Daymare 1998 Early Impressions: Classic Survival Horror Is Back, Just Not as Scary (Yet)
If you're tired of the seemingly constant barrage of first-person horror games where you have to run or hide and can't shoot anything, you aren't alone. Indie developer Invader Studios is looking to resurrect the classic survival horror feel of yesteryear, but with a revamped interface that appeals more strongly to modern gamers.
After previously working on an unofficial Resident Evil 2 remake, Daymare 1998 is an original creation currently brewing at Invader, and we got the chance to play through the first two levels as development tracks for a 2019 release.
Here's what we thought.
Old Feel, New Mechanics
Everything about Daymare will feel familiar at first. Something has gone terribly wrong in a research lab (seriously, why do we even have research labs when we know they will always get filled with infected zombies?!?), and it's up to you to find out what happened while trying to contain the situation.
A steady stream of nods to the genre's origins will pop up — you're a HADES team member instead of a STARS team member, for instance — but the story diverges a bit from what you might expect.
This time, we're dealing with the resurrection of a bioagent the Japanese had intended to use to wipe out America after we dropped the atomic bombs at the end of World War II.
In terms of actual gameplay, Invader nailed the feel of early survival horror in this early access demo, especially in the inventory combination mechanics, level layout, and slower gun battles replete with very deliberate reloading animations.
Instead of a simple copy-paste job, though, there are some much-needed quality of life upgrades here that will make your playthrough a bit easier.
We all tend to think of the classics as infallible, but the fact of the matter is that the original Resident Evil is borderline unplayable these days with those awful camera angles and unbelievably clunky controls.
Thankfully, Daymare 1998 updates those elements without losing the classic feel, somewhat like the Resident Evil 2 remake. Controls are smooth, but still very clearly influenced by the original RE style. Bullet inventory management is complex and inefficient on purpose; it's all to make combat more frantic and difficult. However, it isn't so hard you'll just give up.
Of course, some modern players who never experienced the original games may be a little frustrated. For those used to vaulting over any obstacle or climbing up every ladder to explore hidden nooks and crannies for a combat advantage, Daymare could be frustrating.
Aside from the faithful old-school inventory and U.I. updates, I was particularly impressed with the game's puzzle design in these first two advanced levels. This isn't "take the red key to the red door" type stuff; instead, you have to actually remember information you saw on a computer screen or on a note and then use it to figure out how to advance later on.
The end result is a steady stream of challenging sections that will make you think but aren't impossible without a guide, just like any good puzzle should be.
While the gameplay had me wanting to see more of Daymare beyond the first two levels, one little secret, in particular, has me intrigued. It all stems from the level of effort put in by the developers.
Early on in the first level, I found an Easter egg that can't actually be accessed yet, and I am now highly keen to find out how it will interact with the full game.
While sweeping through the Aegis lab, our spec ops agent, Liev, runs across a random URL for an in-game company. It's at the end of a document that's easy to miss. I immediately Alt-Tabbed out to open Chrome and lo and behold, the site exists!
Unfortunately, you can't actually enter in a username or password yet, which has me wondering just how this site will interact with the game and if it will be necessary for completing puzzles, finding extra collectibles of some kind, or perhaps rounding out the story.
Things Were Scarier In 1998
We've been over the good, so let's take a moment to consider what might take Daymare off your must-buy list as a survival horror fan.
If there's on major flaw here, it's the lack of a big scare factor. It's hard to say if that's because we've all grown up or gotten used to the standard horrors of the genre, but the low-key scares are a problem here.
There are times where you can tell you are supposed to feel that "Oh, shit, Nemesis is here and I need to run!" sensation, but it just falls a bit flat as of now. Nothing in these levels brings about that jarring feeling you get when the dogs first jump through the windows in Resident Evil, either.
That issue is exacerbated because the main character in these levels isn't particularly likable, and I was never all that concerned if he made it out alive. I remember being absolutely mortified the first time Leon got chainsawed in half in Resident Evil 4, but I didn't feel anything like that when this random civilian-killing special ops guy gets eaten.
To be fair, Daymare does a better job handling scares than certain other indie games in recent years like Phantaruk or Perception, where the monsters just flat out failed to evoke any sort of visceral response.
While the camera is updated from the awful early Resident Evil days, with the focused combat style of classic survival horror utilized here, it is easy to get into a situation where you miss an enemy coming from behind.
That style makes some effective jump scare moments just during normal gameplay, completely independent of any sort of scripted events where the horror would normally be placed.
The Bottom Line In Early Preview
While we only got to see two levels and one out of three main characters set to appear in the game, the degree of quality on display with this advance preview is unexpectedly high for an indie release.
Simply put, Daymare nails the old school third-person survival horror feel, and it features enough twists on the style to be worth playing even if you've already fully explored every last title in the genre.
In fact, that's one area where Daymare really excels, as it seems like the full game will be quite varied based on these advanced levels. I'm hoping more variety is in store when the full game arrives later this year.