By EVAN MILLAR
Before Capcom announced that they were committing to remaking their classic survival horror title RESIDENT EVIL 2, a fan-lead project was already attempting to do just this utilizing the ever-adaptable Unreal Engine 4. Dubbed RESIDENT EVIL 2 REBORN, the project was later altered to an original IP by developer Invader Studios under the name of DAYMARE: 1998, initially released on Steam and GOG last year.
Now, publisher Destructive Creations is bringing the survival horror indie to PS4 and Xbox One in hopes of unsettling an entirely new group of gamers. With great implementation of iconic genre mechanics, varied environments and a haunting soundtrack, DAYMARE: 1998 totes some genuinely thrilling moments despite its rather humdrum plot and scripting.
Set in the area surrounding the town of Keen Sight, DAYMARE tells the familiar tale of a corporation’s top-secret, highly illegal experimentation gone horribly awry. Operating in the outskirts of the Vermilion Forest at the edge of town, morally questionable Hexacore Biogenetics attempts to contain an outbreak of the chemical weapon being developed unbeknownst to the local populace.
Players rotate between three playable characters: Samuel, Liev and Raven. The latter two of these protagonists are members of H.A.D.E.S. (Hexacore Advanced Division for Extraction and Search), an intentional reference to RESIDENT EVIL’s S.T.A.R.S., while Sam is a forest ranger suffering from “Daymare Syndrome,” a mysterious illness affecting a large number of Keen Sight’s inhabitants that induces paranoia, hallucinations and intense bouts of anxiety.
As with the series it takes inspiration from, DAYMARE’s gameplay consists of just as many bewildering puzzles as it does actual combat. Methodical management of your inventory is required at all times, as is frequent backtracking in order to open previously locked doors or complete tasks. In this sense, the game is tremendously successful in recreating the tense, split-second decision-making present in so many of the great survival horror titles.
Though most of the encountered baddies are essentially zombified denizens of Keen Sight, there are a small number of unique enemies players encounter throughout the game’s roughly 10-hour playtime. Each new confrontation brings with it some significant challenge on normal difficulty, save for one boss encounter close to the end of the campaign that is unfairly frustrating and poorly designed.
The rest of DAYMARE’s world is dutifully brought to life by its atmospheric presentation, and the late great Paul Haddad (voice of the original Leon S. Kennedy in RE2) gives one of his last performances as the cryptic “Cleaner” here. Unfortunately, the execution of other characters is pretty hit or miss, as some clunky dialogue and animation keep cinematics from being as gripping as they might have been otherwise.
With a diverse and international team of developers ranging from RESIDENT EVIL veterans in addition to the Italian members of Invader Studios, this is more than understandable, however, and kudos must be given to just how detailed the discoverable in-game files are that help flesh out the impressively intricate backstory and lore.
It’s evident just how much passion was put into every element of DAYMARE’s production, and these are relatively minor critiques in what is otherwise a very enjoyable tale of terror. Horror hounds will undoubtedly have fun finding all of the references to classic genre films in the form of posters and graffiti, and destroyable deer bobbleheads are scattered around each chapter that pay homage to infamous slashers and monsters.
From its humble beginnings as a tribute to the definitive series of survival horror to a full-fledged and unique experience, DAYMARE: 1998 is an impressive effort from a budding studio that has shown themselves capable of true greatness. With a few more tweaks to their already solid formula, we could be looking at the next great survival horror series, but as things stand now, it’s a competent game that will likely prove divisive to RESIDENT EVIL’s existing fanbase, often more than happy to simply revisit the classics instead.
Daymare: 1998 is out now for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Review code provided by the publisher.