence and language. As none of the media in this review is censored, if such content is inappropriate for you, then this review likely is as well.
Should we strive to reach the light or let the darkness surround? Read on to find out.
As much as I would like to say that the graphics and performance of Daylight are superb and amazing, that is not the case. Both are still good, but have issues that hopefully will be patched away.
The primary source of light for you is your phone that you always hold up providing you with a map. Its light does a good job of revealing what is around you, but the darkness does have an uncanny ability to absorb light. The two secondary sources of light are glow sticks and flares that both come with some special mechanic. The glow sticks illuminate secrets and flares drive off the Shadows; the things that will kill you with a look and a scream.
In the hospital, you can see it has been abandoned for a long time by the paint peeling off of the walls. It is not just chipped and falling away, but actually peeling off and curling away from the wall and ceiling. At least that is how it is supposed to look. In a couple of places I have seen things attached perpendicularly to the walls, instead of having a more natural looking geometry. The first time I saw it, it was paint sticking out, and the second time it was cobwebs.
(The first two images show the peeling paint, while the third shows it sticking out.)
Another issue I spotted was with some light rays coming through some boarded up windows. The rays look a lot harder than they should have been, making the scene just look off to me. I also spotted a large piece of cloth attached to the ceiling, spinning around and around at high speed, obviously due to some physics glitch.
As far as the static environment is concerned, the game definitely looks good, forgiving those issues above. Really, it does set the atmosphere of a haunted world very well, especially when combined with the sound effects that never let you forget you are alone. They also do not let you forget what your footsteps sound like. One of the first things I noticed and thought about was that it seemed really weird that someone as terrified as Sarah, your in-game character, would not be creeping around as silently as possible.
As the footsteps already demonstrated to a point, once you start interacting with the environment, its quality starts to fall apart. The game does have some physics objects, primarily cloths hanging over objects that will move like there is a breeze and react to you running into/through them. Small boxes, wheelchairs, and more though are completely stationary and immovable. It is definitely weird to be walking around and have a cardboard box, half the height of your knees stop you.
There are a few more issues, but I want to bring up the performance and options first, so here are my specs:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Cooling: Corsair H110
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 770 2 GB
- PhysX: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
I put the game to its maximum settings for every option and it largely runs perfectly, without any drops from 60 FPS. However, it does suffer from occasional stutters that are very noticeable and definitely annoying. In one error, the stuttering was really bad as Daylight was apparently taking a while to load the area I was already in. The objects in the room were loaded when I entered, but when the stuttering stopped, the coloring of the room changed. At first it was dark with a more yellow light filling it, but then it spontaneously switched to being primarily lit by a blue light. While there is nothing wrong with the scene being lit with a blue light, it should not have changed in front of me like that.
Even though I have depth of field turned on with the Bokeh filter, it really does not look that good to me. The blurring at distance seems more extreme than it should be, and it also does not always blur. In one area, I spotted a light down a long tunnel, and at a certain distance I could see what the light was illuminating. One step back and only the light source was visible.
Two more graphical issues I have found are related to the edges of objects. For some reason, every edge in the game has a border around it, like you are looking through a prism or some kind of 3D rendering option is enabled. As I do not have a 3D monitor and have the option turned off in the menu, I have no explanation for this.
The other odd edge issue is really only evident when you are somewhere that water drops are falling, which are not uncommon. For some reason, even though the drops are falling in front of your phone and hand, they will actually take on the color of your phone and hand. If the drops were between your hand/phone and eyes, then it would make some sense for the droplet to change color, as the light passes through it, but that is not the case. The drops are clearly beyond your hand and phone, and there is no way they are going to be reflecting your skin color. If anything they should be reflecting the light of the phone back at you.
Returning to the interaction with the environment briefly, despite the areas you find yourself in with the water drops practically raining down on you, they never actually fall on you or your phone.
So that was a lot of talk about issues, but luckily none are too horrible. Irritating and bad looking, yes, but nothing that is totally unforgivable. Many of which are things I would like to see patched away though.
Altogether I am comfortable saying two things about the graphics. The first is that, while the graphics do a good job of setting the game, they overall fail to be impressive. The second point is that I am looking forward to that Unreal Engine 4 powered AAA game that does a better job of showing what is possible with it.
When you first start playing, you find yourself in an abandoned hospital in the middle of the night, so the only light comes from your phone, glow sticks, flares, and the occasional operating light (do not expect many of the latter). You know nothing of the hospital's past, how you came to be there, or who it is that is speaking with you. Whoever he is, he knows what is happening, what did happen, and likely has an idea of what will happen. Of course, he is not too forth coming, but at least he does provide some tips such as using the flares to disperse the Shadows. By the way, I refer to them as Shadows, but they are actually something else, I will let you discover on your own.
The story is revealed to you in two ways, other than the voice. Both of these other ways involve picking up notes as you explore, but they are different kinds of notes. Some have a blue glowing mark on them while others have a red glowing mark. The red represents Remnants, which are clues needed to reveal the Sigil. The blue just provide additional information.
The Sigils are special objects that have some strong tie to what happened in the past and are now necessary to move past magically-locked barriers. To gain access to them, you have to find so many of the Remnants with the total needed and progress shown in the lower right corner. Upon picking up the Sigil, you will be given a flash of visions that somehow connect to it and the story. You will then have to carry it to the gate, which hopefully, you already found. If you have not found it already, then you will have to search for it without the ability to use flares or glow sticks, because the Sigil occupies that hand. If a Shadow appears, run.
You are not limited to receiving visions just when you acquire a Sigil. Sometimes as you are walking around, you will suddenly be pulled into another place and shown something, and it is not going to be a pleasant something. Eventually you will be returned to where you were, as if that is comforting.
I am not sure if this belongs under Story or Gameplay, but since I am already here, might as well write it now. I am not someone that gets scared by games or really even frightened. Anxious and stressed, oh yes, games can do that to me and Daylight certainly succeeded there. The first time I had to stop playing because I had something else I needed to do, I was quite happy to do something less stressful. Now I should add here that some of the creepy, spooky, eerie, etc. atmosphere of the game may have been amplified by the fact that I was wearing not only headphones the entire time, but headphones with drivers to virtualize surround sound (a Corsair Vengeance 2100 headset to be exact, which is the successor to the Vengeance 2000 headset reviewed by OCC). I suspect that, when playing with the headphones on, is the best way to play the game for the full experience.
I cannot get into more details than this without the risk of spoilers. I will say that overall, the story is neither particular impressive nor original. It is well told with how it comes in pieces from different sources and different perspectives. How does it all fit together and what do all of the pieces mean, if they mean anything at all? The telling combined with the atmosphere and stress is what keeps you going, and less so the story itself.
At its core, the gameplay of Daylight is simple to the point of being minimalistic. You can walk and run, interact with only some objects, climb some barriers, clumsily analyze a map, pull out special light sources, and throw those light sources. Despite the limited number of actions, there is some depth to them, but also some issues.
I previously mentioned how loud your footsteps are and how that does not make sense to me. Running is appropriately loud, and it also causes your hands to move appropriately too. This has the effect of impairing your vision of the cellphone and map in your hand. Sadly, running only has limited utility. First and foremost, it helps you get where you are going faster and that is how I primarily used it. Next, I used it to chase down the Shadows when I had a flare out, or otherwise quickly move about to get full use out of a flare or glow stick. Rarely would I use it to actually run for my life.
There were definitely times when I had no flares and a Shadow appeared, so I would turn and run, but really, the mechanic of the Shadows spawning is one that is easy to adapt to. Generally, Shadows will not appear in front of you, though it can happen, so you can put off them being a threat to you until you let them be. You do know when they are near, as the phone will start showing strange symbols and there is a characteristic noise to their presence as well. At these times you can just stand still for them to pass (really, this is a valid strategy) or just keep walking without turning around. Running does not help in these cases, but it should not hurt.
Really the Shadows become very manageable and even fun. What I mean is that running around with a flare out, chasing down the Shadows and causing them to burn away is quite enjoyable. That is not to say they lose their menacing qualities, but that they can be dealt with.
Most of the time the interactions you are allowed in the game are fine, but in one circumstance they are frustrating. There are caches of glow sticks and flares within the game, allowing you to restock by just walking about and clicking a bunch, at least in theory. The flare caches are contained within boxes that can be opened and closed, but the interaction of grabbing flares and closing the box is triggered the same way. The only way I found to be sure you are grabbing flares is to press yourself against the box, so the door is effectively off the screen, and spam-click to hopefully catch the zone where you will actually be picking up the flares. Not an ideal design.
The map system is definitely something that could have been designed better in my opinion. You do always have the map visible on the phone, but if you want a closer look, you just hit the key and wait for the phone to be brought up to your face. For some reason that waiting involves the phone being moved out of frame and then being brought up in front of your eyes, instead of just bringing it directly to your eyes. I am unsure why the additional motion exists. It may be to cover for those times you may be holding a light source in the other hand, so you can put it down, but then such consideration is missing when you are climbing an object, with at least a flare out. It is not unreasonable that the flare is set down to climb, but the sound of it burning ends while you are climbing and immediately returns when you pick the flare back up. I am pretty sure flares do not stop burning just because you are not holding them.
The glow sticks are a nice and useful mechanic, but honestly, I found myself rarely using them. They do highlight objects of interest, but once you know what you are looking for (desks, suitcases, boxes, etc.) they somewhat lose their purpose, behind lighting the area up a little better. The flares never lose their use, but it can be hard to find more, so you may want to be conservative with using them. One thing I do not understand about them is why you have the option to throw them. I really do not know what the purpose of that mechanic is, especially as you are not allowed to pick them back up. Why throw a glow stick when you need to walk over to whatever it reveals? Why throw a flare when you can just run at the Shadow?
One last mechanic to speak of that I found quite annoying, is the saving system. I understand that you do not want someone to be abusing a save system, but to not allow any manual saving is something I take issue with. You do not know the next time you are going to hit a checkpoint, which could be far away, and when you are busy and have to stop playing, you want to know your progress has been saved. Daylight offers nothing to allow that. If they really want to avoid save abusing, then they should just have the game always saved to the same file, so you cannot jump back in time to an earlier point.
I completed the game in about two hours, which is quite short, but then the game's ability to randomly generate the world can multiply that time. Also, I am not sure how much longer it could be without running into a lack of story and a lack of interest from the player.
The game is enjoyable, but is not without issues. The lack of manual saving mechanically hurts it while some of the other issues just seem to reveal a lack of good design.
Additional Gameplay Imgaes:
Is it worth running for the light, or shall the darkness consume us? That is hard to say to the point of it being something of a toss-up. I did enjoy playing Daylight, but it never impressed me enough to give it a strong recommendation. The graphics were generally good, but also had issues including the appearance of looking through a prism, occasionally broken geometry, and broken physics. The story is fairly weak and even predictable, but the telling is quite good. Daylight definitely sets its atmosphere well. The gameplay simply lacks the good design I would have liked to see it have, but nothing is too bad to be a real problem.
If you enjoy survival horror games that are psychological in their design, then Daylight may be a game for you. Other than that, I am not sure who this may appeal to, as nothing really stands out that much beyond the environment it sets.