Daymare: 1998 Review: Revisiting 1990s Survival Horror

by David Sanchez May 8, 2020 @ 1:37 pm

Daymare: 1998 gameplay on PlayStation 4.

Reviewed on PS4

If the recent remakes of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 are an indication of anything, it’s that old school survival horror is still rad. Both of those games delivered ‘90s-styled survival horror with all of the tweaks and refinements you’d expect out of a modern game, making them among the best in the genre. Daymare: 1998 takes that old school style, but rather than refine it, the game thrives on the tropes of ‘90s survival horror, for better and for worse. The result is a horror game that falls somewhere between fun and frustrating.

Building Tension, Creating Fear

As its title suggests, Daymare: 1998 takes place in the late ‘90s. The story is mostly throwaway — you’ve got your military organizations, sketchy government laboratories, deadly zombie viruses, and so on. There’s a bit of exposition every once in a while, but thankfully, the story doesn’t get in the way of the stuff that works — you know, the shooting-zombies-in-the-head stuff.

Daymare: 1998 gameplay on PS4.

Speaking of, one of the things that Daymare: 1998 does extremely well is build that long-lost tension around its zombies. Barring great examples of zombie comedy like The Return of the Living Dead and Shaun of the Dead, the best undead storytelling typically features tension and terror. From the films of George Romero all the way to the best moments of The Walking Dead, zombies can definitely be terrifying when tension is utilized properly. Daymare: 1998 does this, and it does a great job of making you scared of its zombies.

You’ll walk into a small room and see a dead person sitting on the floor, leaning up against the wall, and you just know they’re going to turn… eventually. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, but that fear that they can turn while you’re in that room solving a puzzle or looking for a key item is what makes Daymare: 1998 straight-up scary.

Other instances of legit horror include whenever you’re in a larger, more open space. You see a zombie off in the distance, so you instinctively go and put a bullet in its head. Okay, cool, you’re ready to move on! But what about all of those other corpses just lying around? Well, they’re going to turn at some point — after a cutscene, or a puzzle, or a dialogue sequence, you’ll probably have to fight off a few zombies.

Zombie horde attack in Daymare: 1998.

In the first season of The Walking Dead, a character named Morgan mentioned that a single zombie is easy to take down, but a group of zombies is tricky. The same is true here. If three zombies are coming at you, things get tough really fast. That’s because, for the most part, you’re not going to take them down with a single bullet, even if your aim is perfect. Some of these zombies can take two to three headshots. This isn’t exactly true to zombie lore, but it works in the context of scaring the hell out of the player.

Thankfully, the novelty of zombie encounters never wears thin in Daymare: 1998. Each of these moments feels absolutely dreadful, thanks to both the zombies themselves and the limited amount of ammo you usually have on you. Yes, having zombies repeatedly grab hold of you and throw up all over you can get annoying after a while, but the game never loses its sense of tension and horror. In that regard, Daymare: 1998 is true to the survival horror genre.

Puzzles Straight Out of the ‘90s

Unfortunately, as good as the game is about creating fear, it’s so focused on being true to older tropes that it can sometimes feel outdated. The shooting, for example, just doesn’t feel all that good. Yes, successfully popping off zombies is great, but aiming, firing, and reloading your weapon are not entertaining actions. That’s due to the sluggish nature of it all. We get it: Daymare: 1998 is all about bringing old school survival horror back, but the game would’ve been even better if it incorporated some modern sensibilities to create a tighter, more polished experience.

Zombie boss in Daymare: 1998.

Nowhere is this truer than in the game’s puzzles. A lot of the time, these involve some sort of computer terminal. You’ll have to memorize landmarks and items in your surroundings, lab room names and numbers, and more. You’ll then have to mess around these terminals to either change some number values or solve obscure riddles. Simply put, these puzzles aren’t fun, and you may soon find yourself looking up the solutions in a guide.

I have to stress that I totally understand that Daymare: 1998 is all about delivering an authentic ‘90s survival horror experience, but that authenticity comes at a cost. It’s simply not entertaining at all to have to deal with obnoxious puzzles. Resident Evil 3 did a great job of including old school-inspired puzzles that weren’t annoying or tedious. Daymare: 1998, unfortunately, revels in that tedium.

Daymare: 1998, Presentation: 2006

While Daymare: 1998 does a great job of emulating the feel of a classic survival horror game, it’s definitely not the best-looking game. The low-res textures, silly character designs, and overall barren environments are akin to that of an early-era PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 game. It doesn’t look terrible, but it’s definitely not up to the standards of the drop-dead gorgeous Resident Evil 3.

Daymare: 1998 survival horror gameplay.

The same can be said about the sound design, which is filled with bad voice acting. Nothing the characters say is memorable, and their delivery is kind of atrocious. On the plus side, the zombies sound pretty menacing, which is the important thing, especially as those creepy zombie noises add to the tense nature of the game.

Embracing Old School Survival Horror

If you’ve burned through Resident Evil 3 and are looking for another retro-horror fix, Daymare: 1998 is a solid recommendation. It’s far from perfect, and it leans a little too heavily on old school tropes — many of which simply haven’t aged well at all — but it does an incredible job of scaring the player. It also delivers that Romero-esque brand of zombie survival. The dark environments, creepy encounters, and high tension are true staples of horror that Daymare: 1998 does really well and make this title worth playing for anyone looking for a true old school horror experience.

Score: 7.5 out of 10

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