I’m sorry Drew Barrymore.
I thought you were an idiot for running up the stairs when that murderous intruder chased you with a butcher’s knife at the opening of Scream. “Don’t go up there, you fool!” I thought. “You won’t have a way back down!”
Recently I found myself making the exact same mistake in Behaviour Interactive’s upcoming asymmetrical multiplayer horror game Dead by Daylight. For those in the dark on this upcoming horror affair, Dead by Daylight tasks four players with escaping an arena stalked by a fifth player assuming the role of a horror movie villain. My first time encountering the shambling grotesque Leatherface lovechild in the PAX East demo I quickly pull a Barrymore and run up some stairs and into a closet where I’m decidedly less fortunate than Jamie Lee Curtis’ after her similar experience at the climax of Halloween.
In my defence, I didn’t know where I was going. Though that’s sort of the point. Dead by Daylight’s maps are procedurally-generated, so there’s no telling if your mad dash into an abandoned complex will help you shake your stalker or trap you in a (quite literal) dead end. If you’re anything like me, your gut instinct is to run inside somewhere, anywhere, in hopes of breaking your pursuer’s line of sight. It was a noble effort, but a poorly fated one all the same.
The next round I get to play as the killer, leading to a vastly different experience. The monster – or at least the one revealed in the current demo – moves faster than their prey. The downside is that their perspective is limited to first-person, granting them much less situational awareness than the survivors whose third-person perspective and crouching ability allow them the means of sneaking around the scenery. Furthermore, the killer emits a red light from their eyes, making them easier to spot at a distance. They’re also slower at certain activities like climbing through windows.
My run as the killer is more successful as I turn three quarters of my prey into cadavers. It takes some time to find anyone in this gloomy forest, but once I do manage to startle my victim I slash their back, give chase, and lash at them again before slinging their wriggling body over my shoulder and impaling them on a gruesome meathook contraption that will soon make a pin cushion out of them unless one of their cohorts manages to release them and patch them up. This is precisely what a couple of their more selfless friends try to do, only to meet a similar fate when I lie in wait.
It’s the fourth survivor that presents a challenge. The one who doesn’t care about their companions. If they’re only looking out for square one, and they are, their selfishness is a virtue – a sentiment more horrifying than any bloody aproned axe murderer.
This final one’s a problem. They’re quiet. And distant. Running around a map with four terrified mortals means it’s not that hard to stumble upon one of them, just as happened to me in a previous playthrough. But with only one person left, they can be quite tricky to track down as it transforms into a tense game of cat and mouse.
You see, the survivors can’t kill the hunter. The best they can do is flee. To do this they must disable a series of generators to unlock the exit, then escape the stage. There are always more generators than are needed to escape along with two exits, so hunkering down in one spot waiting for their prey won’t be an effective strategy for this terror.
The killer is alerted when someone is tinkering with a generator, so they have some situational awareness. A symbol appears in their HUD alerting them of where such activity is coming from. Meanwhile, survivors can deploy any action – be it moving, disabling a generator, or healing a comrade – in two ways: the slow but quiet option, or the fast and loud one.
This gives the game more of a stealth vibe than anything else. Playing as a survivor is scary – especially when your stalker is nearby and your heartbeat grows louder and faster to signal that you’re in imminent danger – but if you’re very diligent about it you can stay hidden in the shadows. Get caught and an exciting chase ensues as you sprint through the woods knocking down any wayward lumber you can find in hopes of shaking your hunter. Hopefully you’ll fare better than I with my poorly planned stairs escape.
This asymmetrical shift between first and third-person is a neat trick as it effortlessly makes stealth a competitive prospect. Symmetrical stealth games like Metal Gear Online make it too easy to come across your opposition with a large player-count, while single-player titles about hiding from monsters, like Alien: Isolation and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, put you at the mercy of chaotic, seemingly unfair AI. Dead by Daylight understands that getting slaughtered by a monster feels more balanced when it’s controlled by another player. Conversely, switching roles makes you realise that being the one with weapons isn’t a walk in the park either, as they have to tirelessly stalk their prey.
One of Dead by Daylight’s best features is how well this B-movie inspired premise translates to a spectator mode. My time as a survivor may have been cut short, but simply watching my still corporeal teammates sneak around was captivating in the same way as its tinseltown influences. Quite simply, Dead by Daylight is an engaging horror film to watch, even if it’s not technically a film. It’s easy to envision this being a big hit with the Let’s Play community.
There’s a lot we haven’t seen of Dead by Daylight yet. Behaviour is keeping the other killers close to their chest, but the developer told us one of the monsters will be able to turn invisible. Based on its in-development demo, it’s clear that this is a labour of love for the Naughty Bear developer and it’s little wonder why Payday 2 publisher Starbreeze picked it up. Dead by Daylight looks in keeping with Starbreeze’s standards and it has the potential to be a cult classic on Steam when it launches on 14th June (at the budget price of €19.99). It’s a bloody good time alright.