As anyone could have expected, the tremendous success of the Resident Evil 2 remake in early 2019 would usher in a new wave of imitators. Third-person horror shooters that are underlit, narratively stale, and generally unimaginative. One such title was Daymare: 1998, released 9 months after Capcom’s award-winning reimaging. To call it derivative would be kind, as developer Invader Studios takes many cues, plot points, and general action-horror elements from Resident Evil 2 and other titles, creating a forgettable cocktail of lazy nostalgia and poor development skills.
Now they have released Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle, a prequel that no one was clamouring for, but maybe the chance to right some wrongs. While the shadow of Raccoon City and the Spencer Mansion still looms tall, this new Daymare does improve on some basic aspects. The combat, for instance, is less floaty and punchier than before. Player character agent Dalila Reyes uses a shotgun and submachine gun as her primary weapons against undead enemies, but early on she also acquires the Frost Grip. The Frost Grip uses liquid nitrogen as a weapon and a tool, capable of freezing enemies and cooling down pipes (one of the many tedious “puzzles” that litter the game).
This cold new weapon is also used to destroy electric orbs that reanimate enemies, a nifty idea that, like everything else in the game, grows tiring very quickly. There is very little variety in Sandcastle: every level is a mix of the player shooting at three or four enemies at once, running to grab a keycard, using the Frost Grip for a puzzle, and shooting some more baddies. It is a gameplay loop that is far from engaging also due to the boring locale (a vast abandoned laboratory) and the uninteresting narrative.
The developer prides itself on recreating the atmosphere of action-horror films from the ‘90s, but outside of an admittedly strong opening track in the style of John Carpenter’s best tunes, there is not a single reference that sounds or feels fun, genuine, or worthwhile. Simply quoting X-Files and other sci-fi horror titles from that time is not a wink, but rather a reminder of how the player’s time could be better spent watching these films and shows. Even the voice acting, which could embrace a campy tone, is a total flatline, with the quality of the performances lessened by the lifeless facial expressions of the character models.
While it is an overall improvement over Daymare: 1998, Sandcastle is still not a game worth playing. At around eight hours in length, it is a slog to get through, with a serviceable opening hour with good use of Unreal Engine 4, yet nothing of interest from there on. Invader Studios should try less to recreate the success of bigger titles, instead refocusing their energies on something smaller and more original, because they have the potential for something more than a modern Resident Evil clone without the nailbiting combat or the challenging puzzles.