The mid-nineties have been considered the “Golden Age” of third-person survival horror games. The collection of modern graphics (at the time) blended with anxiety-inducing controls, undead enemies and B-movie style voice over drew droves of Playstation gamers to make the genre a treasured memory. Twenty-five years later, Daymare 1998 takes us back down memory lane.
From the opening cinematic, it’s clear fans of the genre are in for a treat. As the stereotypical, testosterone-fueled “Crimson Skulls” fireteam make their way into their fated mission, the script gives you a blast of both barrels of cheese. The acting; both suitably stiff and forced; instantly brought the memories flooding back of “the master of unlocking” scene from the first Resident Evil.
Dropping the player at the edge of a facility and relaying to them over voice comms the particulars of the mission, players are introduced to many of the mechanics and subtleties Daymare 1998 has to offer. With its own touch on early nineties inventory and health management, it attempts to up the stakes further with some reloading challenges that new players will definitely fall foul of in the first few hours. Even later in the game it’s easier to opt for switching weapons rather than attempting to refill magazines for your various arsenal mid-fight.
The initial facility is a precursor to the setting after the close of chapter one, the action moves then to Keen Sight, a small town reminiscent of midwest America. Unfortunately for the village it’s now devoid of life and infested with the same type of undead, virus-infected creatures you came up against in the facility. Most enemies take additional damage when shot in the head although there is definitely some RNG at play since it’s not always the same number of bullets to finish them off. Sometimes it’s easier to avoid the enemies and save the ammo for some unavoidable encounters.
Backtracking plays less of a part in Daymare 1998 than in other survival horror games and is in the most part quite linear. It’s more prevalent after chapter one although it’s mostly “go to objective” and find the items you need to solve that objective on route within side rooms or hidden caches. The real challenge; until you get access to the Hexacore storage system; is inventory management as there’s plenty of items to pick up, some are needed for solving puzzles although most are just for survival.
Even though it’s a nostalgic journey back to a time when the enemies were made of roughly 20 polygons and there were only around 30 textures on the CD, Daymare 1998 is obviously much more detailed. Aside from some of the weird facial designs on some of the main cast, the characters, environments and lighting are suitably detailed. Most areas are fairly dark to add further difficulty in spotting the enemies and the atmospheric or situational application of fog or smoke add some depth to the prerequisite feeling of dread that’s needed to make these types of games successful.
The close quarters encounters afforded by the Hexacore facility and the hospital within Keen Sight are perfect sweat-inducing environments for games like Daymare 1998 and the enemies move swiftly enough to make poor decisions costly on your health and ammo. Experienced players will realise the best ways in which to avoid unnecessary enemies but the timing takes some getting used to.
The outdoor areas afford more room to manoeuvre but Daymare 1998 layers on the panic with timers and story-based mechanics which mean you have no option to dawdle or slowly plan your routes. Draw distance, unfortunately, subtracts somewhat from the experience in these open surroundings as it’s a little too close to the character and you can see textures, artifacts and foliage spring in and out of view as you move.
At face value, Daymare 1998 may draw criticism for some of its mechanics, players, however, need to consider this a window to the past, to a time where players forgave the clunky control mechanisms that more often than not were the direct reason they were devoured by the undead and the high difficulty that made the games of the time a real challenge. Daymare 1998 isn’t some handheld scenic tour of Zombieland and where the invincible hero survived the entire ordeal with barely a graze, it’s difficult but in that lies it’s attraction.
Easy difficulty makes the story more enjoyable given the excess of ammo, healing items and the fact that enemies are easier to take down. Normal difficulty ramps up the danger considerably and it’s a suitable challenge for genre devotees. Daymare mode takes the nightmare scenario and it’s capability to make you throw the pad around the room is real – it’s very hard.
It’s unfortunate that Daymare 1998 is likely going to be a little marmite in today’s snowflake, pay to win gaming culture. Only the hardcore fans will likely press on in the face of undead adversity to the end but those who do will likely go back for another bite. The script, acting, controls and gameplay come together in an enjoyable albeit gore-soaked and expletive-laden package that does justice to the legacy it emulates as long as you don’t start with expectations of Resident Evil 2 Remake levels of polish.
Daymare 1998 is out now on Xbox One, PS4 and PC.