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October 28, 2016

Dead By Daylight

Ah, slasher films. Big in the eighties, still kinda popular in the nineties. Then Scream happened, and every slasher film afterwards became a bit more self-aware, poking fun at the genre. A time comes where an overused genre becomes an object of parody more than an object of a “serious” film. It’s also part of the unfortunately maligned horror genre, which is fairly popular but tends to lose a lot of its impact over time. The more fictional horror you see, the more desensitized to fictional horror you become. (It won't desensitize you to real horror however, unlike what some out-of-touch moral guardians would like you to believe.)

Another thing of horror is that some people, even in the film industry, seem under the impression that horror films are something to make quickly, for an easy buck, since those films will always have an audience; at best they’ll rake in the cash, at worst they’ll become objects of snark. Jump scares have become the bane of the genre, with the over-reliance on this kind of quick spook that some movies like to show. Many horror films also go for maximum gore, making sure to splatter the scene with as much red as they can. Thankfully, there’s been a resurgence of horror films that employ subtlety and buildup. Apparently, the newest Blair Witch film has been using those to great effect. There was also Don’t Breathe, which had good ways to be horrifying. (As for me, I’ve always had the five films of the Final Destination series on my list of guilty pleasures, along with many other horror films - hey, don't judge me, how many guilty pleasures do YOU have?)

Video games are a medium where you kind of expect what’s coming. You are playing a horror game, you know you’re gonna see some creepy shit. You’re prepared for it, so game devs have to try extra hard to freak you out. Once again, the Five Nights At Freddy’s series has proven to be very effective at jump scares; you know it could come at any moment. You play with a constant fear of seeing it happen – and the dark ambiance contributes to this. It's less the jump scare itself than the buildup to it.

That's a nice campfire there. Would be a real shame
if somebody came in and ruined it...
That's what a mafiosi killer would say.
Hey, you know what we need in horror games? Multiplayer co-op! …Oh wait, never mind, there are three hundred zombie survival games out there that do this. But tonight, I’m talking about a recent game, one that is set up with a still rather novel type of gameplay: One player is the villain, the others must team up to survive! This is known as asymmetric multiplayer games. A combination of subtle scares, ingenious gameplay, and mostly fair chances for both sides: The slasher monster has a reduced vision (first-person perspective) but is faster than his victims and can also benefit from the multiple traps in the area, while the four victims can see behind them (third-person perspective), are able to hide, sometimes even in plain sight, but they need to rely on each other to find their way out, not to mention the killer will be alerted by the screams and other loud noises produced by them…

Strap in, we’re going into something scary today.

Dead by Daylight was developed by Behavior Interactive and published by Starbreeze Studios. When you start the game, you’re assigned a player character among the few ones playable. Yeah, there’s not a very large roster of folks to choose from… We have only these, in fact:
Don't worry, you won't have to
shuffle through pages of
backstory for any of them.
-Dwight Fairfield: The one I most commonly pick, the one the game assigned to me the first time I played, probably just a coincidence since he’s the survivor who looks most like me. He tries to assume a role of leader among the victims, and his playstyle is based around teamwork, giving bonuses to himself or his allies in order to allow more people to escape. Also his backstory seems pretty close to mine…
-Meg Thomas: It would be unfair to call her the most heroic of the group, but she’s the one who fits best the mold of a final survivor – you know, the final girl: Some of her perks include being able to get up quickly after being wounded if she is close to escaping, while another is that she gains a speed boost when everyone else but her is dead. So much for the teamwork spirit Dwight tried to create.
-Jake Park: He’s the calm one who stays focused. You could say he’s the silent one in general, since he will make less noise if he walks after being wounded by the killer, and other perks make it so that he has less chances to alert the killer of his current location, which is a major gameplay mechanic.
-Claudette Morel: The white mage, basically; her main abilities all involve healing in some way, whether it’s healing herself, healing her allies more quickly, or easily finding wounded allies in the nearby zone. A must-have, I guess, if you can get her to encounter allies who can be healed, which is rarer than you might think…
-Nea Karlsson (DLC), the more action-oriented character who will recover faster from high falls and whose movement speed while crouching is better than the others. Basically, the speed type.
-Laurie Strode (DLC), another Final Girl type of character that gains bonuses from the others being dead. Again, Dwight's teamwork plans are the ones getting the axe...

So many endearing characters, that it's actually
worth trying to save them all. No stupid jock,
no dumb blonde, no jackass racist...
Reading these characters’ brooding biographies and abilities, two things come out: First, none of them is the stupid or asshole type of horror film character. None of them is the go-to easy victim kind of person that gets dispatched quickly early on in the film; these are five archetypes of endearing characters, the ones you want to see survive through the story. Second thing you can notice is that, none of them has abilities to fight back. They can team up, heal each other, have better fleeing chances, become more silent – but none of them ever gets the means to fend off the killer. In other words, they have a chance to win if they help each other, they can even use items to distract the killer, but don’t even think about fighting. If you try to fight the killer, you’re fucked. You’re just fucked.

As for the killers: Who are these freaky monsters that lurk in the shadows? Those joyful slashers, those giggling backstabbers, those deranged destroyers of hopes? Oh, we got a few.
Is it weird that the only one actually
taken from a horror film is
actually the least creepy-looking
one of the bunch?
-The Trapper: His mere presence is enough to make the survivors feel uneasy and more likely to screw up. A machete, some bear traps, a mask over his face – he’s ready for a good night of hunting pesky normal people. Pfft~! Who do they think they are, with their not-punctured shoulders and their inability to hunt in the wild?
-The Wraith: He wields a machete made of the skull and bones of his first intentional victim, his own boss. He also owns a bell that can make him invisible, and he needs to ring it both when he appears and disappears, which makes enough noise to alert the survivors. Where did he get that thing anyway?
-The Hillbilly: Basically Leatherface, one of the most classic slasher villains. Hammer, chainsaw, pretty common fare. Think a chainsaw is useful? It is, but let’s see you crank this up while you’re chasing young adults! Is… Is his head’s skin connected to his shoulder? Argh!
-The Nurse: New addition to the bad guys, the Nurse is, as the name says, a nurse that went insane and kill-happy. She’s smaller than the others but just as dangerous – in fact, she has access to the power of teleportation – finding where she wants to go, and then go there. She’s also dressed all in white, but no, you still can’t directly hurt her. No, not even if you try this. Or that. Nope, not even that. You can’t.
-The Crawler: An upcoming killer who hasn’t had much about her revealed yet.
-The Shape (Michael Myers): Released with the Halloween 2016 DLC, the iconic Halloween villain is here to stab and take names. His playstyle is different from the other killers as he's centered on stalking his victims, especially one that becomes an obsession of his, and he gets perks depending on whether that survivor is alive or dead and how often he or she escapes from him.

And leading this happy-go-lucky crowd of stone-faced monsters is a mysterious Entity.

No, not that one.

Yeah... that, whatever it is.

I gotta say, it's pretty great to see horror icons joining the game. For a while, I used to joke that the next new killer would be Ghostface (emphasis on "joke"). But yeah, Michael Myers is a better choice - although he isn't as scary as some of the roles played by a certain Mike Myers.

Even furries are creeped out by this... thing.

That’s the face I’ll see in my nightmares tonight.

An example of an early Bloodweb. My Jake Park
is still Level 1.
All playable characters, survivors and killers alike, gain Blood Points based on actions they make during a match. When a match ends, either when the survivors manage to escape or when a killer kills all of the survivors, the participants can use their Blood Points in a spider web of upgrades called the Bloodweb. If a character manages to buy all of the web’s upgrades, that character gains a level and a brand new Bloodweb to fill. As for those upgrades themselves, they include:
-Character customization options, to change the clothes and some facial details of your character;
-Items, each which can be used in a single match before disappearing. You can also earn add-ons to increase the abilities of an item. These range from flashlights to first aid kits to maps;
A full set to help a survivor! But it's
ill-advised to waste it all on a single match.
-Offerings, spells that can be triggered during a match. Those can give the character some bonuses to speed, survival or blood points. Those are single-use as well;
-Perks, special abilities that can be equipped. A character can have up to 4 equipped perks at once and unlike items and offerings, those are kept – although you start off with only one perk slot and gain the others at level 15, 20 and 25, so… pretty damn far into the game). The bonuses they tend to give are minor at first, but as you go up levels, you might find yourself getting perks that are better and better. Remember that every character levels up independently of the others, so to get to these levels with any character other than the ones you usually use, you'll have to start from scratch at level 1.

Now, as for how the game is actually played… You join a lobby as a survivor or create a lobby as a killer. Either way, you need a killer and (usually) four survivors. The killer just has to walk around and hunt down the survivors, using its greater speed and its own special abilities. Set your traps, teleport, revv your chainsaw, whatever. Meanwhile, the survivors have to do a LOT of things. For starters, you gotta listen to the heartbeat – the faster and louder it is, the closer the killer is! I swear, these guys may be in the deadliest adventure ever, but their hearts are omniscient enough to know where their opponent happens to be. I want a heart like that. Uh oh, this girl is bad news, my heart is beating harder. …Wait… Uh, forget that. So, the survivors have to walk around, find generators and repair them, in order to power up the door system, after which they must repair a door to finally escape. Would be simpler if the dark, foggy atmosphere of every single “arena” didn't make it difficult to find the generators!

Congrats. Now the killer knows where you are.
How about next time you start a parade?
And even if you find a generator, you need to repair it. This process may take a full minute, maybe even two if you’re the only one working on a generator. The tough part is that these generators are old, rusty things, so they will often burst – and you need to press the Space bar at the right moment to avoid having it blow in your face. Yep, you heard right, this game has quick-time events. Many of those, actually. And events with a very tight timing, too, since it’s very easy to fail. And if the generator goes boom, it’s not destroyed, but it tells the killer where you are… Same goes for the door, so if you mess up, you better run. Thankfully, while it’s long to repair a generator by yourself, if you get other survivors to help you, things go a lot faster. As long as nobody messes up, of course.

Outside of the generators deal, the survivors can also do a bunch of things. When chased by the killer, they can pull down obstacles to slow it down. Thought you could chase me, with your giant machete? Nope, here’s a woden pallet in your way! They can also use the fact that the killer’s first-person POV is a lot narrower to hide behind him. There are many other ways to hide, like tall walls or piles of tires, and it’s also possible to hide in one of the many lockers scattered around. It’s even better if you play as Dwight Fairfield, he’s the poster boy for nerds in lockers.

All I can think of is that we’d need some actual freaking horror heroes if we wanted a fair fight. Goddammit, where are the Ridleys and the Ash Williamses when we need them… And of course, many other things can alert your position to a killer with good hearing: Your quick footsteps when you break into a sprint, or those damn crows that fly off while cawing when you pass nearby.

That's a nice collection of meathooks, Mr. Killer.
Would be a shame is somebody came in and sabotaged them...
As the killer, your task is also more complex than just chasing the victims and attacking them. For starters, you get bonus points for grabbing a survivor, bringing them to a suspended hook, and shoving them there. Obviously, these helpless folks don’t want to hang around forever, so they’ll struggle to get off the hook. If they don’t, the Entity shows up and kills them. It’s also possible for survivors to free themselves from a hook… if they’re lucky… so there’s always a risk that you’re forced to deal again with a guy you thought you had dealt with already. The other survivors can also help another survivor get off the hook, but the danger is to get caught by the killer. Then again, the killer then can choose between camping around the body writhing a foot above the ground, to just hook him back on, or go and actually do something meaningful and go chase the others that haven’t been caught. It’s all about how one player chooses to act with the immense amount of power they’re given when put in the shoes of the murderer. And even then, calling it power might be exaggerated… Either way, the actual difficulty of each encounter depends on the intelligence level of the player using the killer VS the intelligence levels of the players using survivors. With some luck thrown in, since you neither control where you spawn nor where you can find some secrets. And there are, indeed, secrets; as a survivor, you can find treasure chests around an area and open them to gain new items.

Hate playing as the Trapper? Too bad, you need to!
There’s a last thing I forgot to mention. The Blood Points are a gameplay mechanic of their own; to earn them, you have to perform great tasks in a match. The riskier or more impressive the task, the more points you get. That goes for both victims and killers, so you are pretty much encouraged to put on a show. I never said it was easy, mind you, in fact you have to perform very difficult tasks in order to get the bigger rewards. As a result, if you’re unlucky or not very good (like me), then you will most likely end up gaining very few points at once, and leveling up will be difficult. You can also get more Blood Points by completing Daily Rituals, which require either playing as a particular character, survivor or killer – although the points you earn, regardless of the way, can be spent on any playable character’s Bloodweb, not just that of the character you were controlling. If you get a ton of Bloodpoints in a match, you can actually go up in rank, which falls into the competitive multiplayer aspect.

Ah! Look behind you! Look! Behind! You!
Idiot, you're gonna cet cut up!
...Oh right, this is a game, not a film.
I’ll give the game that, while there are some balancing issues, it’s not as bad as you’d think. The killer has all of the advantages and no weaknesses, and wins if he kills even only one of the survivors, but it's only good if all four survivors are caught and killed. Meanwhile, the survivors can play the sneak game all they want, in the end their only chance to escape is to accomplish fairly difficult tasks – much more difficult in that they need teamwork to succeed. Even the camera in third-person for the survivors and in first-person for the killer helps makes these two sides completely different and more balanced – since killers tend to be unwieldy and harder to control due to their speed and narrower vision. As a result, survivors generally have more chances than the killer at achieving their task, although it’s compensated by them having to repair more generators in order to safely escape. Add to this all of the level bonuses and perks that can be gained, along with the possibility of being randomly thrown into a match with a low-experience killer and high-experience survivors, or the complete opposite, and you got yourself a tough multiplayer game, regardless of your side.

Alright then, I think that’s all I had to say about this one. Final verdict… I don’t hate it, but I seriously need to get good at it. On paper, it’s a great idea, and there are many excellent things to be found. The CGI is great, the music is perfectly ambient and gives off all the right vibes – and that includes when the killer is about to catch someone – but… once again, my own shortcomings are what makes me pretty bad at the game.

See, I’ve been a console player all my life, so I’m used to remotes for games. I am still fairly new at using a keyboard so extensively. This puts me at a disadvantage, especially against so many players who know far better than me what to do and how to do it. Even though I have managed to escape a few times, it seems to me as if I won’t get any better as long as I won’t be used to the controls on a keyboard. However, even with this disadvantage, I’ve played the game for a couple of hours, and I can already point out what’s good about it and what could be reworked.

That Entity actually feels...
mundane compared to the actual,
horrifying slashers.
For starters, I love the concept. I made no secret of this, and I think that, for the most part, it’s well-executed, hence the comment on the game’s balance. It’s also pretty great that all the characters have their own little bonuses to offer. There are many things to keep track of, like your items, offerings and perks, and how all this can help either give a survivor more chances of escape, or a killer more chances to catch the others.

The controls aren’t actually all that complex once you know what they are; moving around with WASD, running with Shift, crouching with Ctrl, moving the camera with the mouse and interacting with the surroundings with the mouse and the Space bar. That’s most of what you need to know, really. …Shame the game doesn’t bring you into a tutorial the first time you play and you either have to look for it in the game, or look up the controls online!

Thankfully, in such a situation, nobody
is too cool to hide in a locker.
On the topic of the game itself, I often find the arenas a little too dark or a little too encumbered, making it difficult to see what’s around, and also difficult for the killer to move without a problem – but again, that’s both a result of the ambiance and a problem caused solely by my lack of talent with the game. Once again, the entire interest of the game is to go risky and do dangerous things, going against common sense to get more blood points for the survivors – hey, wait a second, now that I think about it, maybe that explains the idiocy of horror movie victims…

Talking about blood points and the Bloodweb, you will usually get a lot more points by completing Daily Rituals, encouraging you to go and use different characters to fulfill the requirements. Even then, the Bloodweb is randomized, so if you gain a new level and the Bloodweb turns out crappy (seriously, I already have 3 near-empty batteries for flashlights, and I still don’t have a single freaking flashlight!), you’re stuck with it until your next level-up.

Of course, if you’re willing to go look for it, there’s quite the mythos around this game and its concept, but only part of it can be found in the game proper. I knew I wouldn’t have time to expand on said mythos in this review, unfortunately.

There it is, my link with the Halloween holiday.
I hope you're happy. I mostly hope it
excuses the lack of "scary" story next Oct. 31st.
For the team-ups, you will usually have to play a match that has four survivors and a killer, rarely if ever less than four survivors. It may happen, but it’s rare. In a lobby match, it’s practically a requirement. You can also play with friends, but the one way at the moment is to invite them through Steam, and even then, that means you become stuck in the role you wanted to have – until you choose to quit and reopen a friend match in the role you now want to occupy. Also, in lobby play, you’ll always be paired with random players – so you can be a collection of players that range from newbies to experts. You may be the only newbie in a group of experts, or a single expert with three noobs. Same goes for the killer – you can’t set a difficulty level based on the experience of the player in the role of the killer. Come to think of it, it may be a good thing that you can’t talk with other survivors in a game, or newbies would verbally get torn a new one fast.

Maybe too many quick-time events, maybe the balance tips too much towards the survivors… those are other potential issues. Although in the end, since this is a multiplayer game, your experience will always differ from someone else’s. There are many issues with this game, but what we have is still a fairly enjoyable Steam title with a lot of room for improvement, but the currently unpolished version is still just fine if you want those frights.

And if this doesn’t please you… well, there’s a pretty similar game based on Friday The 13th coming out soon.

Dead By Daylight, current price: 21.99$. HALLOWEEN Chapter: 7.79$