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Daylight review


Horror movies - mainstream ones at least - have become notoriously formulaic of late, but that hasn't stopped jump-scares, spooky hospitals and doors opening by themselves from drawing huge, and hugely profitable crowds. Sadly horror games seem to be heading in the same direction.

The Slender Man games are innumerable, often amateurish and mostly routine, but their Spooky Person Pops Up Behind You formula has made extremely rich men of many YouTube personalities who most excel at cartoonish faux-terror. With the whiff of freshly-roasted cash cow in its nostrils, here comes first-person spook 'em up Daylight.

Primarily set in that creepy staple, the abandoned hospital, it hurls about a dozen horror stereotypes a minute at your screen. Horrible sounds in the background, randomly slamming doors or falling furniture, baleful notes scribbled in spidery handwriting, cryptic tattoos and, inevitably Spooky Thin Lady With Long Black Hair.

She's a horror archetype/stereotype, and finding out her story isn't at all interesting. She's there to pop up unexpectedly, to advance towards you with skeletal hands outstretched, and to be temporarily chased away by expending a precious, hard to replace flare. Amazingly, despite being such a familiar sight, she is often legitimately scary - you spend so much of Daylight alone, jumping at distant sounds of torment, that when someone does appear the urge to get away from them as fast as possible is overwhelming.

Adding to the deep desire to avoid this figure is that death doesn't mean simply a loading screen in Daylight - as well as that, the very layout of the level you've been playing is remade. So attempts to reach an exit, or to collect the various scattered items needed to unlock the exit, are further complicated by no longer knowing where anything is and where you've previously been. Die, and you're trapped here with that sinister woman for even longer.

This setup could only be effective for so long, which is no doubt why a Daylight playthrough clocks in at under three hours. This serves to both prevent it from exhausting itself with repetition, and to perhaps inspire playing it again through later, with a completely different randomised level layout. Frankly though, the latter is unlikely, because while Daylight does manage scares it also manages tedium. There's a set amount of notes and letters you need to find in each level, and this always winds up involving retreading your steps, miserably trying to find the one item you've somehow overlooked. The formula's pepped up by the fact that a climatic object in each level is too big to hold at the same time as the ghost-scaring flares, so the last stretch of each mission is a terrified, helpless sprint to the exit.

The longer you stay, the more appearances the ghost makes too, so time is very much an issue in Daylight. The darkness and the twisting, mazelike corridors work effectively to prevent simply sprinting through - you need to peer at every nook and cranny despite really, really wishing you didn't. This adds tension and stress, which a game as hammily-acted and leadenly-written as this desperately needs.

Daylight would be far better with its sub-Vincent Price narration, and without a protagonist who repeats the same half dozen fearful exclamations time and again. This aspect of the game only adds to the sense that it's built to order to court a very particular market - YouTube and Twitch streamers who specialise in pantomime terror. Twitch support is even built into the game.

 Nothing at all wrong with that, but it does mean Daylight is very much a one-trick pony, and a rather cheesy one at that. It does manage some scares, and that's down to some excellent environmental sound creating a sustained atmosphere of dread.

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