I wake up in the lobby of a dark, abandoned mental asylum. I hear a vibrating sound, like a text message. When I pick up my phone, iinstead of a text, a mysterious voice calls me “Sarah” and urges me to get busy exploring the asylum for “answers.” The voice refers to my cell phone as “that machine,” indicating that the speaker comes from another age. He encourages me to use the machine to guide me, and from that point on, I begin exploring the dark asylum with only the faint glow of my cell phone flashlight.
I soon find a backpack full of glowsticks, which the voice emanating from my cell phone tells me will reveal the secrets of the asylum. I break a glowstick, revealing which desks and cabinets can be opened. Inside these cabinets I find more glowsticks, emergency flares, newspaper clippings, diary pages of the orderlies, and doctors notes about the asylum’s patients. These notes tell me what I already know—the patients in this asylum have done terrible things, the doctors have done terrible things, and this is a terrible place. It’s also a too familiar place, I quickly realize.
Daylight is a procedurally generated first person horror game. The goal of each level is to collect six scraps of paper that are scattered throughout. With every scrap of paper (or “remnant”, as the game calls them) the “threat level” increases, meaning I’m more likely to encounter one of the game’s zombie-like ghosts. These ghosts will attack me but can be fended off with emergency flares that can be used for a limited duration and come in limited supply. Once I’ve collected all six remnants, I must find the Sigil, a key of sorts represented by an object such as a teddy bear, scissors or a Bible, that unlocks the door to exit the level. When holding the Sigil, I can’t use glow sticks or emergency flares. These segments represent the best moments the game has to offer, as I have no means of protecting myself from attack and must frantically find my way to the exit.
The most interesting mechanic in Daylight its use of the cell phone.The phone not only serves as a flashlight but also as a map. As I explore new areas, my phone automatically creates a map of the asylum. Thus when I find the Sigil and can no longer defend myself against monsters, I must not only light my way with the cell phone’s flash light but also use its map to reach the exit. When I start to hear sounds of ghosts on my trail, I eventually give up on tracking my progress and run blindly for what I hope is the exit. These moments are intense and result in a few jump scares that would be worthy of posting on Youtube.
Unfortunately, Daylight isn’t particularly frightening save for the brief moments when I’m carrying the Sigil to the exit. Flares render Daylight’s monsters harmless and I never come close to running out of them. Aside from encounters with the game’s ghosts, Daylight seeks to frighten me in typical and predictable ways. Entering new areas results in furniture crashing, gusts of wind and the sound of stomping feet. When these things happen, Sarah says things like “I know you are there!” or “what was that!”, almost as if trying to convince me that I am wrong in not finding these moments terrifying.
Most horror fans will feel like they’ve played Daylight already. The game’s primary mechanic of escalating the threat of ghosts by collecting more remnants works almost in exactly the same manner as Slender. The main difference between Daylight and Slender is that Daylight possesses a more fully realized narrative, albeit a narrative that’s trite, uninspired asylum horror fare. And while the game’s flashlight mechanic is interesting, the times it succeeds in adding tension to the experience are predictable, unlike Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which employs similar mechanics in a more varied manner. Daylight promised that each playthrough will be a unique experience because of its procedurally generated levels. In my second playthrough, however, I didn’t find anything that I hadn’t experienced before, just more standard horror clichés in a different order. That pretty much sums up Daylight: It lazily rehashes horror scenes that we’ve seen or played before.
Drew Dixon is the editor-in-chief of Game Church. He also edits for Christ and Pop Culture and writes about videogames for Think Christian. Follow him on Twitter.