I honestly can’t imagine a better title for a survival horror game than Dawn of Fear. I can only imagine the excitement around the development team associated with this game since I can’t help but feel that the title is the one redeeming feature of this otherwise appalling mess of an experience.
With that vitriolic introduction out of the way, let me waste a good few hundred words explaining to you why Dawn of Fear is such a mess. By way of introduction, this game is an homage — or perhaps as close as a modern, developed game can be to a clone — of the original Resident Evil game. It is set in a similar-looking creepy mansion, it uses the same outdated tank controls and it even uses several of the exact same scenes and even puzzles — yes, really.
The game opens with the protagonist returning home following the death, likely suicide, of his mother, which happens to follow on from the death of their brother. Cheery. There’s another bloke with us at the start, and I think that’s another brother — but within five minutes of the game starting, we find him nailed to the door, also dead.
During the early stages of the game, this won’t make a lot of narrative or logical sense. This is due to the only enemies you meet early on being zombies — who clearly would not be capable of creating such a macabre scene. This won’t be the last time that what you see in Dawn of Fear doesn’t match the narrative or the other environmental factors, and what began as a bit of a shocking moment soon devolves into a series of laughable and confusing situations.
The lack of suspense or immersion of any kind isn’t helped by how awful the script is, and the complete lack of any voiceover. So you have this situation where the dialogue is filled with errors and idiosyncrasies, but because it isn’t acted out, it isn’t even funny in the same way as it was in the first Resident Evil.
Weirdly though, you start to see the exact same situations. For example, just after discovering the crucified body of our brother, we head back into a dining room (complete with a ticking clock) that we’ve seen before, only to discover a zombie and a chess piece. I know this isn’t precisely the same scenario as the now-infamous “I hope this isn’t Chris’s blood” scene, but God Damn, it’s everything but the same, minus voice acting, comedy and suspense.
Assuming you survive that encounter (which you probably will) you’ll have been forced to get to grips with the dismal tank controls which involve using one stick to rotate on the spot, and then to move forwards and backwards. R1 aims your weapon and R2 fires it, whilst the player can raise and lower their weapon to allegedly target specific body parts.
That’s all nonsense though because something went badly wrong when Dawn of Fear was being made and two things are apparent. Firstly, there are far, far more zombies than there were in Resident Evil, which means you can never ever kill them all (at least not during the early stages of the game) and so you’ll make the decision to run early.
The number of enemies is so clearly unusual this early in a game that it must be masking something — and that something is a complete lack of AI or behavioural programming. Yes, zombies will broadly come towards you and attack, but that’s it. They might also rotate on the spot, or wander the opposite way, or just glitch out. More complex enemies, like the knife-hands creature that I am sure is stolen from another game, will often do nothing for a while before going berserk and instantly killing us.
Getting back to the controls though (and this is the second thing to complete the statement I started earlier) is that it doesn’t matter where you aim at all. I’ve never noticed anything about any enemy, any weapon or the way in which I combined the two that made any difference. Headshots might happen if you aim at the chest, enemies might fall over if you aim at the head. In any case, there’s a good chance that a shot you will swear to be plum on target will miss, and then you’ll revert back to thinking “why am I bothering to shoot these things anyway?”
When it comes to looks, the only interesting thing that Dawn of Fear does is use the same style of fixed camera angle that Resident Evil used to decent effect. I like the intent behind this, and had Dawn of Fear proven to be a true and high-quality homage to Capcom’s classic, I would have been able to get behind it, but as it stands, the camera angles only exacerbate the poor controls and demonstrate how rubbish the overall visuals are.
The mansion, which is in every way you can imagine ripped directly from Resident Evil, looks very much as though it was made in 1997. The textures are low resolution, the animation is janky, and the enemies look as though they were made from clay and then coated in a sugar glaze to make them shine with an otherworldly glow when light catches them. There’s none of the expected grime that you’d associated with zombies here.
Going back to my point about strangely jarring environmental situations earlier, I should also mention that aside from numerous rooms, corridors and halls that are identical to those in Resident Evil, there are a number of oddly out of place rooms here that make no sense at all. The first time we see an enemy that isn’t a zombie, for example, we find ourselves in a first floor torture chamber that looks as if it’s been there for fifty years — did no one realise that mum had become the worlds most sadistic dominatrix the last time they visited?
I honestly don’t know why I spent any time on Dawn of Fear because it felt awful in every measurable way. It looks and sounds awful, it has appalling level design and features controls that copy a form of gameplay that has long since been forgotten. It has stupid, uninteresting puzzles that are also replicated from a game over thirty years old.
Dawn of Fear is a game that, I feel, has literally no redeeming features whatsoever. There is no reason for you to ever want to play or own it. I cannot say this categorically enough, but part of Resident Evil’s success was it’s B-Movie presentation (as well as the fact that for the time, it was groundbreaking in many ways) and somehow, Dawn of Fear manages to be both utterly ridiculous and not at all funny. With the Resident Evil series, and survival horror, modernised, and remakes releasing on a regular basis, I cannot think of any real discernable way to recommend Dawn of Fear to anybody beyond those clad in almost-opaque rose-tinted glasses.
Dawn of Fear is out on PS4 and PC.