Dead by Daylight takes the mantle that Evolve started, before making it its own. Billed as an “asymmetric survival horror game”, the basic idea is that a single killer has to take on a team of four survivors, with the objective of either sacrificing the victims or escaping from the level respectively. Is this a world of hurt you should be experiencing?
As mentioned above, this is very much the definition of a game of two halves, depending on which side you choose to play. Even the way Dead by Daylight is presented differs depending on which side you are on, so what I’ll do here is a sort of compare and contrast between the two sides.
Starting off as a survivor, which is the default choice when you start a game, you have a wide variety of characters to choose from. There are in fact 22 survivors that you can play as, ranging from people who were invented for this game, like Dwight or Meg, to characters making a cameo from other franchises, such as Ash from The Evil Dead and even a couple of folks from Stranger Things. I initially started out as Ash, because, well, why wouldn’t you? I have to say, Bruce Campbell’s portrayal of Ash is one of my favourite movie heroes of all time, so it was a no-brainer. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to have his “Boom-Stick”, and this is a theme that is carried on through all the survivors. It appears they have all taken a vow of pacifism, as they cannot fight back against the Killer. No, the only tools at their disposal when attempting to escape the gaze of the killer is a clean pair of heels, with the occasional locker or movable pallet able to aid them in their escape.
This makes the whole game incredibly tense, something which is helped out by the soundtrack of the Killer: as the Killer gets closer to your character, you can hear their heartbeat get louder, before seeing the Killer appear through the undergrowth.
An interesting mechanic is a red glow that indicates where the Killer is looking; as long as you stay out of sight and very still indeed, you should be safe – think rabbit in the headlights and you won’t go far wrong. So, hiding, running, and trying to stay alive is pretty much the whole experience here. However, in order to escape the survivors, either by working together or apart, have to repair broken generators around the map, which will provide power to the two exit gates that allow the survivors to escape and fight another day. Repairing the generators is a piece of cake: simply stand by one of them and hold down the RB button until it is fixed. But keep your head on a swivel and listen for the heartbeat; the Killer can easily get a free hit in if you aren’t paying attention, so caution is the watchword. Every now and then the game will throw you a curveball in the shape of a skill check; if you can use LB to stop a marker in the required zone on a circular gauge whilst fixing these generators, all will be well. Fail the skill check, however, and the generator will backfire, drawing the attention of the Killer. If more than one person works on the generator, it will repair faster, but having the whole team in one location is a recipe for disaster!
Playing as the Killer is a whole different kettle of fish. Again, the Killers on offer are a mixture of new characters, such as the Trapper, and again refugees from other franchises, like Leatherface or Ghostface from the Scream series of films. The goal, playing as the Killer, is to sacrifice the survivors to the Entity, a malevolent being that rules over the realm where the action in Dead By Daylight takes place. The Killer portion of the game plays out from a first-person perspective, and viewing the action through their eyes is very engrossing. So, we are a Killer, guess what we need to do? That’s right, put an end to these pesky survivors.
It’s not quite as easy as you may think, mind. First you have to find a victim, then chase them down, avoiding or destroying pallets that get thrown in your way, before hitting them with your weapon. The first time a victim is hit, they become injured, and your character will pause briefly to wipe the blood from their weapon, during which time the survivor usually has vanished. Finding them again, assuming you are lucky enough to do so, typically dissolves into a mad dash about the map, looking out for telltale signs like if someone fails a skill check on a generator and the location glows in vision, so hopefully you can reacquire your victim. Hitting them a second time will down them, allowing you to pick them up and carry them to a meat hook, where you can hang them up to await their fate. Survivors have a small chance of freeing themselves from a hook, but can be rescued by their allies, so it may be worth guarding the hook in the hopes of catching a hero in the act. But usually while someone is hooked the rest are busy beavering away on the generators while you are distracted. There is a definite balancing act between making sure the victim is sacrificed to the Entity, which takes around two minutes if nothing interferes with the process, and continuing to hunt.
Each team has a number of perks that can be earned as they level up, ranging from healing without a medkit for a survivor to causing skill checks to appear more frequently as a Killer. These perks are unlocked in the Bloodweb, which is basically a procedurally generated skill tree that resets with each level gained. Unlocking perks and even items to be used makes each character, from whichever side, stronger, and so are well worth spending some time investigating. These perks then have to be equipped to become active.
The maps that Dead by Daylight plays out on are apparently based on the places where the Killers became, well, killers. With levels based on spooky old asylums and graveyards, swamps and schools, there is no shortage of suitably scary locales to go at. Graphically, the maps are done very well, with multiple paths through each, and various secrets to find also. For instance, each level features a basement – the Killer’s lair. In there, there is generally a chest with a useful item in it, but there’s only one way in or out: if the killer catches you there, it’s pretty much game over. Hiding in a locker may work but, again, if a killer catches you…
Throughout though, the palette of colours is somewhat limited, mainly restricted to shades of brown or black, however with the game being set largely at night in another dimension, it’s hard to criticise the design choices. Although there are some things to criticise, and when being a Killer sometimes the animation of the survivors is a bit ropy, in the heat of a chase, but the game moves at a fast enough lick for this not to be too much of an issue. Sound is very good, and you’ll come to dread hearing the heartbeat getting louder as you are a smidge away from a fully working generator. Equally you’ll be sad to see a Killer find your almost mended generator and give it a good kicking to reset progress.
So, a conclusion is required and Dead by Daylight on Xbox One plays very well, whilst choosing various characters provides a decent challenge. However, the thing that really hobbles the game is the strong feeling of deja vu that settles over you after you’ve been playing a while. While each game is subtly different, based on where things are, the overall aim and feel doesn’t change. With the game currently free for Xbox Game Pass subscribers, I’d say for those folk it’s certainly worth playing, but if you have to pay out hard cash for it then it will all depend on how much you like gory horror films. If anything though, it’s good to dip into and out of for a quick blast, every now and then.