‘Dead by Daylight’: Great premise marred, er… stabbed by missed opportunities
By Tommy Robbins. This is LOAD FILE, where ch ch ch AH AH AH. This week, Tommy reviews ‘Dead by Daylight’, out soon for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Dead by Daylight takes a stab at cooperative multiplayer horror and, for the most part, slashes through everything you’d expect to get in its way. Splitting the difference between hilarity and downright terror, developers Behaviour Interactive have ditched the need for the droning story beats and instead focused on asynchronous multiplayer that produces those “OH MY GOD HE”S BEHIND ME” horror-movie-moments while riding the line between killer and prey.
Behaviour’s slasher game is about to make the leap to consoles via Starbreeze Studios which, considering 1.8 million digital copies have already sold on Steam, makes a lot of financial horse sense. So let’s take a look at Dead by Daylight before a physical copy this thing comes into our house and murders our senses to death.
BLOODY GOOD GAMEPLAY
Dead by Daylight pits five players in a 4 vs 1 scenario. Four survivors of a murder spree find themselves trapped inside the walls of what I can only call a “death arena”: not a literal arena mind you, but rather a confining and inescapable horror movie set. Scattered throughout the randomly selected level (be it an abandoned junkyard, an icky asylum, or a friggin’ swamp), you’ll find generators that will power one of the several exit gates in the level, which you can then run like hell through to freedom. Once the basics are established, the nuance begins to take shape.
The primary setup is only the beginning of a terrifying game of cat and mouse. As survivors creep around the level, a slew of opportunities and traps present themselves: Crows nesting atop various structures will spook and fly away should survivors pass them too hastily, traps are peppered throughout each map, and both are designed to cause all sorts of commotion, bringing a psycho killer armed with some sort of blunt object with which to thrash upon their fragile human skulls. Once the killer has found a victim, it takes merely two to three hits before the survivor is down, allowing the killer to pick up the survivor and hang them from rusty meat hooks scattered around the map — which is no good.
Hopefully, teammates are feeling altruistic in these moments, and decide to come to the rescue; too long on the hook means an early end of the match.
Survivors have some things working to their favor to thwart these grim outcomes. Before the match begins, the team of four can view each other’s gear and have a chance to change loadouts accordingly. The options are simple but detrimental to success. First aid kits allow survivors to bandage themselves should they be hit and increase the speed in which they can heal teammates. Tool kits allow players to sabotage those previously mentioned meat hooks. A team with an even distribution of gear can easily go through a level taking down the hooks and healing each other, equating to a much more one-sided and frustrating experience for the killer. No hooks means no hanging, which leaves potential victims with the ability to crawl away and potentially be revived. An empowered survivor party can make quick work of an unsuspecting kill, but the possibilities don’t end here. Killers have a slew of perks that can even the odds.
In entry levels, killers can see the footprints of hurrying survivors and are notified as to the direction of commotion, but as matches come and go and experience is gained, the ability to unlock more perks is granted. Don’t understand why Michael Myers keeps appearing in the shadows, staring at you? The longer the killer maintains line of sight without attacking, the stronger his attacks will be. Did you hear an eerie bell chime before you got yourself slaughtered? It’s because the Wraith can enter the spirit realm with the ring of his chime, going invisible to sneak up behind you before reappearing. The tug-o-war between a cooperating team of survivors and a well-equipped killer is the biggest thrill in Dead by Daylight.
LACK OF DIVERSITY AND THE DREADED CAMPFIRE
The levels in Dead by Daylight are inspired by obvious horror movie tropes. Michael-Myers-ville, check. Creepy farm with cornfield, check. While these settings are not the issue, that lack of interesting and unique elements within them is. None of the levels offer anything that truly sets them apart, so the levels often fall into flat categories, like “The one with the Houses” or “The one with the field”. They offer nothing more than an area in which to play the game when they could be providing their own challenges. It feels like a missed opportunity. Fortunately for some, they may never have this gripe because team matchmaking is so hit or miss that you may hardly see the maps.
This was the point of no return for Dead by Daylight. I was fortunate enough to get a few days of relatively easily found matches before the issue began, but some will find that matchmaking can become a serious pain in the ass. First, there are no bots in Dead by Daylight. Only an established party of five can play. The killer hosts the match, which presents a world of connectivity issues should the killer sport a crappy wifi connection. Finding survivors could take several minutes but was usually easy enough. Once the survivor team is formed, they are placed around a campfire in a lobby to wait for an available killer. This is where our running gag, “campfire-with-friends simulator”, began. I tell you with zero exaggeration that we waited forty-five minutes to find a killer on more than one occasion. Some of us prepared meals and even played other games while waiting. All that was missing was the marshmallows.
YOU OWE ME A SCREAM
I was coaxed into trying out Dead by Daylight by a group of enthusiastic friends. I found that the balance between survival mode and killer mode — getting your full team out alive, turning around to realize you’re being hunted, or accomplishing the complete opposite of that — was a genuine thrill. The unfortunate downfall of repetitive levels isn’t great, but that’s a similar issue found in most competitive multiplayer-style games, though the inability to get into matches at times is downright insufferable. I would easily recommend this game in its full functioning state, but seeing as matchmaking is an uncertain venture, your mileage may vary.
Developed by Behaviour Interactive.
Published by Starbreeze Studios.
Directed by Ash Pannel.
Produced by Mathieu Cote.
Designed by Dave Richard.
Platform(s): Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
6 out of 10