Dead By Daylight can be a fast paced fun survival game, a slow and tense strategy game or a brutal first person hunting simulator. Above all it can be terrifying. This is a game to play alone, in the dark, with only the voices of your friends and their cries for help ringing through your headphones.
The game from Starbreeze Studios and Behaviour Interactive pits four Survivors against a Killer in an open arena. Think Evolve, on a smaller scale, with a gritty horror aesthetic. Unlike Evolve or the recently released Friday the 13th: The Game you can choose your role. As one of four Survivors you must repair generators which power a door allowing you to escape the space. Or you can play as the Killer who must find and, well, kill all the Survivors. It’s a simple concept but one that’s done well.
The tone of the game feels more gritty road movie than supernatural horror, although there is inevitably an element of the paranormal. The menu music, ambient sounds and dark, semi realistic aesthetic pull together to give a sense of foreboding and terror. The Killer’s moans played over a distorted, heavily repeated guitar riff play on the mind even before a game session has begun. The animation of characters fading in and out when chosen or when joining a lobby and an ever-present fog providing an ethereal quality. Whilst the music and moans disappear in a game session it’s the quiet, the sound of your own footsteps and the environment which help to maintain this sense of dread. The ethereal disappears too replaced by the brutal, hard physics of the Killers blow.
The simplicity of the concept extends to the game play and the control scheme. As a Survivor you can run, sneak or perform an action. These actions include fixing generators, healing other players, vaulting objects or trying to break free from the Killers grasp. The Killer gets an action, a basic attack and a Power based on the character chosen. For the Killer the actions are mainly picking up a Survivor and hanging them on a hook for safe keeping. The only defence a Survivor has is a heartbeat sense which is triggered when the Killer is closing in. A slow beat when they’re close by, a fast pumping beat when they’re on you. It is horrifying when the heartbeat quickens and you turn to see the Killer bearing down from behind. Only the ability to run and pull objects down into the Killers path can stop a vicious attack, if you’re quick enough to react. Alternatively, it is hugely satisfying when, as the Killer, you open up a locker to find a Survivor hiding and pluck them out or mercilessly chase someone down and deliver a well-timed attack.
Both Survivor and Killer provide a different experience but I’m currently enjoying playing the Killer more. The feeling of power whilst hunting and catching the other players outweighing the survival play. The Killer also has many tools to help catch its prey. Listening for footsteps or the grunts of pain, the noise of a generator being fixed or the visual clues left behind by a bleeding Survivor all help in the hunt. I feel this gives the Killer a better arsenal to get the job done than the Survivors. Whether Survivor or Killer I’ve definitely experienced more Killer wins. However, I think that this would be improved by playing with a group of friends and working together to escape. Some Survivors can purposefully make noise to draw the Killers attention whilst the others get to work on the generators. This dynamic does, occasionally, occur naturally. I’ve felt the brunt of the Killers hunt for a good portion of the game until caught whilst the remaining Survivors are left unharried to carry out the task.
The diversity and depth to the game come from the wealth of Survivors and Killers to play as. Whilst all have the same basic functions, each have different equip-able perks. Some Survivors get bonuses for being in close proximity to others, some are better at healing themselves and others make less noise. Killers may be better at hunting or hardier and give less chance to evade. The Perks don’t change the role too much but they do add a little depth and allow for slightly different play style. In the case of the Killers it’s the Power, alongside the perks, which may determine which Killer you chose. So far my favourite is the Hillbilly. It looks freakishly brutal and feels fast for a big guy. His power; wielding a chainsaw which satisfyingly rips through Survivors. I also have some love for the Nurse who’s Blink ability can be chained so she moves swiftly across the map and delivers a quick attack. It’s hard to time right but is another satisfying move to pull off. She’s a smaller character model too and, when playing as a Survivor, just seamlessly appears from nowhere to cut you down.
The Perks are equipped in the Loadout screen between sessions. This is also a view into the character’s inventory as perishable items can also be equipped. Tools, torches, maps and med kits can all be used to give a little advantage in certain situations for a Survivor. To help, add-on items can also be attached which will improve an item. This is also the case for the Killer as add-on items may help to decrease the cool down time or increase the efficiency of their Powers. To gain more items and to unlock more Perk slots the characters can all be levelled up. This is done through the Bloodweb, a randomly generated set of nodes which are unlocked using earned currency. Whilst the currency, earned through performance, is communal across your Survivors and Killers, levelling up is exclusive. This allows you to put a small amount in each character to explore how they play. Early levels are fairly cheap to complete in the Bloodweb and the first character specific Perk can be obtained quickly. The Bloodweb looks deep and almost complicated at higher levels where a real choice has to be made on which nodes to pick first to gain access to better abilities and tools. I found the best way to quickly earn points is to play as the Killer as they rack up big scores, you can then use your swiftly earned points on any character.
Through my play time I did find a few technical issues. As a Killer you host the lobby and several times I’d just lose connection and get kicked to the title screen. As a Survivor this happened too but only took me to the lobby menu allowing me to join another game straight away. Whilst this is rare it did cause me to close the application and restart it. When in a game session I’ve found no technical issues and it’s only my lack of skill that I can blame for death. In most cases for me, the game should be called Dead Well Before Daylight.
DBD also struggles a little transitioning between animations, especially as a Survivor when strung up on a hook. At a certain point you have the option to struggle and between the hung state to struggling state the character model does not seamlessly change. Rather a quick, janky re-positioning and a button prompt are your cues. This is true of a few of the animation transitions but none so much as this, at least to make note of.
I think Dead by Daylight also lacks in the death animation department. There are no gory deaths where a Killer puts an axe in your neck or bludgeons you whilst prone. There are no death blows at all really. Getting sacrificed whilst hung up being the main way to actually perish. I believe that this would add a little more to an already impressive game. Even if the Killer got one death-blow per game or got to land a brutal killing blow on the final Survivor this would sate my horror genre desires. Post review note: There is an item, the Memento Mori, which allows the Killer to do this. This appears randomly as an unlock in the Bloodweb. Yes, I sort of got my wish but, of course, I want more and would like this to be a default mechanic and not an item.
Another small issue I take is with the offerings. These are single use items which trigger at the start of the match. They may give a better rate of spawning on a certain map or make the fog thicker to better hide in. However, when the match starts these flash up on the screen but you’re not given enough time to read what they do. The only way I know a couple of the offerings used is because I’ve used them myself. I don’t mind the element of discovery but we’re just being teased by only having enough time to read the items name and nothing else.
I also found the game a little too intense at times. In between matches I had to come out of the game to the PS menu to listen to my soothing Firewatch theme. The groans of the Killer and foreboding, guitar heavy, menu music getting a little too much. Especially after a few rounds as the Killer when their groans and wails had been heard a lot. There is a lovely transition between beating guitar and melancholic piano when switching between the Killer and Survivor respectively. But this wasn’t enough to calm me.
Dead by Daylight is brutal and fun, tense and terrifying. It’s a game that can offer two different experiences and offers them well. Its simple concept and mechanics quick to pick up and satisfying to play. It has a levelling system and character loadout that is deep and allows some customisation. It’s a great game for friends to work together or play alone to ruin someone’s evening. I’m not a fan of review scores so I’m not going to assign an arbitrary number but will suggest if you enjoy a challenge, horror games, teaming up with your friends or tearing into them then this is a must play. I’ve really enjoyed my time with it and will be playing a lot more.
The version reviewed is the PS4 Deluxe Edition, provided to us through Critical Hit Consulting.