Invader Studios was initially planning to release a fan-made remake of Capcom's fan-favourite survival horror classic Resident Evil 2 but somewhere in the midst of development, Capcom dropped the bomb that RE2 was getting an official reworking, one which would go on to be highly regarded by all who played it. This undoubtedly put a dent in Invader Studios' plans to "revisit survival horror", however, what started as a bump in the road turned into an entirely new project. With Daymare: 1998, the developer has created something that fans of the genre (in particular, fans of survival horror from the late '90s and early 2000s) will likely enjoy, at least from what we got to experience when playing an early build of the game.
Daymare: 1998 is a survival horror experience that aims to recreate the essence of the classic horror titles of the 1990s. You play as one of three main characters. In the preview version, we got to play as the badass Hexacore Advanced Division for Extraction and Search (or H.A.D.E.S. for short) special agent Liev, who is set out on a mission to retrieve some highly-classified materials for the US government as well as to find the missing researchers of Aegis Laboratory, a facility that has had its communications channel cut off for some unknown reason.
From the get-go, the mission is flagged as one that the operatives may not come back from and shortly after arriving (and splitting up within a minute of landing on site), the team learns the reason for this. Liev, specifically, walks into the laboratory area through a loading dock after being dropped off by his team who are presumably safe in the chopper hovering above. There he starts looking for a way to activate an industrial elevator but he soon encounters the threat roaming the facility - the undead have taken over.
The controls are pretty straight forward and follow the old-school survival template. You aim your gun by holding in the right mouse key, shoot or melee with the left mouse key, run by holding down shift and open up your menu with tab. The menu is used to combine items, use any equipment you have, go through the information that you've picked up and to check the map.
Like in Resident Evil, the survival element comes from the fact that the ammunition you use is limited (and by this, we mean that it's actually hard to come by at times), forcing you to manage your resources with care. It doesn't help that the save points are limited as well. This offers a welcome challenge when going through the zombie-infested areas throughout the game. These limitations also make the game more immersive and make the threat you're facing feel more real, which is something we've missed from the '90s survival era.
The game is set in 1998 so even though the facility is high-tech, the technology used is dated, giving the game a genuine '90s feel (and before you write this off, we urge you to remember how atmospheric Alien: Isolation was in this same regard thanks to its retro design). The facility and its outskirts resemble Resident Evil 2's level design quite a bit, but given the game's heritage that's understandable). It's dark, seemingly deserted, and even manipulatable in some cases, and going through the facility while sparks fly from smashed consoles, never knowing what's hiding in the dark, is horrifying (but in a good way). There are also some puzzles in the game and we had to solve one to power up specific areas within the facility. We did this by figuring out which areas to disable and which areas to power. Other than that, there's a hacking tool for some of the seemingly locked doors. To hack things, you simply have to find a cable lying around and plug it into a door console, prompting a timing-puzzle where you simply have to time your clicks with a moving bar.
The gameplay is straight-forward, the mechanics are recognisable, and while the core is well-put-together, the narrative seems unfocused and forced, as does the dialogue. It's very clear that the developer has gone the "macho" route for the game's characters and it honestly gets tiring at times. We did only get to play as Liev, but we were introduced to the rest of the team during the initial helicopter ride and the dialogue reminded us of an action flick from the '80s. Speaking of the '80s, every character looks incredibly odd, with the exception of the undead (which is a good thing since it's the undead that you'll interact with most often), but the main characters all look like disfigured morphs between Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren.
It's clear that Invader Studios has looked towards the survival horror games of old for inspiration for Daymare: 1998 and the game sure feels, plays and looks like a game from that era. Our issues with the game are more narrative and dialogue focused because while the '90s horror vibe was great, it jars with the overly-macho characters. Keep in mind, we only got to play as the badass Liev, and other characters may behave differently and have separate stories. Despite the flaws, Daymare: 1998 is interesting and we'll definitely check the full game out when it launches, which is due to be sometime later this year.