Survival Horror has been a staple for the games industry since the 90s. We saw some of the best titles released for the PlayStation One, including the likes of Resident Evil. Naturally, approaches to the genre have been modernised over time and are very different from the types of games we used to get back then.
Daymare: 1998 is in some ways a spiritual return to that era. Albeit with a fresh lick of paint. The developer Invader Studios, if you don’t already know, was originally formed by a group of friends who were fans of the Survival Horror genre. They initially aimed to create an unofficial remake of Resident Evil 2, titled ‘Resident Evil 2 Reborn’. Naturally, this was scrapped once news of Capcom’s official remake was announced, but that didn’t stop the developers continuing their passion and thus, Daymare: 1998 was born.
I was pretty happy to get stuck into Daymare: 1998 and relive the nostalgia. So, let’s talk first moments.
You start out at as Special Agent Liev, a member of Hexacore Advanced Division for Extraction and Research (H.A.D.E.S. for short). You’re essentially an elite ‘clean up’ operative for the biotechnology company Hexacore. The first scenes see you in a chopper en-route to Aegis Labs, a Hexacore installation, to retrieve a virus sample and research data. And obviously, do a spot of cleaning up whilst you’re there.
As is the standard, that’s not as easy a task to accomplish as you might think. The lab has seen an outbreak of the virus and infection of the researchers and staff, turning them into some pretty horrendous looking biological monsters.
You touchdown on the helipad in the wake of a storm, and so the nightmare begins. The first thing to note about Daymare: 1998 is the impressive visuals. The rain intensity, the way it glistens on the character models. It’s a nice touch from a studio that is a fair bit smaller than a lot of AAA developers. The environments themselves are lovingly crafted, and you can tell a whole lot of work has gone into setting the scene. Even the most mundane of objects have received the same treatment, including the barrels which are all pretty meticulously crafted.
It really sets the tone too. Naturally, everything is pitch black, gritty and bloody. There are bodies strewn everywhere and the majority of areas are plenty dark, meaning the only way that you’re going to be able to see is by utilising the handy little flashlight you have. The soundtrack is dark and ominous, but is utilised effectively, so it doesn’t drown out the ambience of the game and simply underpins the overall feeling. The environmental sounds ranging from footsteps on glass to monstrous roars in the distance are done particularly well, and are timed effectively to ramp up what already feels like consistent suspense.
The attention to detail is excellent. There’s some very clever level design in place, narrow corridors, wide open spaces and tightly packed rooms. It’s quite smart really, because every area feels tense. The various enemies you encounter aren’t your typical foray of slow, shambling corpses either. You’re met with monsters of varying degree, and each acts a little differently and sometimes independently. It’s hard to garner a pattern when each particularly nasty encounter you have varies in scope. Some will start off slow, then hike into a fast pace without you even having time to think about. Some enemies can hit you from afar, some can close the distance in no time at all. You’re forced to think quickly, and this helps to instil an almost overwhelming sense of dread every time you turn a corner.
And you’ll get jumped out on. A lot. Now this isn’t unheard of in this type of genre; if anything, it’s almost a guarantee. The reason why I’m mentioning it for Daymare is because it’s done so well. I found myself having to look around literally every door to ensure that no horrible little nasty infected had the drop on me, and sometimes even then I’d get caught out. What makes it so effective is that, within reason, it’s not scripted. The music doesn’t suddenly change to tell you ‘Hey! Something’s coming’. It’s definitely a homage to the old school survival horror games of the 90s, where delivery of the horror experience was more important than flashy scripted instances.
The gameplay itself is your typical over the shoulder, third person action. What’s very different in Daymare however, is the focus on complexity. Reloading your gun isn’t as easy as pressing a button and having the ammo populate from your inventory. You actually have individual clips that take up an inventory space, and on top of that, you have to refill each clip once you empty it with boxed ammo, before you can even consider loading it into your gun. Whilst fighting, you also have the option to reload quickly or slowly. If you quick reload you physically drop the clip on the ground for later collection, and a slow reload will place the empty clip in your inventory.
It makes encounters in the game a whole lot more strategic, because if you walk into a group of infected with no loaded clips, you already know you’re in for a world of hurt. I found myself regularly ensuring I was stocked up each time I was moving into a new area to make sure I wasn’t caught short. It adds a level of depth to the game where survival and inventory management is key, and picking your battles is even more important. That’s not to say that all guns are the same (a shotgun is loaded with shells for example, so doesn’t require clips) but it’s a pretty neat touch to modernise what we’ve come to expect as standard.
If you manage to get yourself snagged by your run of the mill infected, you’ll be contagiously vomited on. This reduces health and you’ll have to tap a button furiously to wrench yourself free. Restoring health follows a system that is similar in a lot of games of this type. Whilst you can chomp an energy bar to give yourself a small health boost, you’ll also have the option to mix various consumables to make more potent health solutions, or other items that increase your perception of pickups and so on. It’s pretty standard, but it does the job.
Another particular thing I loved about Daymare is the inventory system. Where as in other survival horrors bringing up the inventory pauses the game, this is not so here. You’ll access the inventory through the D.I.D., a particularly handy gadget that H.A.D.E.S. operatives are given. You’ll be able to access your inventory, combine items, check your map, check files you’ve picked up and check your overall health status. The crux however, and something that I think is really very clever for a horror title, is that the game does not pause. You want to access you inventory? You better hope you’re in a safe area to do so. You can even move around whilst the inventory is open as the game pulls you into first person view. It’s really well done and makes for some super intense encounters, especially mid battle.
Its focus on the 90s has Daymare bringing back plenty of puzzles too. There are several puzzles throughout the game’s chapters. Some are easier than others, some are downright perplexing. But it’s a fresh change, given that most other games in the genre have moved towards action and quick time events. The puzzles are well designed, and whilst I found myself scratching my head occasionally, each puzzle has a solution that can be found if you’re smart enough to look for it.
Ammo is reasonably scarce on the mid to high level difficulties, and the scale of the difficulty is well balanced for the most part. If you run out of ammo, you can give the infected a bash with your weapon of choice, though this is plenty less effective than a bullet. Putting each infected down is not as simple as shot to the head; naturally some weapons are more effective than others. It seemed to me that there was no formula for how many shots an enemy would take before they hit the ground, it almost felt like RNG. But this also made each fight I walked into a panic, hoping I had enough ammo to survive the encounter. It’s very well done to say the least and compliments the game’s setting excellently.
Another particularly neat addition was with the files you could collect. Some files were readable as per the norm and some were encrypted. These encrypted files direct you to the Hexacore website that Invader Studios actually set up to compliment the game. You can do this on any internet capable device, where you’d select the file and would have to enter a password found on the in game document to access the information on the website. It’s a pretty cool idea and served to increase the game’s immersion, if somewhat being inconvenient at times having to pause the game to switch to my phone.
You’ll play 3 distinctive characters through the game’s six chapters, each with their own story to tell. The chapters themselves vary in length, but are structured so that the game’s events proceed and flow naturally. It’s definitely a hail back to some of the survival horrors of old. Each chapter is normally in a new area, with only one of the later chapters having a character revisit a particular area that was seen earlier. It keeps it fresh, and I enjoyed how well the levels were designed.
In terms of the story cutscenes, they were fairly well executed. I did find sometimes that the voice acting was a little tone deaf. Some of the characters are not as well voiced as others with the quality of tone and range varying quite heavily, and this could sometimes break the immersion of the setting. Also, the lip synching of the characters wasn’t on par, and the character faces were not as refined as the attention to detail in the environment, as well as animation of the models themselves being a little all over the place.
Admittedly, this was limited to cutscenes and the occasional moment while traversing the levels. I wouldn’t say it ruined the game, but it detracted from an otherwise pretty well executed horror experience. There were some minor issues with monsters clipping through the environment on occasion, but it wasn’t often enough to cause any real problems. From start to finish, I clocked around 9 hours in total. I felt this was well paced against the narrative and the story itself was really good, with enough excitement and twists to keep me interested.
Considering its humble beginnings as a homage to old school survival horrors, Invader Studios have done a pretty excellent job of producing something great in that vein here.
With its focus on complexity and delivery of a great horror experience, anyone who is a fan or otherwise would be able to enjoy the effort put into this title which feels especially at home on consoles.
Whilst there are some things I encountered that hurt the final delivery, it certainly wasn’t enough to ruin the fun I had playing the game overall. It’s not perfect, and there’s no doubt that certain aspects were given more care than others.
It lacks polish in some areas that you’d likely see in other titles of similar nature, but then Invader Studios is a smaller team of developers, and given the resources they have, this is a solid effort.
Daymare: 1998 is in its own way, a true modern successor to the Survival Horror games of the 90s.