Daymare: 1998 was originally conceived as a fan-made Resident Evil 2 remake from Invader Studios. Its evolution into a standalone game with a story spanning three perspectives is highly impressive. Sadly, that’s where the platitudes end as it arrives on PS4 and Xbox One.
The game seeks to serve as an homage to ’80s and ’90s horror media, bursting with overt references to The X-Files, Predator, and many more. Agent Liev of the H.A.D.E.S. (Hexacore Advanced Division for Extraction and Search) team is the first of three characters you control. He’s utterly unlikeable, with no redeeming qualities.
To be sure, injecting campy B-movie horror is challenging; sadly the true horror here is the script and voice acting. Liev suggests his comrade has “been shot to death,” later telling a scientist holding a wrench to drop his “gun.” Thankfully, things are more tolerable when playing as Sam and Raven.
A return of tank controls
The controls are schlocky. Standard movements feel restricted and sprinting requires three buttons to be held at once. It all serves to obstruct the experience and elicit frustration. One of the better sequences in the game sees you run through streets packed full of infected. With little ammo and a timer ticking down to infection, the virus clouds the streets as an ’80s synth soundtrack reminiscent of It Follows plays.
The sluggishness does help generate genuine dread as you scamper from building to building seeking brief respite. However, they just as often ruin an interesting set piece. In a later boss battle at the site of a crashed helicopter, a frustrating fight ruins the backdrop. The controls do more to hamper – not enhance – the experience. Janky controls are not a desirable feature – even when paying homage.
One of the more interesting concepts is the unique ammo reload system. You can reload your bullets slowly, taking care to reload a half-empty magazine. Or you can simply opt for the speedy approach. It’s up to you.
However, quick reloading comes at a cost: you drop the magazine you’re removing from the gun. This means that you are potentially sacrificing some precious bullets as you might not be able to retrieve them, depending on the situation around you. It adds a tactical dynamic which works well in the horror genre. How heavily you’re punished depends on an organic situation, which helps create tension.
The game also features a realistic HUD; a PDA plate attached to your arm functions as your inventory, map, and status. It’s one of the more contemporary aspects of the game and wouldn’t be out of place in other modern horror games. Ammo is scarce. There is also some light inventory management and plenty of backtracking, which helps add some satisfactory familiarity to the gameplay.
I largely did not enjoy this game, despite it appealing to many of my tastes. Having said that, the fact that Daymare: 1998 has made it to release is commendable. What started as a passion project has evolved into a beast of its own – a cumbersome monster to be sure, but fully formed nonetheless. I hope those involved take what they’ve learned and will work on something new. Resident Evil wasn’t always the sleek and familiar franchise that it is now. There’s still life in this monstrosity yet.