Daymare 1998 is one of those games that appears to have been made for a specific audience, with no real attempt to appeal to anyone outside of that group. Specifically, it’s for people who cut their teeth on late ’90s survival horror, particularly the Resident Evil series, and who’ve been looking for more of that flavor in their lives.
Personally, I bounced off of Daymare pretty hard. It’s really focused on the specific segment of the old-school Resident Evil audience that’s into its military science-fiction angle, particularly the fans of HUNK, RE‘s answer to Boba Fett, which is the least interesting part of RE. Even so, Daymare has overcome poor mainstream reviews, a lengthy development cycle, and a failed Kickstarter to gradually develop a cult following.
That following is presumably why it’s getting a prequel. In Daymare 1994 Sandcastle, you participate in an event that was briefly mentioned early in the original Daymare, where another operative of Hexacore Biotechnologies has to deal with a different sort of black science.
A short demo for Sandcastle is dropping on February 21st as part of the Steam Next Fest, and I got an early look at it. If there’s one word that comes to mind here, it’s “streamlined.”
Four years before the events of Daymare, Dalila Reyes is a former government operative who now works for the Hexacore Advanced Division for Extraction and Research (HADES). She and her team members have been sent to help evacuate “the most advanced experimental research center in the United States of America.” Hilarity has ensued, however, and Reyes gets separated from her unit when monsters attack.
Sandcastle, like Daymare before it, is deliberately made to thread the needle between modern survival horror, i.e. Dead Space, and the first few Resident Evil games from the ’90s. Resources are scarce, odd puzzles are everywhere, you’re alone against an unknown force, and the horror is skewed more towards The X-Files’s end of the genre-pool than anything supernatural.
A lot of the moment-to-moment busywork of Daymare has been eliminated in Sandcastle or at least has been in the Steam Next demo. You now simply pick up first-aid kits to restore lost health, instead of mixing up syringes, and Reyes doesn’t have to manually reload magazines in real-time the way you did with Daymare‘s pistol.
What she does have, on the other hand, is a freon launcher strapped to one arm. Reyes’s gauntlet is enabled with what the game calls Frost Grip, which allows you to project a jet of cold that can put out fires, cool down overheated equipment, or freeze enemies solid. The jet slowly recharges when it’s not in use.
Reyes also gets a scanner that will automatically highlight anything of interest in her general area, detective-vision style, and has a genre-standard inventory screen instead of an in-universe personal digital assistant strapped to her wrist. You do still check your inventory in real-time, but you can heal quickly with the touch of a hotkey.
As if to compensate for all of these quality-of-life bonuses, the standard enemies in Sandcastle are surprisingly vicious. Instead of your standard-issue zombie, Sandcastle‘s monsters are some kind of electromagnetic vampire. They can teleport into an area without warning, dodge your gunfire, and if they reach you, will try to drain Reyes’s life force.
You can kill one of these not-zombies with a lucky headshot, but when it dies, it spawns an energy orb that will empower any other zombie it touches. At that point, they become immune to bullets, so all you can do to get them out of your hair is freeze and shatter them. Every encounter with more than one of the zombies at once can get frantic in a hurry, as the more of them you kill, the more powerful the survivors become.
The Steam demo for Sandcastle is only about 30 minutes long, featuring a few fights and a couple of puzzles, but it’s carefully designed to tap into the same not-quite-nostalgia as Daymare did. If you’re in Daymare‘s cult audience, where you can’t get enough soldiers-vs-zombies black-ops horror, Sandcastle is made for you. Its item management’s a little easier than Daymare‘s, but its combat certainly isn’t.