Slasher movies have become as much a part of the American cinematic lexicon as action and drama films. It’s gotten to the point that in recent years, the scenario of four teenagers alone in the wilderness is not only its own genre, it has its own spoofs of its own genre. 2010’s Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a prime example, as is 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods. The slasher genre has made its presence known in the video game world as well, but there’s never been a game that so frankly replicates that cinematic formula as Dead by Daylight.
Released just last week exclusively for the PC platform, Dead by Daylight is an asymmetric multiplayer survival horror game. Four players take on the role of scared survivors who have to elude a fifth player gussied up as a bloodthirsty killbilly. Both sides have goals to accomplish (and very different methods of doing so) in the scariest multiplayer game since Depth.
Dead by Daylight Premise is Quintessential Horror
Dead by Daylight‘s horror movie inspirations are obvious from the get-go. The survivor characters represent the most basic tropes of the slasher genre, from the geeky store manager to the skateboarding punk, and of course, the hot girl. Similarly, the killer characters draw inspiration from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Scream, Friday the 13th, and other films.
Each match of Dead by Daylight takes place in a spooky nighttime environment, from the quintessential slasher woods to an old auto junkyard. The game is relatively simple to understand; the survivors have to find a way out of the map, and the killer has to murder them all before they can escape. Whichever side can accomplish their respective goal first wins the match.
Inveterate horror fans will know that as scary as computer-controlled monsters can be, nothing compares to being stalked by a human player. In contrast to their artificial counterparts, human-controlled monsters are unpredictable and much, much smarter. The horror of eluding such an entity is brought front-and-center in Dead by Daylight, making for a terrifying game.
Gameplay and Training: Some Tweaks Required
Although Dead by Daylight has an audacious goal, the game gets off to a rocky start. The options menu in this game is neither great nor terrible, it’s just weird. For example, the screen size resolution option is represented as a percentage, instead of a list of common resolutions. Such a mechanic is, to put it politely, a bizarre design choice. Why not feature a list of resolutions to pick from? What is the percentage in the option relative to? Additionally, there is no option to rebind the keys, which is sub-standard for a PC game.
Dead by Daylight also stumbles on introducing new players, which should be of obvious importance to a multiplayer video game. The tutorials consist of videos that new players are to watch and learn from—this is obviously much less engaging than an in-person tutorial on a practice map. Additionally, though the videos demonstrate the specific tasks that survivors and killers can perform, they don’t list the actual keys used to carry out those functions. The video will tell players that they need to turn on generators, but fails to specify what key to press and what to be on the lookout for while doing so. The icing on the cake is that the videos are even labeled confusingly, with one killer video called “How to Hunt” and the other called “How to Find”.
Playing as a Survivor: Escape the Map
Anyhoo, after enduring the horrors of a weird options menu and poor tutorials, players can jump into a game. Survivors have no weapons or other means of self-defense, and can only run and hide to elude the killer. Survivors will hear their own heartbeats quicken when the killer is nearby, but have to be prepared to run if they’re spotted.
The main goal for the survivors is to turn on generators and open a gate out of the map. There are a few generators scattered around the area, and survivors have to find and repair each one to open up the escape route. There’s no in-game chat, so survivor players can’t communicate with one another, but perhaps that’s fair. Victims in slasher films can’t just yell salutations to each other across a killer-infested woodland, now can they?
Playing as a Killer: Kill the Survivors
The killer’s mission is to find and murder the survivors before they can escape, a task that they’re uniquely suited to. There are a few killer characters to choose from, and each one presents its own spin on terrifyingly murdering innocent people. The Hillbilly character goes after his victims with a chainsaw, while the Trapper strews bear traps all over the place to snare his unfortunate victims. Once he’s found and slashed his victims, the killer must sacrifice each one to “the Entity” a Satanic spider-thingy that looks like a daedra from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
The killer is armed with a weapon, of course, and can move faster than survivors, forcing the latter group to be unorthodox in their escapes. The killer cannot crouch, and climbs through windows much slower than survivors, but is otherwise relentless. This is especially true when a bloodthirsty human pilot is added to the formula.
Things Done Right: Perks, Prizes, and Pretty Darn Terrifying
Dead by Daylight incorporates RPG elements into its nightmare mix. Each kind of character gets points for certain actions throughout the match, and those points are accumulated even if the player loses. From there, upgrades like quieter running or first aid kids can be purchased from a pre-match menu screen. At the current time, the game is a bit imbalanced and forces a lot of playing (or “grinding”) to level up even once or twice. The rewards players can buy vary between permanent perks and items that can only be used so many times.
The perks and items players buy help them move about the game’s large environments, which are beautifully spooky. The visuals are decent, minus a few texture errors on the characters’ clothing, and the environments look, again, out of a slasher movie. Muted sound effects from nighttime wildlife and the dull thundering of wind complete the setup, making each map an admirably spooky set piece.
Back to the Drawing Board: The Clear Disparity in Difficulty
Although Dead by Daylight is off to a spirited start, the game has a long way to go before it becomes truly accessible. Right now, the game needs patching, in almost all of its departments. To start off with, it is insanely more difficult to play as a survivor than the killer. It takes the killer no effort to catch up to and kill a fleeing survivor, and the killer’s ability to see survivors’ every footprint makes this a no-brainer. The developer claims that the killer actually has the tougher mission because there are so many survivors, but finding and killing all of them is a breeze. Right now, most matches don’t last five minutes.
In addition to the killer’s ability to track survivors, some of the killer characters are overpowered. The Wraith character, for example, has the ability to turn invisible. Come on. The thing’s already got a sword, now it can just come up and stab people from behind? The game encourages survivors to get away by tipping over trash or climbing through windows to obscure the killer’s path, but the opportunity to do either is rare. In these big, open maps, there are only a small handful of windows or collapsible garbage to take advantage of. This setup is not only frustrating for the survivor players, but it also makes playing a killer boring. There’s no challenge to murdering the survivors at all.
Multiplayer Basics Fail: It’s Hard to Play With Friends
Dead by Daylight also suffers from a number of questionable multiplayer design choices. Gamers who buy the game and want to play together cannot enter the same match together. Dead by Daylight forces each player to cycle through whichever lobby comes up first, forcing players to waste time searching for their friends and keeping everyone else twiddling their thumbs in the lobbies. Like this game’s options setup, the lack of an active match list is just… strange. It would solve a lot of problems and save players a lot of time waiting in lobbies, sifting through groups of people waiting to start. It’s perfectly understandable if Dead by Daylight‘s developer is too small to maintain dedicated servers, but finding the player’s friends should not be this difficult.
There is an option for people who want to play together: form a private party. But players can only do so if there are five people in the match, so any group of friends numbering less than five is out of luck. Once again, Dead by Daylight produces an anomaly of a design choice, for which there is no apparent logic. It shouldn’t be so prohibitively difficult to play with friends. Playing with friends and acquaintances is the lifeblood of any multiplayer game, much more so than playing with random strangers.
Like so many things, Dead by Daylight is a great concept, but the execution needs work. Do not purchase this game yet. It needs a lot of work, from improving its tutorials to re-balancing its characters to undoing its weird multiplayer system. The game is not doomed to failure, though; Depth started out as a severely imbalanced game, and through tweaks and fixes has become one of the most popular multiplayer games on Steam.
Depth only got that way, though, because its developer listened to the community and integrated their feedback, and that’s what the people who made this game have to do now. The game’s approval rating is steadily declining as more players log on and discover these issues. Once they’re fixed, Dead by Daylight could be a great game, but right now, it needs to go back into the hangar for some refitting.
This post has been used with permission from Ian Coppock and is also found at his blog, Art as Games. Follow him on Twitter at @IanLayneCoppock or friend him on Steam at username Art as Games.