It’s hard to see a game about a virus spreading and harming the world and not draw a bleak contrast to real life at the moment, yet Daymare: 1998’s unbridled nostalgia and love of Resident Evil 2 has managed to whisk me away to a place much worse… the 1990s.
If you played 2019’s impeccable Resident Evil 2 remake then you probably have a decent understanding of what Daymare offers, but if not, here goes. You start off Daymare as a highly trained member of H.A.D.E.S. sent into a confidential lab that is now overrun with zombies (or at least Daymare’s equivalent). The first chapter works as a tutorial to what you will be doing over the rest of the game. You must slaughter (or run away from) zombies until you find your objective, or a puzzle that needs figuring out before progressing. So far, so Resi.
The shooting mechanics are over the shoulder and offer a hidden complexity when tied to other controls. A good example of this is the reload mechanic. In Daymare, bullets aren’t automatically used to refill your magazine. Instead, you have to manually combine bullets with a magazine (or your gun). You can then choose one of two reloads to swap your current magazine with a full one. A fast reload, dare I say, reloads your gun fast but, in return, you drop your mag. This means your battle is faster but you could risk the chance of leaving it behind if you don’t have the firepower to take on the horde. The slow reload adds the magazine into your inventory and puts a fresh one into your gun, but could take up precious time.
If you don’t have a spare magazine, you have to reload by going into your inventory and combining bullets with your equipped gun – a time-consuming task. Furthermore, going into your inventory does not pause the game, leading to some very frantic inventory management. This is a big part of where Daymare shines. There is a constant opportunity cost in all that you do. Will you explore that extra room at the possible cost of your health? Do you use three pistol bullets or one shotgun shell? Do you really need that many health items on you? This doubt and eventual pay-off works very well in its favour.
Within the opening parts of Daymare, you are also taught about some of the puzzles you will experience throughout. One particularly interesting one in the first section involves knowledge of Greek gods, and a puzzle that involves looking at a real-life keyboard – an easier task no doubt for PC players. The puzzles aren’t hugely challenging, often only taking a few attempts, but they are very rewarding. Using things like real-life notes and Morse code to figure some of them out is an interesting experience that really harkens to playing Resi and Silent Hill from years ago.
After making your way through the facility, you discover that the outbreak is perhaps a bit bigger than previously thought. Without going into spoilers, the narrative is so Resident Evil it could be adapted for the next game. It involves power-hungry businessmen, a brooding mastermind, genetic mutations and a group of grizzled tough guys fighting for revenge.
Each chapter (of which there are five) swaps your perspective from one character to the other, slowly bringing them all together. This is a very nice take on the Leon/Claire routes from Resi 2. Instead of playing through one campaign and then the other, it opts to tell you the whole story in one go. This makes the narrative more streamlined, swapping it up, but it forces a disconnect between the player and the characters. I often didn’t care to save ammo and health like I otherwise would, as I knew that in the next chapter I wouldn’t face the repercussions of this.
Unfortunately, you do eventually face those chapters further down the line, when you take control again, something that punished me fairly heavily. The entire experience of Daymare is a learning experience and this punishment ensured I didn’t make the same mistake twice.
This moves one onto some of Daymare’s issues. Whilst the base gameplay is decent, there are some things that slow this down. In my time with it, there have been constant graphical glitches from zombie heads wildly flailing when shot, to random textures such as some shirts being bright white in an otherwise dark game. The shirts were perhaps the brightest light in the entire game, in fact. Furthermore, most of the bodies strewn on the floor are not the same as actual zombies. This means that the suspense of a zombie waking up as you walk by is lost as you are taught to just stay away from bodies on the floor that look like zombies which have previously been shot.
As well as this, occasionally, in order to push the difficulty further Daymare: 1998 will throw multiple boss zombies at you. This is at its worst when you finish a valve puzzle. Doors wildly swing open for zombies to come pouring out of. Not only does this not fit well but the zombies are kind enough to lock the doors they come out of, stopping you from escaping.
One other frustrating glitch happened very close to the end of the game. Upon looking at the achievement list, I spotted one for not dying in a playthrough, and it was this that made me ensure progress through the game was made deliberately slow, so as not to die. Right near the end, just as I was about to get to safety, a boss zombie that was on the floor ten steps behind me killed me. I finished the game at 8 hours with a single death.
Glitches are not the only issues in Daymare. The cutscenes are often very jarring too. Resident Evil 2 is well known for poor voice acting and strange writing but this is seen as charming. Daymare, on the other hand, just feels wrong at points. The voice acting is consistently poor, often not synced up with the lips, and the characters work with strange actions, flailing their arms around and not acting like human beings.
The realistic visuals and gore contrasts awkwardly against this campy style in a way that doesn’t personally work for me. This is especially pertinent in some of the more heartbreaking moments. Finding a young child and father dead with a gun next to them only to be interrupted by ham-fisted writing is creepy in a way that none of the rest of Daymare feels.
It is fair to say that there is a lot to love about Daymare: 1998 on Xbox One. Its gameplay is decent, the puzzles are solid and the writing is, for the most part, strong. There is a lot for people to delve into, especially in terms of the lore which makes replaying it a second time interesting. Unfortunately, the overall experience is brought down by glitches, odd design choices and overall jankiness, but despite this I’d love to see Destructive Creations and Invader Studios take on Resident Evil 4.