Hapless, unarmed and defenseless victims, broken machinery, locked gates, unfamiliar territory and a ruthless homicidal maniac with powers bordering on the supernatural. The killer wields a brutally savage weapon and there are bloodied meat hooks dangling from gallows as a constant reminder of the fate that awaits the unwary. We've all seen this before. We all know how this will end, or at least we think we do, but in the procedurally generated and randomized world of Dead by Daylight, nothing turns out to be that predictable.
The premise is as simple as a slasher b-movie. Four survivors are thrust together in a nightmarish arena tasked only with escaping. All the while, they are stalked by an unstoppable killer whose only desire is to see them killed and sacrificed to the supernatural evil force known as 'The Entity'. However, from starting with such a straightforward idea, developer Behaviour Interactive has introduced an extraordinary depth to the gameplay based on two key ideas that run throughout: asymmetry and procedural generation.
The asymmetry is seen in a number of ways, even whilst waiting in the lobby. Whilst the survivors can see each other, they cannot see the killer. However, this is the only opportunity to talk to each other in-game because once the match starts, there's no more chat available. The unfortunate survivors have no idea which of the six homicidal maniacs — a mix of human and supernatural — they will be facing until after the match has started. With each killer having a very different special skill, such as teleporting, invisibility, or setting traps, it's difficult to strategize. The killer can see exactly which four of the seven survivor characters they will be facing, something vitally important as each character has different skills, such as quicker repair times, better stealth or increased mobility.
To escape, survivors have to repair five of the seven generators found within the map, which will then power up the two sets of exit doors. This is no easy task as other than the environments of each of the six maps, everything is randomly placed — the generators, the exits, the escape hatch, and the killer's meat hooks — so the locations have to be rediscovered with each new game. This forces the survivors to explore and the maps are created to make things difficult at ground level with corn fields, long grass, swamps and mist obscuring the view. Burning offerings at the start of each game can also have an effect on the environment, so there is a degree of unpredictability too. Fortunately, survivors play in third person view that at least gives a better view of the immediate surroundings.
The killer is restricted to first person view but has the advantage of heightened senses. Generators show up with bright outlines, as do the meat hooks. If a survivor fails a skill check - a Quick Time Event - when attempting to repair a generator, there is a visual and audio cue showing the killer exactly which generator that was. With the skill checks being randomly timed, this happens more than you would like. The killer's heightened senses also reveal the trails left behind by wounded and fleeing survivors.
For all parties, it becomes an extremely nerve-wracking game of cat and mouse that can end in a horribly twisted and bloody manner. That first time that you see one of the survivors sacrificed on the hook and being claimed by The Entity, it is genuinely disturbing. Everything is set up to unnerve players. Survivors will hear the heartbeat of the Killer, which gets faster and louder as they get closer. Music gets louder too, heading towards a crescendo. This leaves the survivors the choice to hide or flee — fighting back is not an option. When you're forced to flee, it is genuinely tense, doing your best to shake the killer on your tail. Your only option is to jink and to throw obstacles in the murderer's path hoping, to stay out of reach of the killer's weapon. You know it's a game but it's spine chilling in these moments.
The killers have no one and nothing to fear. They enter each match with complete impunity, fully embracing their own dark passengers, but for the survivors it's a very different matter. One blow from a killer's weapon is enough to cripple them, leaving them hobbling for safety. A second hit will leave them on the ground crawling, a position from which they mostly end up dangling from a hook, hoping that a fellow survivor will try to rescue them. Players can heal each other, but that too includes random quick time events — mistime it and the patient will let out a yelp of pain that can be heard by the killer if they are close enough. It's all unpredictable but so finely balanced that it feels like everything is on a knife-edge. It is extremely compelling.
Actions throughout the match reward players with bloodpoints — experience points — that can be spent on skills and perks found on a skill tree, the bloodweb. Each character has their own set of perks and a special perk that can be taught to other survivors. However, the skill tree is another element that is procedurally generated; it contains perks, add-ons and skills, but with each leveling up, you never know what you are going to receive. After reaching level 10, 'The Entity' starts devouring nodes of the tree, potentially removing that rare special perk at the end of a particular branch before you can get it. This means that the progression and build of characters, both survivor and killer, is random.
Graphically, there is a Left 4 Dead vibe to the graphics and it's surprising considering what is possible with the Unreal 4 engine. The graphics are certainly not stunning, but they do the job and don't detract from the essential parts of the game. Fortunately, the ear candy with the ambient sounds and the soundscape is exceptionally good and forms an essential part of the gameplay. Audio cues pepper the environmental background sounds. The whimpering of injured survivors, painful gasps of those being healed and the wailing of impaled victims all add to the eerie atmosphere and the already highly charged and dramatic tension; more importantly, they help lead the killers to their prey.
For any multiplayer only title, it's imperative that the matchmaking works well and the amount of time spent waiting for lobbies was frustrating. It was often so frustrating that fellow survivors would often quit and search for another match; given that you need a complete team to start, this left you waiting even longer. You can create a dedicated party and play with friends, but most of the time you will be playing with strangers. This doesn't include the loading time for the map that also seems to take more time than you'd like. This could become a classic drop-in title if only the matchmaking was quicker. In all fairness, there is a recent patch to improve this on the PC, so this may well be another fix that eventually arrives on the console. Even during the review period, the game was updated to version 1.5.1. This also highlights the continuing support for the game from the developer.
For achievement hunters, the game takes on a different form of nightmare. There are three achievements for hitting prestige three times, meaning reaching level 50 three times over. Similarly, there are achievements for completing a game with all three levels of perks, but you won't unlock all of the perk slots until level 25. Being asked to do this for seven different characters will take some time. There are more like this but the picture is clear — this is a game for hunting survivors and not for hunting achievements.
SummaryDead by Daylight has the potential to become a cult classic among asymmetric games. Everything is finely balanced and the way that all of the random elements can alter a match adds an intriguing level of depth to the title. The chase, from the standpoint of both Killer and Survivor, is an intense, adrenaline filled, and nail-biting affair. This could be an ideal title to drop in and out of while grinding through the achievements and leveling up characters, but that concept of drop-in game reveals the achilles heel of the title: the waiting time to play. As a survivor, it seems to take numerous attempts to find a server and you have to be patient. With a few more tweaks, there is a good multiplayer survival horror title here for horror fans.
- Genuinely creepy atmosphere
- Great use of ambient sound as a cue
- Procedurally generated elements make matches unpredictable
- Surprisingly deep leveling, perks and progression system
- Sometimes difficult to find games as a survivor
- Long loading times at the start of the match
- Very long grind for achievement hunters
EthicsThe reviewer spent nearly 20 hours playing both survivor and killer, alternating between cowering in fear and embracing his darker side. Five miserly achievements were unlocked during the review period. The Xbox One download code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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