Daymare 1998 Review (PS4) – A Failed Experiment
Fan remakes, like Daymare started off as, can go one of two ways: they can open up avenues for the creators to work on the franchises they’re emulating, or they can be hit with cease and desists that kill their efforts then and there.
But like a virulent strain, this fan remake of Resident Evil 2 (before Capcom’s official 2019 remake) refused to die. Whilst I want to applaud the effort taken to bring this into its own game, I also want this review to be a warning on the follies of experimentation.
By all means, go forth and make your own videogames. Play around, let your imagination run wild, pay homage to your favourite titles and genres. Just don’t charge people £30 for the privilege, because they will not share your optimism when the game turns out to be naff.
Am I being too harsh, or should this corpse never have been ressurected? Tool up, as we take a deep dive into Daymare 1998…
Initial Results Show Some Progress…
Set in and around the fictional town of Keen Sight, Idaho, Daymare tells a tale of an experiment gone wrong and the effect it has on the local populace. There’s a corporation with a name referring to a six-sided shape, that from the top down looks a bit a like… well, do you need me to spell it out? You even play as two members of a team with an acronym for a name, for crying out loud…
Hexacore Biogenetics, the company responsible for the outbreak, have been working on a formula named Pollux, after the son of Zeus. Aptly so, this experiment was to create a solution to immortality, so no surprises what happens there, then. In keeping with Greek naming (and theme of tragedy), the lab it’s being created in, Aegis, has an outbreak. This is where the men from H.A.D.E.S come in.
Part of the Hexacore Advanced Division for Extraction and Search (honestly, you’d read this quicker if you stopped rolling your eyes), our team is sent in via helicopter to see what’s what, search for survivors and retrieve the Pollux sample(s). That is, until you take control of agent Liev, a man no one seems to like, and you soon realise this is a clean up mission instead. After silencing any witnesses and erasing any trace of Pollux development, Liev is extracted and set to return to base.
Except, this doesn’t happen, as Liev double-crosses his team, inadvertently causing the chopper to crash and subsequently making the lives for everyone in Keen Sight a lot worse. The gas leaks, turning the populace into not-actually-zombies, instead referred to as “those melted freaks”. We get a glimpse of park ranger Sam, another playable character, before we have to get agent Liev to safety.
So far, so cliché, right? Well… yes. Nothing about this game is fresh, but then, it’s not trying to be. This is a game predominantly for the Resident Evil fanbase, to whom this is bread and butter by now. The trouble is, Resident Evil fans are used to better than this.
Mixing It Up A Bit
As a positive, Daymare does at least try shaking up the formula with its different player character “scenarios”. These happen at predetermined points, unlike other games that let you choose which order you can tackle them. It keeps gameplay slightly fresh, as you swap between the two H.A.D.E.S members and a park ranger.
Controls and play styles are still the same, Daymare isn’t about to revolutionise anything in that regard. There is a lousy inventory management system that ties them all together, but we’ll have a look at that later. Following the story beats from Agent Liev, to Sam the ranger, before switching at points to a PTSD-ridden Raven is somewhat refreshing, as the latter two offer a better look at humanising the survivors. Liev, however, falls into that “take or leave it” category of generic badass soldier, who never shuts up.
Sam, by comparison, is slightly more relatable. On a seemingly normal night shift, the malfunctioning helicopter carrying the samples flies too close to his watchtower, sending the man’s world into disarray. Not helped by losing his medication, Sam’s world is upended when a bad thing happens (that I won’t spoil) and his story intertwines with those of the Hexacore division.
His sections could also be described as the most Resident Evil-like, but that’s not a criticism. It was actually refreshing, after the shonky introduction as Liev to play something more akin to survival horror. Glossing over how quickly a large populace seems to have decayed to an undead state, progressing through neighbourhoods with a shotgun is great. It does descend into silliness not long after, but for a fleeting moment, it felt great.
Sam also suffers from something called “Daymare Syndrome”, which if left unchecked causes him to hallucinate. These apparitions come in at both predetermined and random moments, in an effort to spice things up. Taking cues from things like PT and Eternal Darkness, these cause Sam to momentarily freak out, adding a dose of the psychological to this mixed bag of a game.
On paper, this is all shaping up to be a worthy adventure in the survival horror mold. Aping those that came before it, it should be a strong title that can rub shoulders with the greats. Sadly, it’s the performances (both in engine and voice over) that make this more of a terrible ankle-chewer of an experience.
Scraping The Remains
The biggest problem Daymare experiences is its presentation. Don’t be deceived by the above screenshots and trailers, it is an ugly game. If I were being complimentary, I would say this is a good looking PS2 game. Remember the absolute hatred Operation: Raccoon City got back in 2012? This is worse.
If you can get over the H.A.D.E.S crew having heads that resemble Action Men that have been left out in the sun for too long, then you might want to let go of that hope when you see the environments. Now, dark generally equals horror, that’s the norm. But dark doesn’t mean you can fall back on one minimal light source per room to hide the bland level design on display (or not, as is the case) here. Which black, generic looking, dimly lit research facility was your favourite?
It’s not just the drab laboratory that suffers, either. The town itself looks devoid of life even before the accident, whilst the subsequent exposure to a deadly toxin does nothing to improve it other than a Silent Hill-esque fog. But whilst that used to be due to technical limitation, here it’s just a shorthand for a terrible looking game. I know it’s called Daymare 1998 to emulate the year of Resident Evil 2’s release, but it shouldn’t be trying to replicate the look of that year too.
What doesn’t help matters is the absolutely shocking framerate. I’m playing this on a PS4 Pro, so I don’t have the means to gauge how many frames per second it’s running at. If I had to guess, I’d say about… twelve. I’m used to tweaking some games to run performance over resolution, like Marvel’s Spider-Man and God of War (2018) to get the best optimisation, but Daymare offers no such thing. I’m worried about turning around too quickly for fear of it crashing or my PS4 melting under the strain of carrying this awful looking game.
What also doesn’t help are the terrible, even-worse-than-the-first-Resident-Evil voice overs. Besides the subtitles not matching up with the spoken words, as if they changed dialogue after recording, the actual presentation is awful. Missed words, misread lines and unflattering, unedited pauses make this an assault on the eardrums. Barring the late Paul Haddad (of original Leon fame), it feels like everyone on the cast has never done this before, or even been directed in how to deliver their lines.
I get that they were going for the retro, campy aesthetic of the series they’re paying homage to… but there’s a limit. I also appreciate that this was a small team without the massive studio budget akin to bigger titles, but still. There’s no excuse not to have someone on board that can direct a scene, or at least edit the mess afterwards.
Cross-Testing Has Yielded Negative Results
Survival horror, as the name suggests, should tread that fine line between scary moments, fight-or-flight mechanics and, just because, obtuse lateral-thinking puzzles to keep the mind fresh. What it shouldn’t do, is mess around with ammunition and item management, in real-time no less, to add more unnecessary carnage to the formula.
Reloading your gun whilst engaging some enemies is already a tense experience. Having to gauge when to use your last shot and when to be at a safe distance to reload already ramps the panic up in some people, so why mess with it? Well, some bright spark on Daymare’s development team decided to, in what can only be described as a moronic reloading system.
Instead of the usual, in which you reload your gun to the maximum level of ammo it can carry, Daymare uses a clip system. You can quick reload a new ammo clip in, requiring you to collect the dropped one. Or, you can opt for a slower reload that’ll retain the empty one, saving you the faff at a the expense of a slower reload time. Admittedly this does give it that realistic aspect, as it’s more likely you would swap out a clip than fill the individually remaining bullets in a current one.
But this isn’t a game based on realism, which instead causes an absolute headache in your fight for survival. You see, clips need to be manually loaded in the inventory screen (your wrist-mounted device, in this instance), which in itself is an exercise in frustration. You have to open your inventory, select the ammunition, choose to combine it, then manually combine it with one of the clips you have available. If you have been collecting your spent magazines, switching them out mid-firefight isn’t so bad. Yet if you’ve only got one spare, and that’s empty, you’re going to be legging it whilst staring at your forearm.
This leaves you wide open for attack, as well as interrupting the process. Alright, maybe pausing the game to reload grants you a reprieve and takes you out of the immediate action. But I’d take that over some arduous process of trying to select the appropriate clip with the most ammo in my quickslots, lest I be munched on for not having the clairvoyance to anticipate the threat ahead.
So, what does Daymare 1998 actually have going for it, you might wonder? Does it have a shred of anything radically original, or is it just riffing off of those that came before, and did it better, for the sake of nostalgia?
Could be worse, could be shoehorning every single kind of obvious pop culture reference in to distract you from how bad it looks… but they wouldn’t do that, would they?
It’s Mimicking Other Forms of Better, More Successful Life!
Sadly, they have, and not in small doses. Not just nods to Resident Evil, either, but everything else from Metal Gear Solid, Predator, even Event Horizon are shoehorned in too. It feels like a nitpick to criticise over-use of references in a game, but it’s more the blatant use of them that irked me. Alright, Liev saying, “You’re one ugly [censored quote]” is funny the first time. By the fourth in succession, it grates. Seeing Sam use radio frequency 140.15 to call his wife was cool, but finding a desk labelled A. Wong just had me thinking, “Yes, we know you used to be a Resident Evil game!” in my head.
It just drives home that nothing about Daymare is original in its pitch. Oh sure, it’s crafted a story off the back of a remake, but there’s nothing in there that cries innovation. The references aren’t subtle, there’s no thrill in seeking them out. They’re just there, as if to say, “Look, look, this is that line that Arnie says” like you couldn’t have figured it out. It reminds me of Ernest Cline’s follow up to Ready Player One, Armada. Every time a reference was made, the narration would then tell you exactly what it was from. Part of hearing something familiar is letting you work it out for yourself, yet having it thrust in your face verbatim gets boring quite quickly.
Yet, I can see why they’ve done it. Above all, Daymare 1998 is a game paying tribute, and to its credit it’s nice to see it try. It’s just… there’s too much of a good thing, as I’ve mentioned above, and all it seems to do is distract from how terrible the game itself is. Imagine the worst gift you could give someone, wrapped it in a bin bag as crude wrapping paper, and then put a pop-culture referencing sticker on it: we get the reference, but it doesn’t detract from the disgusting offering underneath.
Void If Broken
In summary, Daymare is a corpse that shouldn’t have been brought back. Whilst the attempt at making a fan-based remake of a much superior game is admiral, bringing it back with a fraction of the team possible to make something great isn’t.
There are a few fleeting moments of enjoyment, like playing as Sam, hallucinations and all. The pop culture nods are welcoming if you’re new to that kind of thing. But it’s a game let down by its technical and presentation issues.
There’s “going for a retro charm and aesthetic”, then there’s something that runs worse than Extermination did on the PS2. It’s not laughably bad dialogue, it’s just bad. It’s not minor technical issues, it’s running at a framerate so slow that I was wondering if Keen Sight was named ironically.
And by all means, kudos to Invader Studios for trying. The love letter to the genre is there, it’s just written illegibly. This should have been a pitch to a bigger studio and then worked on. At least it would be called a Resident Evil clone by a bigger audience, but been able to hold its own.
As it is now, whilst it’s not unplayable, it’s not far off. It’s trying too hard with its story scenario hopping all over the shop, coupled with an inventory management system that just doesn’t work in this kind of game.
It pains me as both Resident Evil fan and critic to shit on an indie team for trying, but I’m not trying to. I’m trying to stop unsuspecting people falling for nostalgia and ending up out of pocket for it.
Whilst there are some fresh parts in there, the whole project should have been terminated long before this stage. Daymare 1998 tries to ape its better but just devolves into an absolute mess.
Daymare 1998 is available now on PS4 (reviewed on Pro), Xbox One and PC.
Devloper: Invader Studios
Publisher: Destructive Creations
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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