While it’s not trying to completely reinvent the wheel (I mean, come on, look at the title!), a few very cool modern elements seep into Invader Studios’ and publisher Destructive Creations’ homage to Capcom’s much beloved Resident Evil series as well as genre films of the 90’s, Daymare 1998 ($39.99) that make it work despite the game sometimes working against the player. Assorted undead-like creeps, puzzles galore, and plenty of tense thrills are all here for those who like the survival horror genre, and while boss fights against too bullet-spongy enemies can be a pain, overall, I found the game quite nostalgic and appealing, warts and all.
First and foremost, some of the controls are needlessly complicated. There’s a basic walk (Left Analog) and light jog (L1) for its heroes, but running flat out requires stamina and pressing/holding two buttons and you can only sprint for a brief time before that stamina depletes. Reloading has what, three modes? Granted, there’s a neat touch of realism in the optional the need to load ammo into clips, then clips into guns. But it also adds a bit too much tension in areas with multiple monsters lurking and the need to switch weapons out in a fast way (there’s a human-like delay here and not a game-like rapid switch). Oddly, boss fights just cough up spare ammo clips for you because trying to search for empty clips and spare ammo during them would be too brutal.
The Dick Tracy-style system device worn on one wrist is nice looking and all, but can get a little too complicated if you don’t take time to check out all the things you can do with item combinations and get with the crafting. Being very methodical helps here, as well as realizing the game’s throwback nature means it’s going to feel a bit intentionally dated in some aspects, like the arcane save system (there’s no save anywhere feature). Well, if you hoard too much, there are also item boxes located in the darndest places that can force a bit of paranoid backtracking if you suddenly realize you might need space for something extra along your route or need to drop items but want to store them. Okay, perhaps that’s more my hoarding nature in games, but you know what I mean.
The plot goes for a mostly ‘serious’ vibe, but comes off in a few areas as silly and the intentionally hammy scripting and voice acting make a few generous nods to Capcom’s (often equally silly) works. Yes, even the voice acting is intentionally and “badly” delivered to feel as if it’s from one of the older RE games. You also get enough Easter Eggs to fill a few baskets with as the game has you discovering secrets in both plain sight and a few out of the way places that will make you smile if you’re well-versed enough to get the references. Explore everything, but try to go easy on the ammo (or else). In other words, try and aim for the head, please. The melee attack you have seems near useless unless you have flawless timing.
There are three characters to play as during the game, but I liked the plaid-clad forest ranger Sam’s story arc best over the two generically cranky H.A.D.E.S* agents’ tales because it shakes things up with a PSTD-like psychological horror spin that makes it the most interesting and scary set of chapters. The game has an adjustable difficulty curve, so you can take it mostly easy and using the optional auto-aim, enjoy the tale as it spins out, have it normally rough if you like it that way, or have at it purely hardcore and take on every foe as if your virtual character’s lives depend on it (which they do). You’ll travel between the same areas as each character gets on with his story, but there’s a different travel order for each story that keeps things entertaining. In addition to the copious gore par for the course here, there’s occasional M-rated swearing, so be prepared for that in case you’re not used to getting your ears singed by hilariously foul language.
“Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it…” Uh, shoot it or whatever, dude.
Plot-wise, the (somewhat timely) story initially concerns the rescue of survivors from a secretive scientific research base after a gas has been released that kills most people, but turns some of the rest into vomiting zombie-like creatures and others monsters that are a bit tough to dispatch. The game mixes in a few monster types, so you get slower moving foes and some really fast ones to have you surprised and jumpy almost each time you enter an area. Those monsters often lurk around corners or pop up suddenly in a few cases, so you’ll buy the farm often if you try to rush and/or don’t prepare ammo and healing items. Slow and steady wins the race, but knowing when to book it (and run around a corner only to waylaid by creeps, yaaaahhh!!!) will certainly keep old-school survival horror fans on their toes, especially as you can’t pause while accessing your inventory. Eeek, but it keeps things interesting as you need to find monster-free spaces between encounters to reload and mess with inventory.
Two things the game definitely has going for it are a great sense of atmosphere and some really scary moments where you may leave your seat of choice a few times from jumping out of it. All the monsters look great in a hideously beautiful manner, although the human character models tend to look a bit… last generation in their faces and animation. Then again, this game started life as a fan-made revisiting of Resident Evil 2, and it definitely shows signs of a few budgetary constraints. Still, the Unreal 4-powered environments are appropriately bleak, very well lit (save for one area played during broad daylight where elements look ‘off’ in terms of detail), and there are some excellent use of music and sounds here. Daymare 1998 goes for the too-well timed frights and mostly delivers the goods once you get used to the ins and outs of the controls and crafting elements.
Sure, it’s flawed in spots, but the good outweighs the issues for me and as a fan of these sorts of games, Daymare 1998 is a pretty good effort from Invader Studios and Destructive Creations. While I have no clue if there’s a followup planned, I hope a bit of post-release main character model patching will be in the plans for this at some point, as those three guys need to look more human (or less like the monsters in the game you face off against, ha-ha). I like the project a lot for what it brings to the table, even if that table is a bit wobbly. There’s a lot of love in the final product and it really shows, despite the shaky legs and all.
Score: B (80%)
-Review code provided by the publisher
(*That stands for Hexacore Advanced Division (for) Extraction and Search, by the way. Well, acronyms can be tricky sometimes, but let’s say S.T.A.R.S. has nothing to fret over in he name department.)