Dead By Daylight. One of the most successful horror games in recent times, many games have since gone out and attempted to match the formula it perfected.
Based on a simple concept, Dead By Daylight is an extremely nuanced and extremely tactical game of cat and mouse between four survivors and a killer. The survivors must complete the repair of five generators, and the killer must pick them off, one by one, slinging them on meat hooks until their lives have worn down. Each survivor has three “lives”, or times they can be slung on a hook before they are eventually sacrificed, depending on the amount of time they are left on a hook for, and other survivors can rescue them off the hooks.
After powering up the generators, the survivors must run to an exit gate, power it up, and escape without being killed. This all sounds very simple, but the genius of Dead By Daylight is how deep the game runs past the simple concept it operates on.
Many, many games have tried to copy this formula, with varying results. Most recently, Evil Dead: The Game launched with a similar concept. Less successfully, Friday The 13th: The Game launched in 2017 to generally negative reviews and major technical issues. The secret to Dead By Daylight’s success is that it’s both easy enough to pick up and play, and complex enough for those who wish to play it competitively. Twitch viewership for Dead By Daylight is always high, and it’s attracted a healthily sized competitive scene.
These deeper strategy and perk systems are varied and constantly changing, with the metagame in a constant state of flux, but the beauty of it is that it’s just as easy to entirely ignore all of these gameplay systems and just play totally casually. Not many games can achieve this level of depth and complexity while also staying relatively easy to understand. On a surface level, this game is Call Of Duty, whereas the more you play, the more you begin to realise it’s in reality more similar to a Rainbow Six Siege. The developers have clearly realised that the key to retaining a playerbase of a live service game is regular updates and metagame shakeups.
The sheer variety of what’s possible in Dead By Daylight in build variety is incredible. It’s all built from a simple yet deep perk system. Each character, survivor or killer, has four perk slots, and three unique perks for their character. The perk tree opens up to you as you level up the specific character, but the beauty of this system is that the perk tree is randomised every time, meaning no two character builds can ever be the same, whatever level those two characters may be. This adds a large amount of depth to the relatively simple gameplay. Each survivor can be totally different to the last, and when put together and allocated roles in a team, it can make for a very difficult experience for the killer.
Of course, most who play the game don’t go in with four friends, but Dead By Daylight isn’t the sort of game that relies on having others to play with to enjoy. Each killer can be customised a huge amount too, but with slightly less diversity than in the survivors. This is due to each killer having a specific role, as each one plays totally different to the last from the off.
There are many, many different killer options in Dead By Daylight. It’s actually one of the huge draws it brings. The chance to play as classic slashers such as Ghostface or Freddy Krueger is unique to this game, and the developers have done a superb job of making each killer feel completely unique. For example, each killer, of course, uses their own weapon, whilst moving at a different speed and has different abilities and perks that make for a completely different playing experience. If we compare Leatherface (or the Cannibal for in-game purposes) and Ghostface, we can see that Ghostface has a higher movement speed. Ghostface’s abilities and strategy all revolve around stealth, as he has the ability to stalk targets before killing them and downing them with one hit. This takes a while, and requires precision and speed in a chase, as it only takes one miss for Ghostface to become visible to survivors. With Leatherface however, he’s a much slower option, but his chainsaw can be activated anytime and downs survivors in one hit. It can even down multiple, should a couple stupidly group together. As we can see, Leatherface’s abilities play completely different to Ghostface’s, and the speed difference makes perfect sense. This variety in killers is what makes the game feel totally different, as even if you’ve played fifty hours as a certain killer, the next will always feel like a new type of chase.
When I started playing Dead By Daylight for the first time, I was struck by just how exciting it was to play. The moments of dread as a killer stalks close to your location. The thrill of a chase won. The anticipation of rescuing a fellow survivor and hearing the killer hot on your heels. Every match is different, and it never, ever gets old. Admittedly it sometimes isn’t the most balanced game, but this ceases to matter as even when the odds are stacked against you, items you find in the match can make a huge difference to how fair the game feels. There’s generally a few chests across the map, and in the killer’s basement every time. These chests contain items, which can also be equipped before the round begins, but finding items from chests can provide you with better items and the chance of keeping it, should you survive. There are several items available, the toolbox, the med kit, keys, torches, firecrackers and maps. Each can go a long way towards aiding you in your escape.
It’s honestly not surprising at all that Dead By Daylight is still popular today, six years from launch. Every part of an ongoing live service game is present here; the cosmetics battle pass, the MMR, the deeper than they seem gameplay elements, and the constant updates to the meta and adding of new content. For a game that lies in a genre of many B tier movie adaptations, Dead By Daylight just feels more premium and better designed. It feels like it was made to last, and time has proven that it certainly will. Every single round is unique, despite who you’re playing with or against. Every memory I have of Dead By Daylight is adrenaline filled, whether I’m playing killer or survivor.
I’ve played a good few horror games in my time. Resident Evil, Alien: Isolation, Friday The 13th: The Game, and even horror/thriller titles such as Aliens: Fireteam, to name but a few. I can honestly say that even with all of these games under my belt, not much scares me more than the lullaby of a Huntress in Dead By Daylight. The tortured moan of a Nurse. The singsong bell of an appearing Wraith. The sound of Dead By Daylight is what makes it as terrifying as it is. The ear piercing scream of a survivor hooked early on is one that strikes fear into the hearts of every other survivor on the map. Uh oh, this killer may know what they’re doing. The heartbeat of a passing killer, growing louder and louder as they draw nearer. They’re close. The sudden, shrieking cry of a crow as it reveals your location, and the burst of music as a killer hurtles towards you in pursuit, chainsaw swinging, its blade catching you off guard. You fall to the ground. Caught.
Very, very few games are capable of creating this nagging, constant fear that engulfs you as you begin to hear that all too familiar heartbeat. And even fewer games can make this such a compelling experience that it drives you back for more. The real secret of Dead By Daylight is just how balanced of an experience this is. Any single part of it could crumble at any point, but it all stands strong to remain a mostly balanced experience. It’s a rare occasion that a game appears one sided, for either the survivors or the killer. There are a few killers that create an almost unfair feeling experience for the survivors. The Nurse, for example, uses her teleport to almost totally cancel out the “loop” strategy behind surviving a chase, which leaves you almost totally exposed to her hand saw. But there are ways around this, as with every unbalanced feeling mechanic in Dead By Daylight. The strategy behind surviving each match adds both to the draw the game holds, and the fear, as tryin to execute a perfect strategy while a killer with a machete stalks you isn’t the easiest thing in the world.
Six years on, Dead By Daylight is even more of a treasure trove of classic horror than it was at launch. The toybox of killers has only exponentially grown since launch, and it stands to be the best way to experience the terror behind each one of them. It’s a B-Tier horror game packaged up into a premium experience, and a game built on layers of game mechanics that anyone can dive into. It’s both the most complicated and easiest to pick up and play game that you can play. It’s a spine curling, skin crawling, claustrophobic survival horror experience and a strategy game, all rolled into one. All of these things add up to make one of the most compelling packages in modern gaming. Six years on, Dead By Daylight is very, very much worth your time.
You can grab Dead by Daylight from the Xbox Store, playable on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.