If you’re familiar with my writing, then you know that horror is my favorite genre in video games, and as such, I’m always eager to dive into a new horror game; both excited and anxious for the terrifying experience to come. Crafting horror in games is like creating the perfect souffle—it takes precision, and one wrong move can ruin the entire thing.
Daymare 1998 is like a souffle that someone made with dynamite. A dreadful experience, and not in the way horror is supposed to be. For a game that boasts so proudly in it’s press material, and on its Steam store page to “[recreate] the atmosphere of the most beloved works from the end of the millennium,” it could not be more uninspired, less fun to play, and not at all scary.
Daymare 1998 begins with a generic shady military group, going off to a generic military base, to investigate some incident that—of course— results in generic zombies; apparently, Daymare 1998’s idea of “recreation,” is straight up copying, because that’s more or less the plot of Resident Evil. What happens next, I couldn’t be bothered to remember because every character is stiff, unlikable, and forgettable that paying attention to the events that unfold around them wasn’t worth the investment I could have been putting into the 2016 remake of King’s Quest—which was really a game more people should’ve talked about.
In terms of gameplay, Daymare 1998 is complete dreck. For a game so dedicated to “homaging” the classic horror games of the 90’s, the game it’s trying most to feel like is Resident Evil 4—which, in case the devs forgot, came out in 2005. It’s a third-person, over the shoulder shooter, which I would honestly be fine with if the stiff, sluggish aiming wasn’t at odds with the fast-moving, janky zombies, meaning you miss half the shots you take at them; and if this game wasn’t bragging so hard about it’s supposed, 90’s horror-game influence.
Not only is shooting unsatisfying, but the game’s idea of reloading is also a complete joke. There are two ways to reload: a fast-press which, upon reloading, drops the current clip to be picked up later; and a long-press, which replaces the current magazine for a new one, putting the old back in the inventory. This is before getting into the need to equip the magazine in a sub-menu, so it can be accessed, otherwise, you have to actually open the active inventory—akin to ZombiU where the game continues, even when you access your inventory—and select your ammo, and use to combine function, press a separate button to access the gun menu, and put it in the gun. This would also be before getting into the fact that no matter if you even have ammo, pressing the sub-menu button DOESN’T DO ANYTHING.
It’s a complete joke of convoluted nonsense, which makes a situation that could be made scarier by a sense of panic, into a frustrating mess as you either have to run down a hallway to get enough distance between you and an enemy to reload your gun, or inevitably take damage; and with limited health items—because remember, Resident Evil did that—it just makes the game unbearably annoying.
Which is to say nothing of this game’s idea of what a puzzle is. One of the very first “puzzles” you encounter is a computer indicating several rooms, some with power, marked in green, and some without, marked in red. Beside it is a generator, with buttons for the rooms. Naturally, one would think you would need to look at the rooms that are red, and flip the switches for them, supplying them with power. IN FACT, a document you find, on the table BESIDE the computer, expressly says that any rooms without power are marked in red, and may need to be manually activated.
Well I struggled for 10 minutes, flipping switches and trying to get the rooms to activate to no avail. It was only on a whim, that I flipped the switches for every room marked in green, and for whatever reason, that solved the puzzle. And it only got worse from there, later there was a hallway with portraits for Greek mythological figures, with key words marked in all caps. On a computer in a nearby room, there was a little clue, and a prompt to enter the corresponding word. Seems simple enough right? Except for the fact that the keyboard was laid out in the GRECIAN ALPHABET, and nearby there was a typewriter for you to inspect so you could mentaly line up the letters.
So, unless you were like me and just opened the keyboard on your phone to line up the letters, these devs actually expected you to memorize the layout on a standard US typewriter—since leaving the computer screen removed any typed letters—and then enter the correct word, which was still a mystery unto itself, and only solved through several minutes of trial-and-error.
In the audio/visual department, this game is rough. It looks terrible, with dreary, banal environments; generic-looking zombies, and pretty uninspired “bioweapons”; and truly ugly character models, that barely animate during cutscenes—that or they’re all master ventriloquists. Furthermore, the screen framing is kind of off, with certain bits of text and images cutting into the borders of the screen. From an audio perspective, the music builds little atmosphere, also forgetting the 90’s inspiration, and sounding more like 80’s horror-synth. Voice-acting is amateurish, often with weird pauses and dialogue that doesn’t match subtitles.
Honestly, if this was just another bad horror game to add to the mountain of bad horror games that have polluted the indie scene since Amnesia reminded us that people still want horror games, and hacks like Markiplier inspired hacks to make terrible horror games for them to “react” to, I would be ambivalent towards it.
But it’s the arrogance of boasting of how “inspired” your game is by 90’s horror games, and how it “recreates the atmosphere” of games like Resident Evil, or Silent Hill without even a cursory understanding of how horror, or even basic good game design, works. It has no identity aside from ideas lifted from other, better games. It has NO atmosphere, it builds NO tension or dread, except for the reality of having to actually play it—it pulls off that feeling of dread in spades; and it has NO horror.