As fans of the survival horror genre, Daymare: 1998 was one of those games which we really wanted to love, but which fought us every step of the way. From its irritating reloading system to its troublesome enemy placement, it was just full of issues that made our time with it just as frustrating as it was fun. And then you also had things like a terrible script and awful voice acting to contend with. Thankfully, our time with its new prequel, Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle, has been much more positive.
It’s clear within seconds of starting Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle that this is a much more polished experience. Though that’s not to say that it isn’t still a little rough around the edges. The visuals are decent considering that this is made by a small independent team, and the voice acting is actually pretty good this time around. It probably helps that the script is a hell of a lot better. First impressions are fairly good, then, and while over the course of the game some irritations arise, this is a solid survival horror game with some really neat ideas.
Rather than putting you in the shoes of multiple protagonists like its predecessor, Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle lets you settle into just one: HADES Special Agent Delila Reyes. A former government spy now more concerned with tech than espionage, she’s sent into the mysterious Area 51 along with two of her colleagues, tasked with recovering an important briefcase amidst some sort of incident. Needless to say, it’s clear that things have gone awry as soon as you land, and you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a nightmare, fighting for your survival.
While Daymare: 1998 started out life as an unofficial Resident Evil 2 remake, this prequel very much feels like its own thing. It still has the same survival horror trappings, such as limited inventory space, puzzles and save points, but out are the standard zombies. Here, orbs of energy are your biggest threat. Every once in a while these orbs will materialise, reanimating nearby corpses which make a beeline for your soft flesh. They’re quick, they sometimes dodge your attacks, and once put down, the orb that animated them can sometimes find another host nearby if you don’t deal with it quickly. Needless to say, it makes for a tense experience.
Fortunately you’ll not just be up against reanimated corpses in Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle, although a lack of enemy variety is one of the game’s biggest issues. There are some other grotesque and horrifying creatures to deal with, as well as corpses inhabited by a red mote of energy that makes them invulnerable to the majority of your attacks. For those, you need to make use of the game’s neat Frost Grip; a device that lets you freeze enemies, dissipate orbs of energy at range, and even solve a variety of puzzles.
With your arsenal limited to an assault rifle and a shotgun, you’ll be thankful that your Frost Grip can be upgraded over time to grant access to additional functions. Eventually you’ll be able to use it to create proximity mines, for example, and also a shield to protect you from attacks. This is in addition to bolstering its base capabilities, such as increasing its range and capacity, allowing you to spray liquid nitrogen further and for longer. Ultimately, using your Frost Grip effectively feels imperative to your survival in Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle; ammo for your weapons isn’t unlimited, after all. Perplexingly, you can also only melee attack enemies that have been frozen.
Many of the things that frustrated us in Daymare: 1998 have been deftly dealt with here. Storage space isn’t as limited, reloading weapons doesn’t require any faff, and the game is simply more polished and likable on the whole. Enemy placement is also somewhat improved, although it’s still far from perfect. You’ll sometimes walk into an area, hear the telltale noise of an enemy, or enemies, being brought into the fray by troublesome supernatural energy, then not be sure where they are exactly. You might presume if you see a corpse suddenly come to life in front of you that it’s the only threat, only for another to attack from behind. It can feel a bit cheap, but as long as you quickly learn to keep on the move, it’s a problem that can be alleviated.
One thing that might put some players off is the fact that Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is fairly linear. You’re sometimes given the freedom to backtrack a little or are required to revisit a previous area to open a door that was locked the first time around, but generally there’s a lot of forward momentum. Many won’t mind it too much, bit those who grew up with the likes of the original Resident Evil might find it a bit stifling. Given the genre, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s not the longest game either; chances are you’ll be done with it in around six hours, though there are multiple difficulty levels and challenges to complete for added replayability.
Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle obviously can’t compete with the likes of the Resident Evil series; it simply doesn’t have the same polish or scope of any of the modern remakes. Considering it’s made by a small studio and is delivered at a budget price, however, there’s a lot to be applauded here. This is a massive step up from Daymare: 1998 in many ways, resulting in a survival horror experience that genre fans are likely to lap up despite its numerous faults. And if Invader Studios gets to make another game and can improve on the formula yet again, you can be sure we’ll be paying attention.