The fog is thick, suffocating, and it weighs heavy on our digital shoulders. A murder of crows squawk as we stray too close and they flutter off up into the misty sky. We look around to see if the disturbance has drawn attention to our position, but the coast seems clear. For now at least. We edge through a ruined building, closer and closer to our target. There's still no sign of danger, so we start up the generator, but a combination of panic and split focus means we can't stop the motor from stalling. Our mistake causes a loud bang, and we know our hunter now has our exact position. He'll be coming.
This might be your typical creative review intro, a small slice of gameplay described in flowery prose, but it's also the scenario that forms the basis of Dead by Daylight, the new horror game from Behaviour Interactive and published by Starbreeze.
When boiled down to its essence, this is not a complicated game. You get enough generators running and then escape an exit hidden somewhere on the map, and all the while a mysterious murderous monster hunts you down, his singular goal being to hang you on a meat hook and revel in your screams. This simplicity is limiting in some respects, but it's also a strength, because while it doesn't stray too far from the basic concept, the lack of distractions also makes for a focused and controlled experience. It might only have one party trick, but it does it very well indeed.
If you're a fan of classic horror movies, then you're definitely going to want to check this out. Drawing on the genre tropes in subtle and meaningful ways, Behaviour has crafted an experience that's not only laced with homage, but that can genuinely get the heart pumping and keep you on the edge of your seat. There's few experiences we've had in recent months as thrilling as running at full speed away from a chainsaw wielding psychopath, jumping through windows and throwing down obstacles as we desperately try to avoid an untimely end.
The levels are built for the inevitable game of cat and mouse. The aforementioned generators are dotted around the atmospheric maps, and in between there's ruins, dilapidated buildings, farming equipment, even head-high sticks of corn. Every new game sees the deck shuffled, and things move about so you never know exactly what's coming. It's not always easy to see where you're going, but the third-person perspective of the survivors means you get a decent overview of your surroundings. It doesn't keep you safe, though, and once you get to a generator you've still got to get it going, pass multiple skill checks, made even harder as your attention is always split between the task at hand and the environment all around.
There's four survivors on the team, and working together is the aim of the game. A frustrating design decision is that you can't go into a public game with friends (you can only play together privately and randoms can't make up the numbers), but we totally appreciate why they made the choice, as it would be a bit too simple to toy with the hunter if a whole team of players were able to coordinate their movements. Even without team chat amongst the four, it's still weighted ever so slightly in their favour, and there's a good chance one or two or more people will survive each match, but then again, victory for the hunter isn't about killing everyone, but rather catching enough victims to earn the points needed to top the leaderboard come the end.
The lone murderer has to stalk the environment looking for clues as to the whereabouts of their prey, and it can be too easy to be dragged between generators. Still, a clever killer will look in all the right spots, circle around unknowing victims, and use the element of surprise wherever possible. You have a better overview of where everything is on the map, which helps. Playing as the killer is empowering, and being alone gives you a sense of singular purpose that makes the role easy to slip into. Survivors are slippery buggers, too, so playing the part requires a bit of cunning if you're to succeed.
We've mentioned the lack of depth in terms of modes, but there is a surprisingly deep unlock system in place that lets you customise your avatars. Right now it feels like there might even be more things to unlock than is warranted by the game this system supports, but those who develop an addiction will no doubt appreciate its inclusion. Given the potential for themed content, we reckon there's likely to be DLC in the future. We'd even expect some major Hollywood horror licenses to appear at some point, and those that don't, we can only hope that modders fill in the gaps.
Looking beyond potentially superficial cosmetic stuff, there's a lot of room to grow Dead by Daylight. More survivors, more hunters, more environments, and most importantly if it's going to survive in the long term, more modes. What's here is cleverly done, even if it is limited in some respects. We liked what we played, but even after just a few hours some of the tension was replaced by familiarity and we wanted a bit more variety beyond the slight changes offered by what's there at the moment. Each round is different, yes, but they're not so different that this feels like a complete and rounded package.
Still, there's solid foundations in place; Behaviour has crafted an atmospheric and frightening experience, one that has the ability to thrill and delight in equal measure. At the moment it feels about as shallow as some of the movies that it draws inspiration from, but with further iteration and continued support, this one could end up being a genuine horror masterpiece.