Oh, the 90s. A decade that is both worthy of nostalgia and now far enough in the rear view mirror for some to look back on it with longing eyes. We’ve seen tributes to 90s cutute in past games like Gone Home, which had many easter eggs related to the decade dominated by aliens, disaster movies, and the NWO. With Daymare: 1998, the teams at Destructive Creations and Invader Studios pays homage to not only the culture of the 1990s, but also the horror shooters that emerged from it in the gaming world. The inspiration from the Resident Evil series is clear throughout the experience, but will Daymare: 1998 be remembered with as much reverence? If you approach the game with the right level of expectations, well, maybe.
The story of Daymare: 1998 is simple enough. Evil corporation/government organization H.A.D.E.S. has released a dangerous chemical into the wild and it is turning people into zombies. You, in third person shooter style, must vanquish both the threat and the evil doers in dark, eerie settings using clunky controls and combat, all while displaying your puzzle solving skills at the exact times you need something important to happen. During Daymare: 1998, you play as one of three different characters (Sam, Liev, and Raven) over the course of five different chapters. The use of three characters is nice and offers what feels like a change, but there unfortunately isn’t any real difference between how the characters play. A difference in the player’s experience with each character would have been a nice touch – for example, having some characters have different strengths.
Each character does offer a different backstory and motive for doing what they are doing, but each is a little cliched as well. Most players will find Sam the easiest character to identify with, and thus, probably enjoy his story the most. The H.A.D.E.S. angle is ripped right out of 1990s storytelling, complete with the evil shadow government organization trying to to terrible things while the public remains ignorant. If this feels like an episode of The X-Files, you’re not alone in thinking that. The developers are fans of the show too, as you’ll meet Agent Krycek in the first chapter.
The many nods to 1990s culture are part of what makes Daymare: 1998 fun though. Along with references to The X-Files, you’ll find nods to Terminator, Escape From L.A., Independence Day, Men in Black, and much more. This nostalgia is a constant reminder that Daymare: 1998 is a tribute to the Resident Evil games that defined the horror shooter genre in that decade. It’s when you actually start playing the game and measure it to 2020 standards that problems begin to arise.
Controls in Daymare: 1998 are clunky and frustrating at times, and it does take away from the experience. It is frustrating to be playing a game in 2020 and have to hold down the left bumper AND click in the left stick in order to run. Additionally, movement is not always completely responsive, and you end up repeatedly running right into enemies that you are trying to avoid during combat. In a game where the developer states that there are not enough bullets to kill all the enemies, movement and running has to be more responsive and intuitive for players in 2020 – no matter how longingly we look back to how games played in 1998.
Shooting controls are pretty basic and consistent with other games today. Left trigger to aim and right trigger to fire. Aiming feels mostly responsive with the thumb stick, and it is advisable to take the time to line up head shots whenever possible to save ammunition, which can be hard to come by in Daymare: 1998. However, when you use melee combat, it can be downright infuriating as you try to correctly time your swing and watch your energy meter diminish quickly with each clunky attempt to attack the enemy.
A good aim and trigger finger isn’t enough to be successful in combat in Daymare: 1998, however, as the combat ties directly into your ability to effectively manage inventory. When you pick up rounds of ammunition, they do not automatically load into a clip for you to reload during combat. Instead, you have to go into your inventory and manually ensure that your magazines are filled with ammunition so that you will be able to reload during combat. If that doesn’t sound fun enough, a fast reload will result in you dropping the magazine on the ground, meaning you won’t have additional magazines to place ammunition into if you forget to pick them up after combat. Whenever possible, avoid the fast reload and opt for the slower option that keeps the magazine in your inventory.
Ammunition is not the only thing that will need to be manually managed in inventory, however. Health does not replenish automatically, so you will need to collect and use items that replenish your character’s health in the game. When in the inventory screen, different items can be combined to make them even stronger when boosting health, energy, focus, etc. Again, this will all need to be done manually in the inventory screen, but using the items in-game can be done with a push of the B button on Xbox One.
Visually, Daymare: 1998 has the look and feel of a game that could have released ten years ago. While playing the game, I consistently had the feeling that I would enjoy the experience a lot more if I had played it on the Xbox 360 rather than today on the Xbox One. Unfortunately, the game was not released for the Xbox 360 – it is instead released in 2020 on the Xbox One. Nothing that Invader Studios did while creating the environment is bad – in fact, the graphics and visuals of the game do work to contribute to the dark, scary vibe of the game. It just feels that the graphics and visuals seen in Daymare: 1998 aren’t anything that would be considered cutting edge, and wouldn’t have been for the past decade.
The same is true with the audio in Daymare: 1998. Environmental sounds are good and offer a lot to the experience, but some of the voice acting leaves a lot to be desired. In survival horror games, making the player feel immersed and like they’ve been dropped into the story is paramount, and the voice acting in Daymare: 1998 takes away from that at times.
Ultimately, Daymare:1998 is a fun experience for someone who’s a fan of the survival horror genre. Additionally, the environments and callbacks to the 1990s are great, and were the best part of the game. Being that it is a single player, third person shooter, there unfortunately isn’t a lot of replay value unless you just love the game or are an achievement completionist. If you can temper your expectations, and don’t mind clunky controls and a sometimes maddening inventory system, you will have a lot of fun with Daymare: 1998. The developers put a lot of love and care into the game and it shows, just like it shows how much they love Resident Evil 2. If you do too, give Daymare: 1998 a go – you just might with you were playing Resident Evil 2 Remake instead.
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