Not So Alone In The Dark: A Review of Daylight

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I’m standing in front of a bleak looking metal door, my hand resting lightly on the X button. I’ve been here before, in games like Silent Hill or Resident Evil, contemplating whether or not my desire to progress is worth whatever horror lay on the other side of the door. The phone that serves as both my map and flashlight is a garbled mess of shrieking static, a sign that something otherworldly — the game calls them ‘witches’ — waits for me.

I take a deep breath and throw the door open, revealing nothing but darkness. Then, behind me, the sudden staccato of footsteps followed by eerie laughter. I swivel around, barely catching a sullen figure watching me before it vanishes.

The only word to describe the sound that escapes my lips then isn’t one I’m proud to admit. I yelped.

Just then my actual phone — the one sitting on the table in front of me — buzzes. There’s a message from my friend: “man, I so fucking got you.”

Unknown to me, he had been watching my stream of Daylight and decided to play along, adopting the role of demented conductor, orchestrating the effects that had gotten my heart racing in the past few moments.

He had been watching my Twitch stream from my PS4 and, seeing my momentary pause in front of the door, spied an opportunity. It was him who selected the ‘static’ command, which prompted my in-game phone to erupt into chaos. He planted the shadowy figure behind me when he saw me lose my cool and start to frantically look around.

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At its core, Daylight is not especially unlike stuff like Slender and its endless clones. You wander from dark place to dark place looking for cryptically written notes about the game’s backstory. After collecting six, you find a ‘sigil’ — which ranges from a traditionally creepy teddy bear to a ratty bible — and book it to the exit, all the while being pursued by a ghostly witch with light blasting from her facial orifices.

One way Daylight sets itself apart is by randomly generating each of its five stages on each new game, adding a small amount of replayability to its scant 2-3 hour playtime. You’ll occasionally run into odd layouts like two of the exact same room next to each other, but the frantic pace and exceptionally dim lighting do a good job hiding the procedurally generated craziness going on.

As a solo game, there’s not much to Daylight. There’s just about enough content in it for one, maybe two, playthroughs. There’s no creepy story about human experiments and magic or twisted tableaus of human suffering to discover; just more letters vaguely hinting at some sort of bleak corruption that try to tell a story that never quite comes together.

But that’s the thing. Story is for old farts, plot and character little more than antiquated vehicles for more Borderlands 2 puns. For the countless hordes of young people who spend more time watching people play games than playing them themselves, the cryptic notes and narrated flashbacks of something like Amnesia: The Dark Descent are little more than a break from the action, a chance for their chosen streamer to take a break from screaming into the mic.

Daylight is a game for the Youtube generation, one that brilliantly plays off the same desire for involvement that drove the recent Twitch Plays Pokemon phenomenon. It’s a fledgeling movement, one that’s frankly puzzling to me as a 30-year-old who still thinks of arcades when he hears the term ‘competitive gaming,’ but its popularity is undeniable.

What surprised me the most about Daylight was that, the one time I threw caution to the wind and broadcast my own play on Twitch, I got a faint glimmer of the appeal.

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I’ve since gone online to watch a few streams, throwing in commands here and there whenever the poor soul seemed to finally get comfortable. It’s a game in itself, one targeted at the millions who’d rather watch than play.

My wife, who sat next to me unperturbed during my whole initial playthrough of Daylight, described that seemingly inane desire to simply observe well: “It’s like sitting in a little black buggy on the Haunted Mansion. You just kind of strap in and enjoy the ride.”

That said, Daylight is only a half-step.

At its best, Daylight’s interesting online features feel like a hint of something more. There’s brilliance in capturing the fear of your digital captor, but it still feels just a bit too much like a gimmick, one that gets little more than a sidebar in most reviews and which will go ignored by the vast majority of players.

Peel away the inventive Twitch streaming features, and Daylight is little more than a box of puzzles pieces that’ve been haphazardly tossed together in the hopes that they’ll fit. It trades the finely tuned terror of more tightly crafted games for hollow replayability and jump scares, the scattershot approach to horror missing just as often as it gets you right in the gut.

It’s not until somebody steps in and starts to put the pieces together that the true picture comes through, and the one Daylight tries to paint is an exciting one indeed.