Dead by Daylight Review

I grew up as a very frightened kid. I was afraid of the dark and of the ghosts I believed to be in it. Clowns always gave me goosebumps and you would never find me in a room with a Ouija board.

I also had a fear that a velociraptor would attack me from behind the shower curtain, so to say I was skittish would be an understatement.

I am much older now and no longer afraid of velociraptors. But to this day, I would still never consider myself a fan of horror films by any means.

I am, however, a fan of Dead by Daylight. 

Dead by Daylight by Behaviour Interactive is an asymmetrical horror game originally released in 2016 (but recently announced for Nintendo Switch) that pits one killer against a group of four survivors (or three, when someone inevitably disconnects or quits because they don’t like the killer). The survivors, many of whom are variations on cliché horror film roles like the jock and the nerd, must repair generators that power an exit gate before the killer can get their hands on them and sacrifice them to the Entity.

Despite a lack of a traditional story mode, Dead by Daylight still has a narrative and lore that it tells through journal entries and biographies of the playable characters. In short, a vampiric deity called the Entity corrupts human minds to forge serial killers. The negative energy that stems from these killings turns places of violent death into portals to pull in victims.

These victims are the survivors, who have stumbled upon these sites and entered the Entity’s plane of existence. The killers have become tools of the Entity and are as much of prisoners as the survivors. They are doomed to hunt the same people for eternity.

Laurie Strode and Michael Myers are doomed to make Halloween films forever.

To the Entity, all of this is an engine to generate emotion to sustain its hunger. It feeds on fear and anger, but it also feeds on hope and desperation. Win or lose, the survivors are forever forced to feed the Entity, with its end goal being to drive the survivors so insane they become killers themselves.

Imagine Groundhog Day but the loop is sustained by Bill Murray being wanting to break the loop. And the more insane he becomes, the more he is trapped.

It’s a neat way to justify the gameplay loop. Feeling victorious after finally winning a game is accompanied by the knowing that you will probably lose your next one. Live or die, you’re returned to the campfire all the same. It’s only a matter of how much pain you’re willing to endure between campfire respites.

Like WarGames, the only winning move and the only way to beat the Entity is to not play. Unfortunately for the survivors, the core gameplay loop is not only fun, but addicting.

Dead by Daylight plays like a stealth title as you sneak behind a killer’s back to rescue your friend from a hook or try to find a place to hide after taking an axe to the back. My heart pounds when I look behind me to see a crazy lady in a bunny mask getting ready to make the kill.

Even after 50 hours, moments like these still make me jump.

The first few hours with this game are exhilarating as you try to figure out who is hunting you, what their powers are, and how the person playing this killer will behave.

However, after a dozen hours or so, you’ll know exactly how people play each killer and a lot of the fear vanishes. That’s not to say that the game stops being thrilling or difficult. The game’s ranking system ensures that you will almost always be playing against a killer that can still send you scrambling for cover. But the initial hopelessness feeling that Dead by Daylight’s charm is built around loses its impact.

It also doesn’t help that the survivor hit boxes are whack at the moment. I often wonder if it’s Mr. Fantastic or Elastigirl behind the mask when they manage to score a hit on me from several feet away.

Playing as the killer is also fun, but never matches the thrill of playing a survivor. The fear of death is replaced by a fear of failure. The killer must wound the survivors and place them on hooks to begin a sacrifice to the Entity. On this side, the gameplay loop oftentimes feels more like Hide and Seek than hunting as an invincible death machine. Much of it is just looking around at trees wondering where everyone went. Still, killing the survivors, especially when its a blitz and over in the first few minutes, makes you feel powerful and you’ll find yourself chasing after that feeling again and again.

These killers are generally modeled off of classic slasher film tropes and urban legends. There’s a hillbilly that lives in the woods, an evil clown, a ghost, a mad doctor, an old hag, and many more. Each has a unique look, weapon, and backstory. It’s very similar to games like Overwatch in that you can see a character’s silhouette and immediately recognize them. There are 14 killers to play, with five being unlocked from the start. All of the locked killers can be purchased and most can be earned, though getting enough “shards” to unlock a character is an overly long and tedious process. I’ve logged over 50 hours into the game and have come nowhere close to enough to unlock a character.

All of the non-licensed characters also have costumes you can buy or unlock, but unlocking a single costume can take dozens of hours.

The only characters that must be purchased are famous faces you might recognize. There are four DLC packs that offer killers and survivors from iconic slasher films. For a few bucks, you can play as Michael Myers and Laurie Strode from the Halloween franchise, Freddy Krueger and Quentin Smith from Nightmare on Elm Street, Amanda Young and Danny Glover Detective David Tapp from the Saw films, and Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. None of these characters can be unlocked by playing the game, nor do they have any unique outfits to buy.

While the meta changes with each update, no killer is so overpowered that it makes the game pay-to-win. Same goes with the far less unique survivors. 

No matter who you pick, you’re bound to have a good time.

As you win and lose matches, you accumulate a currency called “bloodpoints” that you can spend on equipment and perks for your characters, similar to an RPG’s skill tree. These perks give each character unique abilities and buffs that can shape how a round is played. Dead by Daylight needs some serious balancing in this department however, as there are some perks on both sides of the hunt that are completely overpowered. If one side doesn’t have one, it becomes a very unfair match that oftentimes ends with someone disconnecting.

I often play Dead by Daylight with my friends Jack and Chris. The three of us have become pretty good at running circles around the killer, so when we’ve popped all of the generators before any of us even get hooked for a first time, it’s not a huge surprise. Sometimes we still get matched with killers who don’t understand the game fully.

But sometimes, right at the end, the fourth survivor gets hooked…and we see the tendrils of the Entity rise from the earth to block the exits…and the little words “No One Escapes Death” appear on the screen. At this point, we realize we’ve been played.

See, “No One Escapes Death” is one of these perks. It prevents anyone from getting past the exit gates while a survivor is on a hook. The survivor only needs to camp near the one hooked survivor and they’ve suddenly got a great chance at winning, despite floundering the rest of the match. The survivors can only wait until their friend is fully sacrificed or take a shot at rescuing their hooked comrade, which almost always ends in death for the entire group. It removes all strategy from the game in the last quarter, making the experience more frustrating than fun. It’s gotten to the point where I have played with people with the variations on the name “NOED and I leave.”

Bill’s here! Bill from the Left 4 Dead series makes an appearance as a survivor.

Visually, this game is horrifying in every sense of the word. The vile and grimy aesthetic is exactly how I imagine being stuck in a horror film. Even the generators which serve as your salvation look rundown and busted, which drives home the feeling of hopelessness.

It is also horrifying in that this game just plain looks ugly. There is very little detail in anything. Textures look like blobs of Play-Doh that were shaped to form buildings, hooks, and trees. Except maybe with Play-Doh there would be a little more detail.

This game is not pretty, but does succeed in creating a creepy atmosphere.

Even at its highest setting (singular, the only graphics option present is “Quality”), Dead by Daylight looks like it could have run on the Xbox 360. It’s insane that a game that looks a decade old runs with such poor performance on modern consoles.

And somehow, they made it look even worse! Take a look at the recent trailer for the Switch port of Dead by Daylight.

With the graphics lowered from an already low place, Dead by Daylight looks like a poorly made mobile game.

The game is also very dark with no way to adjust brightness. I understand that it’s to create a creepy atmosphere, but sometimes the vibe gets in the way of having fun and I’m running into things because I can’t see them. I get that it’s supposed to be true to the premise but honestly, it gets annoying.

It does, however, open the door to some unintended mechanics for the survivors. Playing someone with a darker outfit, like Claudette or Jeff, allows them to lose a pursuing killer just by blending into the dark environment. I have won many chases simply by turning a dark corner and immediately crouching while the killer waltzes past me.

Sound plays a big part in Dead by Daylight. It has a gross sound design that matches its grimy visual style. There is a satisfying squish of flesh that accompanies being hooked. Stunning the killer with a pallet prompts a grunt or a shriek sound bite that would fit perfectly in any slasher flick.

The developers also chose to make most of each match silent, save for the sounds that your survivor would realistically be hearing, like the churning of the generator or the rustling of bushes. As a result, everything that you can hear serves a purpose. When you hear a crow caw nearby, you know that something is coming, whether it’s friend or foe. When you hear your survivor’s heartbeat grow louder and faster (which will match your own, I promise), you know that you better hightail it or remain completely still to avoid the killer. The killer’s strikes and pursuits are accompanied by a loud eruption of music, acting sometimes as a jump scare. By omitting music for most of the game, it creates the tense atmosphere present right before the killer appears in a movie, keeping you on your toes at all times.

After seeing and experiencing the console ports of Dead by Daylight, I cannot recommend that anyone play it on Xbox One, Playstation 4, and very likely the Nintendo Switch until some serious performance work has been done. The original PC version of the game is the only one in which the game actually runs like a game you would pay for and not like someone tried to port a massive AAA game to mobile.

With that said, Dead by Daylight is still a uniquely fun multiplayer experience that sits at a very fair $20 price tag (it also drops down to $10 very often so maybe wait for that). It should not be missed by anyone that wants a tense game that demands teamwork or anyone that has always wanted to wear a mask and stalk teenagers. Though if you fall into that latter category, maybe use your money to get help instead.

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