Horror games have long emulated the evocative nature of the film genre, from supernatural to surrealist. Even the most iconic gaming franchises rooted in scares and chills harken back to the classics of the silver screen. Silent Hill and Resident Evil wear their influences on their sleeves, and they’re better for it. But for every borrowed jump scare and recycled psycho killer, there are truly original ideas that can push the medium forward.
Dead By Daylight, from Behaviour Interactive, isn’t shy about what it wants to be. Anyone who has ever seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a single Halloween film, or Friday the 13th will instantly recognize the premise. A small group of survivors must rely on their wit to outsmart and escape a deranged, almost unstoppable being bent on bringing about their deaths. It’s a naturally hectic, frightening, and often entertaining premise for an online game.
Four players assume the roles of survivors. Another player controls the killer, and the game can only end with either a successful exodus or a total slaughter. The hopeful escapees view the world from an over-the-shoulder perspective, to take in more of the environments, while their foe controls a character from the first-person.
There are easily discernible differences in each play style. The group of teens moves slower, but can vault obstacles and interact with key elements on the map. In the role of the lone wolf hunter, the player is gifted with a sixth sense that clues them into objects of interest. The emphasis on cooperation among the survivors makes for as much compelling gameplay as the bloodthirsty routine as the killer.
Each map in Dead By Daylight is procedurally generated, customized for that specific match. Buildings will never be in the same spot twice, nor will players have a sense of where they are starting in each new round. Several consistent objectives guide both teams toward the inevitable conclusion. A series of generators needs to be powered up in order to escape, after two switches are flipped. The killer spends most of their time chasing down each defenseless individual, with the hopes of hanging them on a sacrificial hook.
Each character can also be progressed and customized to the liking of the player. Perks offer different boosts in speed, perception, and thriftiness that can subtly change the course of a match. Even being able to know where an injured survivor has been crawling can affect players’ behaviors. What is disappointing, though, is the lack of diversity among the cast of creatures you can choose from.
The humans are well-represented across the board, and play almost identically at all times, with different outfit choices and aesthetics to toy with. The killers, however, look much more exciting when compared to each other, though they all control almost exactly the same. They are imposing, fast-walking behemoths that can swing a weapon back and forth to damage nearby prey. The tension of hiding to stalk an opponent is always more engaging than anything resembling combat, which is shallow, flat, and underwhelming.
It doesn’t help that Dead By Daylight offers no tutorial, or even a practice mode for one single player. Upon first launching the game, you can familiarize yourself with the lore and controls through in-game menus, or launch into an unknown world of online matchmaking.
That is, of course, if you’re lucky. The recent release of Dead By Daylight on consoles comes with its own heap of problems. (The game first appeared on PC over a year ago.)
Joining up with a random group of survivors is almost impossible at this point, so infrequent that more successful matches are found when trying to be the killer. In its current state, the game offers very little to do on menu screens, save for check on progression, perks, and outfits. But these cosmetic changes are hardly substantial, and the unlockable gameplay modifiers don’t really offer much reason to see them through to completion.
With no in-game explanation for the various elements to keep track of on the map, what prompts are worth watching out for, or even how to interact with suspicious items found while playing, Dead By Daylight is incredibly frustrating to play. When the game is doing everything it intends to, pitting a coordinated squad against a ferocious foe, there can be genuine surprises and adrenaline on both sides. It’s unfortunate that most players’ time will be spent searching for a party to join up with and testing out each of the playable characters’ outfits multiple times on the queue screen.
Games like this one can change over time. Developers can stabilize server issues and balance mechanics to make for a more cohesive experience overall. There is something great at the core of Dead By Daylight, past the mindless action controls and nagging glitches. The game is far from unplayable, but the persistent problems make it impossible to recommend for people who plan to play alone.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed on Xbox One with a code provided by the publisher.