By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on May 6, 2020
A mighty but somewhat shady company... secret bio-engineering research and, last but certainly not least, good old-fashioned human greed. These are all key ingredients for a disaster waiting to happen, wouldn't you agree? And before any of you start contesting this well-known fact, let me stop you right there. You see, only one of two things can happen at this point; you can either agree with me or be wrong!
Luckily, both Italian independent developer Invader Studios and Polish publisher Destructive Creations see to share this opinion and created a game around this concept called Daymare 1998, which is both a cool horror survival game as well as a love letter to games in this genre from the mid to late 90's like, oh I don't know... Resident Evil. Now, the similarities between Daymare 1998 and the grand-daddy of survival horror aren't accidental. You see, Daymare 1998 actually started life being a remake of Resident Evil 2 which, as we probably all know by now, was shut down (in a very friendly manner) by Capcom themselves because our Japanese friends were working on a remake of their own.
Having the potential of their work reaffirmed by Capcom, the developers at Invader Studios set to work on a game of their very own, with nods to the Resident Evil universe. This became the game I've been playing quite a lot in recent times: Daymare 1998. So, is this game successful in recreating the awesome experience I had when playing these games back then? The short answer is a resounding hell yes! Now, if I would just give you the short answer, this review wouldn't amount to much, so here's the long answer!
Daymare 1998 was already released for PC in September 2019. Seeing as how my poor PC is a few years too old to play something really worthwhile on, I patiently waited for the game to be released for console, which it finally did on April 28, 2020. Daymare 1998 takes us back some 22 years in order to witness what only can be described as a monumental cockup by a major bio-engineering company called Hexacore. Somewhere during their research into all things shadowy and potentially dangerous, something went very, VERY wrong and, as a result, the inhabitants of the nearby town called Keen Sight have all turned into raving, bloodthirsty monsters. Time to send in the cleanup crew and at least try to sweep things under the proverbial rug!
Hexacore sends in their own H.A.D.E.S. (Hexacore Advanced Division for Extraction and Search) team, as well as the might of the Hexacore Airforce. This is when we meet a H.A.D.E.S. operative called Live and an Airforce soldier who goes by the codename Raven. Live takes first turn, as he is sent into Keen Sight in order to recover a very important virus sample from the Aegis Laboratories in the middle of town. What sounds like a simple snatch and grab mission, turns into a fight for survival and agent Liev is forced to run and shoot his way through monster filled hallways and solve hair-raising puzzles in order to get his hands on the aforementioned sample. After he gets it, he is to return to the extraction point. For this he'll have to make his way across the town's harbor area.
From this point on, the already messy general situation turn into a fully-fledged shitstorm in no time. Now, obviously, I'm not going to spoil the story for those of you who haven't played the game yet, but take it from me; nothing about this entire operation is going according to plan! This is also where we meet the third and last protagonist of the game: Keen Sight resident and Forest Ranger Samuel Walker. Now, like many Keen Sight inhabitants, Sam is suffering from a condition called the Daymare Syndrome, which causes people to see things that aren't actually there. Luckily, Sam has pills to help him with this condition so, as long as he doesn't lose them, he shouldn't have any problems...
One of the defining traits of Daymare 1998 is the fact that you get to control all three protagonists at one time or another. This gives you three distinct views of what's going on in Keen Sight. All three protagonists are part of the same story, but have their own reasons for being where they are at the time. This gives the story more depth and provides you with a better understanding of what the hell in going on in this small American town. The three guys have the same basic abilities, so playing one of them feels the same (control and gameplay-wise) as playing any of the other two. This makes switching characters feel natural without the learning curve controlling a new character usually comes with. What is different is the weapons (or lack thereof) the characters start their adventure with. Each character can hold up to three weapons and switch between them freely during their adventure, making it possible for them to adapt to the threat at hand.
Now, where there are guns, there's usually ammo. Luckily, Daymare 1998 is no exception to this rule. You will find ammo as you play through the campaign. This ammo can be picked up and stored in your inventory for later use, which brings me to the somewhat off-beat reloading system of the game. Now, usually, there's simply a reload button that allows you to reload your gun on the spot. If not, then going into your inventory, selecting any ammo and combining it with the appropriate gun would do the trick. Well, The shotgun and revolver in Daymare 1998 follow the former of these two options, but reloading a pistol or a SMG is another matter altogether. To do so, you'll have to get your hands on gun magazines. And no, not the ones you read, but rather the ones that actually are capable of holding bullets! To make things easier, let's just call them clips for now, shall we?
So, you've collected a lot of pistol ammo? Well, that's really good, but you're not going to be able to enjoy it until you find a clip. I have to be honest; this was something I had to get used to at first. When you have a clip, you can use the tried and tested combine action in your inventory to reload it and get it ready for use. As long as you have a loaded clip in your inventory, reloading your pistol or SMG is as easy a pushing a button... literally! Just be sure to check if you didn't drop the empty clip after reloading, or you'll be in trouble next time you try to reload. Now, I can hear you think: Why in the hell would I drop the empty clip. Well, that all depends on your way of reloading. There's more than one?! Yes, there are, ladies and gentlemen! Both the pistol and the SMG can be reloaded either quickly or slowly. A quick reload means popping the empty clip from the gun, dropping it to the floor and slamming in a fresh clip, being ready to fire within no time at all. Slow reloading means taking the clip out of the gun and placing it in your hip pocket and then inserting a new clip into the gun. This takes a bit longer, but ensures you'll never lose your clip because you left it on the floor.
And while we're on the subject of things to do in your inventory, why not take a look at the inventory itself, right? The inventory is really worthwhile taking a look at, because it is a very cool game mechanic and fits the premise of the game perfectly. All three characters make use of an arm-mounted, PDA like device which serves as your map, inventory, character overview tool and information library. It lets you use your inventory to combine ammo and clips, various types of stimulants in order to create various strengthening concoctions and, of course, hold the various quest items you collect along the way. It also comes with a hacking module which can be used to open electronic locks, provided you have a hacking cable in your inventory. These nifty contraptions can also be found during your adventure. When successfully hacking an electronic lock, they stay where they are, ready to be used again. If you fail a hack, however, they will break and you'll need to find a new one before being able to hack anything. Oh yeah, here's a free tip: please be sure to check for enemies before going into this PDA because, unlike some other games, the game doesn't pause when doing so. So if you're not careful, you could be attacked while leisurely leafing through files or going through your inventory.
As in any Horror Survival game worth its blood-soaked salt, Daymare 1998 also makes extensive use of backtracking, item gathering and environmental puzzles. The puzzles present in the game are expertly crafted and make for a fun change of pace from shooting monsters. And although they are nowhere near unsolvable, they do pose a serious challenge and demand some lateral thinking on the part of the player. The usual suspects, like the pressure gauge and lamp combination puzzles, are joined by puzzles involving the history of Keen Sight and other cool brain bashers. This means that the game will not only challenge your firearm proficiency, but also your brain matter. So long as it hasn't been eaten by the friendly neighborhood zombies, that is...
So, when all is said and done; with every threat eliminated and every puzzle solved, there's just one question that needs asking: Is Daymare 1998 worth playing? The short answer: HELL YES!!! The long answer... well, you just read the long answer, so let's not do that again. Just believe me when I say that Daymare is one of those games in which you can practically taste the love for the genre and the games that defined it. The sheer amount of attention to detail make playing Daymare 1998 a, eerie but truly fun trip down a blood-drenched memory lane! Luckily, not everything about the game is as it was back in the day; the developers threw out the tank controls (thank god for that!) and replaced them with the more temporary over the shoulder controls. They also used the Unreal 4 engine to power the game, resulting in beautiful graphics and smooth animations. The game itself is chock full of tongue in cheek references to the 90's and other Easter eggs. If you pay close attention, you might even discover where the mysterious and sassy Ada Wong got her start in dealing with shady companies...
Simply grab a controller and play the game for yourself, and you'll see what I'm so stoked about and have been talking for a good few paragraphs now. Trust me, you'll love it. Just visit Keen Sight and let yourself be immersed in this cool and challenging world of survival horror!