by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
A Familiar Feel
I’m sure this will be a common comparison, but one would be forgiven for looking at footage of Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle and thinking that it was a new entry in the Resident Evil franchise. I don’t mean that as an insult in the slightest; as the RE series has largely shifted into first-person horror, Daymare acts as a sort of "what if?" that gives us a peek into what Capcom's games may have looked like if they continued to make games in the style of Resident Evil 4. To rely on comparisons isn't quite fair, though. While the preview that I was able to play certainly wears its inspirations on its sleeve, the game definitely has its own feel.
Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is a prequel to the similarly-named Daymare 1998. I’ll admit that I haven’t played the latter, so I went into this preview without any preconceptions. There may be more context that's clearer to a veteran of the soon-to-be-franchise, but taken on its own I can't comment on the quality or subject matter of the narrative since this slice of the game was designed to show off the game's basic mechanics and stayed away from story beats. From the brief text at the beginning and a few text documents spread around the demo level, I was able to gather that I was playing Dalila Reyes, a former government agent now part of the paramilitary group H.A.D.E.S., that’s been tasked with looking into a spooky happening in some government facility.
Injured and Icy
The demo opened up with Dalila injured in an industrial-gray room. From there on, there wasn't really a specific objective beyond "walk around and don't die." Even within the confined setting, there were some nicely diversified environments, including some sort of industrial centre and a large military hanger housing some nefarious-looking stealth bomber-esque crafts. The first thing I noticed was that everything has a ton of weight to it; Dalila moves slowly and guns have a lot of kick to them. This slower pace was nice for the most part. This is not a run-and-gun action game, and the general lack of mobility and limited ammo/gunplay did add to the tension nicely.
One unique twist in Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is Delila's reliance on an ice spray. She can shoot blasts of it like a bullet, or she can jet it out like a reverse flamethrower from her wrist. I had to use it to cool some overheated pipes and put out some flames on the ground throughout the first half of my playtime, and it is critical in combat as well. There was only one type of enemy that I had to take down, and, like many good horror games, they were limited in numbers but each presented a significant threat. The monstrous baddies look like zombies, and they act like zombies, but their infusion with some sort of sinister electricity makes them stand out a bit from their kin in other games. Each one is capable of doing significant damage if they get up close, and their spark can revive them or other fallen enemies once they're shot. To counter this, the player can freeze and shatter them to avoid revival. I have mixed feelings on the combat. On one hand, hearing the electrostatic noise of an approaching enemy was always nerve-wracking due to how quickly they can land fatal blows. I also liked The interplay of traditional firearms and freezing. I did, however, feel like hit detection was sometimes off, and there were some weird moments of invulnerability while enemies revived that lacked visual or aural cues which led me to waste ammo more than I otherwise would have.
Similarly, puzzle elements seemed to be a bit of a mixed bag. The first (and only true) puzzle with the pipes, mentioned above, was clever and made sense in-game, but others were largely bland and straightforward. One time I had to find a key card, which was only a few paces from the door it unlocked, and the other I had to find a way to fix some elevator platforms by walking along the linear path and interacting with three computers. These are fine as reasons to walk around and find the occasional enemy, but I couldn’t help feeling they could have been a bit more engaging. There was also some backtracking that I had to do towards the end of the demo, and the required distance just seemed too far given the relatively slow movement speed. Speaking of movement and progression, it also felt a bit silly that walkways were blocked with small, thigh-high crates. I understand that immersive blocks are a challenge, but I groaned a bit when my hyper-fit paramilitary agent could not step over something.
Overall, I was intrigued by my brief time with Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the full game has to offer when it releases on a hitherto unannounced date later in 2022. The scale here was too small to form strong overarching opinions, but the framework is there for an exciting experience. The slower pace makes for an atmosphere that is tense without being straight-up scary, and I'm excited to see what other weapons and gadgets can add to combat. I also want to see how puzzle-reliant the experience is, and what their quality will be. For now, mark me down as cautiously optimistic.
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