Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Behavior Digital Inc.
Publisher: Starbreeze Studios.
God, but do I love Dead by Daylight’s entire premise. As a horror movie fan the idea of a multiplayer game where one player takes on the role of a brutal killer and must hunt four other people down is simply brilliant. When it’s at its peak Dead by Daylight is a tense, exciting game, the kind that makes you lough out loud nervously, yell at the screen, fist-pump in triumph and everything in between. During these moments it captures the feel of a good slasher film with aplomb; stalking toward a victim who is crawling away; running up the stairs, chasing your prey while swinging a chainsaw; watching the killer moving just inches away from you in long grass; barely making an escape. In these moments Dead by Daylight is damn good.
Playing as one of the victims your job is to escape the killer’s domain, done by successfully repairing enough of the generators scattered around the level to open the gates that lead to blessed freedom. To fix these mechanical contraptions, though, means having to make yourself a target because as they slowly sputter back into life they’ll begin making more and more noise. Furthermore, while repairing you have to make skill checks by hitting spacebar at the right time – fail and a massive backfire will alert the killer to your location. The process can be sped up by having multiple people working at the same time, but that also means more chance of somebody screwing up.
To get away from the killer there’s a few things you can do; windows can be clambered through, which slow the killer down by quite a bit, and parts of the environment can be pulled down to block the path, forcing the killer to either go around or spend valuable time destroying the obstruction. There are cupboards to hide in, too, although obviously this leaves you little room for escape if the killer catches a glimpse of you ducking into one.It’s essentially cat and mouse; the killer is trying to preempt your movements to cut you off, and you’re scampering like the terrified little mouse you are. Happily a heartbeat gives you an indication of how close the killer is, and before long you realise that the best strategy is to remain calm and move carefully. Fast movements tend to be the most obvious, so if you can get yourself crouched in some long grass and let your teammates run around like headless chickens then all will be fine. Furthermore sprinting also leaves behind a glowing trail of scratch marks that hang around for a few seconds, letting the killer track you.
While the victims play in third-person and therefore have better visibility, the killer is limited to a first-person viewpoint. Moreover, for some reason the killer is basically incapable of navigating things like windows in a competent manner, so like we covered getting hold of the terrified teens means predicting where they are going to go rather than just following after them. There’s a second or two of recovery time after swinging your weapon, too, so instead of just attacking wildly like an idiot you’ve got to make sure your strikes are going to connect, otherwise you’ve just given your prey time to get away. Even if you manage to slice them up there’s still a small amount of recovery time, giving them a chance to limp away, unless you’ve earned certain special perks. They’ll be bleeding and slow, though, and a second hit will drop them to the ground. At this point you pick ’em up and have to carry them over to the nearest meathook and impale them on it, where they will be sacrificed to some strange dark God if they don’t manage to escape. On that note, I adore the way people are sacrificed; large spider-like legs materialise above the meathook, and if they can’t escape in time they get impaled by them, and then dragged into the sky. It’s freaking awesome, even if you don’t get much time to admire the sight. Should a victim manage to get away from you then those glowing scratch marks that we talked about will appear on walls and the ground for a few seconds, giving you a chance to continue the hunt. If you’ve wounded them then you’ll also be able to hear their groans of pain.
On top of that, each of the three available killers have their own unique powers. The hillbilly has a chainsaw that takes a few seconds to fire up, but then launches into a mad sprinting attack which can mow a target down if aimed correctly, though the sound of a chainsaw ripping into life gives them a chance to start zigzagging like mad. Wraith comes with invisibility that deactivates the warning heartbeat, but he can be seen in this form by eagle-eyed survivors and can’t attack. Furthermore, when becoming visible again it takes a few seconds and loud bells heralds his arrival. Finally Trapper lives up to his name with vicious traps that can leave players limping for a while.
If it sounds like the killer is some sort of all-powerful, dominating force then you’d be wrong. Surprisingly the balance is currently in favor of the poor humans trapped within the killer’s realm. With four people running around, multiple generators and several balancing issues that the community have figured out I very rarely see the killer eliminate all four people, although I did manage it a couple of times myself. Indeed, most of the time whoever was stomping around with a machete or club was lucky to take down two of his targets. However, the killer technically wins provided he kills just one person. t.
Some others mechanics are tossed in, too. Using a flashlight they’ve unlocked victims can force a killer to drop a teammate, for example. Survivors can also rescue each other from meathooks, which has led to those locations being camped out by the killer. A lot of people are growing angry about this, but frankly it’s actually quite smart; on the one hand using an injured or maimed person as bait is wonderfully thematically on point, and secondly camping a meathook is a big risk for whomever is playing as the killer because if nobody pops by to rescue the dying teen then that means they’ve spent all that time fixing up generators instead. With this in mind, though, just standing right next to the hook is a dick move; at least go patrol the surrounding area.
Throughout all of it you’ll be earning points to level up your survivors and your killers through the appropriately named Bloodweb. Using this you can unlock new perks, add-ons and more that provide you with much needed stat boosts. You can also purchase packs which will gift you with a variety of perks and other bonuses that can be equipped, such as a bar for the Hillybilly’s chainsaw that increases attack distance or a more powerful flash light. There’s also extra visual customisation options that can be unlocked to help bring a little extra personality to the characters, although nowhere near enough of them. Indeed, a lack of content and repetition are big problems for Dead by Daylight ; every match feels a lot alike, and after even a few rounds you’ll have experienced all the game really has to offer. The cheap asking price will help soften the blow for some, but there’s no getting around the general lack of content.
The big problem is balance. To be fair a game of this nature is always going to be a nightmare to keep fair, and every single tweak will doubtless cause a small torrent of angry comments to appear on the forums. Right now, though, the killer seems to have a pretty hard time of things since survivors have discovered an annoying issue where they can simply leap through a window and then wait for the killer to come around, before jumping through again and so on and so on. This gives the others a chance to escape, and as the killer all you can really do is mooch off to find the other players unless you manage to feint and trip them up.
Having said that the balance is in favor of the survivors, things begin to make a lot more sense when you realise that as the killer you’re mission in life isn’t actually to hunt down and murder all four survivors, although doing so is certainly satisfying. No, you’re real goal is to terrorise the crap out of them, to torture them by giving chase, letting them escape, slicing them up, scaring the snot out of them and simply playing with them like a demented predator plays with its food. This realisation comes through the odd ranking system. To get to the next rank you must earn enough pips, and to get a pip you have to achieve a certain level of Bloodpoints in a match, which are acquired via impaling people, chasing them, hitting them, scaring them and more. If you don’t get enough, though, you can actually lose pips and ranks. It’s a strange system in some ways because it punishes efficiency. If you march into a match and decimate everyone quickly and with minimal fuss, you might actually find yourself losing a rank because you never scored enough points, thus if you want to earn ranks you’re actively encouraged to play the role of a horror movie villain by taking your time. The more you draw a match out, the better you score as a killer. It’s an interesting idea, and personally I like it, but then my favorite role was that of the killer. For a survivor it can be frustrating, because if the heavily flawed matchmaking chucks you up against a superior player who is using a killer with plenty of good perks then a match can become a slog.
What’s weird is while this method of ranking is thematically appropriate for a killer, it just doesn’t work for the survivors. As a pitiful human trying to flee with all vital organs still contained on the inside, staying far away from the killer and escaping without a hitch should be the best way to score points and thus earn new ranks. However, I actually discovered that by fixing generators perfectly, helping a friend or two and then hot-footing it out of the area I didn’t score enough to get a pip, which also meant that even if I did earn a new rank I’d quickly lose it by doing exactly what a survivor should do; surviving. Instead, you’re rewarded for sticking around for as long as possible, and even for deliberately putting yourself in danger. It makes no sense.
The graphics and audio aren’t the greatest, indicating the clearly minimal budget the devs had to work with. The designs for the killers themselves are quite reasonable, but aside from that texture quality is iffy and the maps are fairly bland in a visual sense, although they do a decent sense of atmosphere.. The animations are stiff and awkward, especially in regards to the killers themselves. The sound design is a little better; that increasing heartbeat which indicates nearby pain and suffering does a good job of raising your own heartbeat, and the agonised screams of some of the victims are disturbingly empowering when you’re the one doing the hunting. Other details, though are less impressive. As for the fact that there’s merely one graphical setting aside from resolution to tweak, it angers me beyond belief. It’s 2016, people, give us some damn options to play with! Thankfully the game seems to run quite smoothly on my system, but a suite of options is always welcome so that people can get the smoothest and best looking experience possible.
Then there’s the huge things the development team seemed to have overlooked, such as the lack of inbuilt voice communication or the inability to join a party of friends. By its very nature this is a game that is best experienced with a group of pals and a talented killer, because with those things it’s thrilling. Thankfully the developers have at least acknowledged that people want to party up with their mates and intend on adding that feature in, but it’s still jarring to see the game get launched without it. Currently there’s a lot of cases of people joining your lobby, and then leaping out again as they search for their friends. You can’t browse lobbies, either, so you’re completely at the mercy of a quick match system and a peer-to-peer connection type, unless you’re playing as the killer in which case you get to start a lobby and wait for others to join. It’s infuriating, because I wound up in a lot of matches that suffered from poor latency.
There were a lot of other problems, too. I encountered one horrible bug that left me unable to pick up a survivor I’d just wounded. Since he was the final player I just had to sit around and wait for him to bleed out, and the lack of chat meant even after the match I couldn’t say sorry and explain the situation. Other problems included awful hit detection and survivors ending up on the wrong side of a barrier they had just pulled down. It’s hard to tell if these last two issues were problems with the game itself, or were due to connection problems. There’s a lot of Steam users running into other problems, too.
Dead by Daylight could really have done with a good few more months in development, because at the moment it feels a lot like a game in Early Access. It’s rough around the edges, in sore need of more content to flesh it out, and definitely requires some heavy balancing to get everything sorted out. Right now I don’t have much confidence in its longevity; after a few matches you’ve pretty much experienced everything the game has to offer. There are no new strategies to find or abilities that radically alter the flow of the action. Still, it’d be stupid to say I didn’t really enjoy my time with Dead by Daylight. I love the premise, and it had me sitting on the edge of my seat most of the time. Stalking the level and savagely beating down survivors before dragging them off to a basement and impaling them is a gory delight, as is managing to correctly anticipate a victim’s movements so that you can come out of nowhere. On the flipside playing as a survivor can be tense and exhilarating, especially if you managing to sneak by the killer or pull off a skin-of-your-teeth escape. It’s these huge highs that made me want to struggle through the game’s numerous lows. In other words, Dead by Daylight really is a slasher movie in videogame form; sloppily structured, rough around the edges, lacking any real depth or complexity and yet is still a whole load of fun. And I say that as a huge fan of slashers. If you like the sound of that, perhaps consider waiting for the developers to update the game with the promised play with friends feature and then take the leap in for a few hours of bloody entertainment.