Daylight Review: Once More Into the Dark

Deep in the dark, abandoned hallways of Mid Island Bay Hospital, something waits for you, and though you might have heard that before, it doesn’t mean you won’t be scared.

First-person horror title Daylight is the latest in what might be called a trend of indie horror games. It traps you in an awful place, with something hunting you, and little means of defending yourself. As you work your way through its corridors, you must also suss out its secrets. And like titles such as Outlast, Slender: The Arrival, The Dark Meadow and others, there’s more to the seemingly abandoned locales of Daylight than first meets the eye.

Daylight doesn’t necessarily change the rulebook when it comes to these horror games. You’re in the dark, using a dim flashlight attached to a smartphone to illuminate your way, and you’re hunting for notes and papers that will tell you something of what has happened before you arrived. A ghost you can’t look at wants to kill you. Light is your only weapon.

Despite the somewhat repetitive feel of the genre in general and Daylight in particular, there’s still quite a lot of great spookiness to be had in the game’s mazelike setting. Items move on their own, jump scares abound, and you never know when you’ll round a corner or check behind you to find something seconds from tearing your eyes out.

You get atmosphere and scares in spades in Daylight, and it offers a few extra tricks that make it stand out a bit from the field of similar titles.

Daylight
Platform: PC (Reviewed), Playstation 4
Developer: Zombie Studios
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: April 29, 2014
MSRP: $14.99
Available: Steam

It’s all amnesia and haunted hospitals at the start of Daylight. As Sarah, you awaken with only a phone that serves as flashlight and also maps your whereabouts, The Legend of Zelda-style, as you march through the rooms ahead. Projecting from the phone is a strange voice guiding you forward. You’ll quickly find you’re in an abandoned building with a long history of strange occurrences. All this you’ll glean from bits of story discovered on notes, newspaper clippings and messages scattered around.

Daylight is a game about mazes. The goal as you move forward is to locate “remnants of the past,” or specially marked notes. Once you have enough of those, you’ll find a “sigil,” a strange artifact relevant to the mysterious story of the hospital that’s unfolding before you. With the sigil in-hand, you can open a locked, specially marked door that lets you progress deeper into the facility, although you’re also utterly defenseless and are better off sprinting for it and hoping for the best.

The thing about these mazes is that they’re never the same twice. Daylight’s big claim to fame is that its layouts are procedurally generated. That means you’ll (technically) never have the same experience twice, since every time you step into the hospital and its adjacent areas, it shifts around you. What weirdness you encounter, like rooms that come alive as you enter them and other strange events, is also different every time you play.

Randomized level layouts sounds nice, but in practice it also has some drawbacks. The procedural nature of the mazes means there’s a lot of repetition in room choice and the clutter found within. It’s not uncommon to wander into a strange room filled with, say, ruined metal baby cribs, and then find the same room a few moments later, with the same layout and the same pattern of cribs strewn about. It gets disorienting, to say the least.

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