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  • Writer's pictureJunoh Seo

Review: Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle

Developer: Invader Studios

Publisher: Leonardo Interactive, 4Divinity

Available on: PC (Steam), PS4|5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch

Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is a third-person survival horror shooter and the prequel to Daymare: 1998. The game is strongly reminiscent of the Resident Evil franchise and features many similar mechanics, from the “over-the-shoulder” point of view to the atmosphere and gameplay. This is because Daymare: 1998 began as a fan-made remake of the original Resident Evil 2 called Resident Evil 2 Reborn before Capcom started working on an official remake.

In this game, you play as Dalila Reyes - an ex-marine technician and elite agent of the special unit H.A.D.E.S. dispatched to investigate a mysterious incident in Nevada that caused the government to lock down the entire area. Shortly after her team’s insertion, Dalila is separated from the others and runs into inexplicable phenomena, hostile monsters, and hidden research facilities. She delves deeper into the labyrinthine underground of the facility to carry out the last orders of her commanding officer.

The gameplay mechanics should feel mostly familiar to those who have played Resident Evil 7, Village, or any of the newer remakes. The health, inventory, and save systems are basically the same, as well as the quick-time event that plays when you are grabbed by enemies. The overall aesthetic and visuals of the game are very well crafted, being consistently ominous and foreboding. This complements the survival horror aspect, especially with enemies frequently hiding behind corners and doors or charging at you from behind.

Compared to the Resident Evil franchise, Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle features less overall weapon variety. In fact, there are only two firearms you can use in the game - a shotgun and a submachine gun - and both of them are unlocked at the very beginning of the game. Instead, the game focuses on a new attack mechanic called the Frost Grip - a versatile, backpack-shaped equipment paired with a gauntlet that weaponizes liquid nitrogen to freeze enemies. The Frost Grip is the main factor that differentiates the gameplay from Resident Evil, as many enemies in this game can only be momentarily stunned with firearms. To completely kill them, you need to freeze them with the Frost Grip first and then attack again to shatter them into pieces. You begin with two attack options: the Frost Spray for short-range attacks and the Frost Bullet, which allows precise long-range attacks. There are several upgrade stations throughout the game that you can find to upgrade passive stats and unlock new attack options, such as the Frost Mine and Frost Bomb.

However, even with the options added by the Frost Grip, I found the combat gets repetitive rather quickly due to the very small number of weapons you could use in the game. While the Frost Grip does add some variety to the mix, the overall pattern of combat is basically the same - you freeze the enemy and then break them. It’s made worse by the fact both firearms are given to you initially, taking away the fun of finding and unlocking new weapons through exploration. I remember trying to unlock the shotgun locked behind a security door in Resident Evil 2 and the satisfaction of using it to clear out enemies that were hard to kill with the handgun alone. It’s harder to get the same satisfaction from Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle. I believe the game could have benefited from adding one or two additional firearms you could obtain in the facility.

Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle also features numerous puzzles and hidden passwords. Some are required to progress the story, while others open up the way to valuable items and permanent equipment upgrades such as weapon mods and the aforementioned Frost Grip upgrade stations. I liked how the password-locked doors are often located away from the main exploration route and made you search every nook and cranny of the map. There are also collectible documents scattered throughout the facility you could read to understand the lore better. Some simply lie around in the form of papers and audio recordings, while others are unlocked by scanning computers and other electronic devices to extract information like email logs. I found this to be a clever way to reinforce the characterization of the protagonist as a tech expert.

The game has room for improvement when it comes to the voice acting of the characters. While Dalila’s voice acting was decent overall, it did feel a little choppy and awkward in moments such as the character having intense arguments. Some of the other characters fare worse. More than once, I was distracted in cutscenes that should have been suspenseful and significant to the story because of the poor voice acting. This is a weakness that is hard to overlook when the game is heavily focused on the plot and is clearly intended to make the players get invested in the story. Likewise, the dialogue also has similar issues. Many of the jokes felt rather forced, clashing with the more serious tone of the game and the increasingly desperate circumstances the characters face.

Overall, Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is a solid survival horror game with a well-crafted atmosphere and setting. The combat is fast-paced and engaging, although it could benefit from a little more variety of methods to engage the enemies. The game's story, while not groundbreaking, effectively keeps players invested in the unfolding mysteries as they keep on going. Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle stands out as a good addition to the genre and definitely worth a visit for enthusiasts of survival horror games.

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