I’ve intended on writing about Dead by Daylight for a while, but it’s proven difficult since, through various points in its young life, it’s been several very different versions of the same game. While it’s easy (and mostly correct) to blame this on the Early Access model, it’s also worth noting that Behavior Interactive was trying to invent a new offshoot of the horror genre, finally making our dreams of a playable horror movie into a reality.
There have been… growing pains, to say the least. When it works, it’s surprisingly tense and engaging, even if there isn’t much in the way of variation. The entirety of the game is based around stumbling blindly through very similar maps whilst trying to repair transformers and open the way out. Of course, because it’s an online mulitplayer experience, your enjoyment level is at the mercy of whomever you’re stuck playing with, often even further handicapping the already underpowered survivor role if no one wants to cooperate. That’s one of the many reasons that, unsurprisingly, the most fun you can have with the game is in the role of the unstoppable killer.
But that in and of itself is the fatal flaw of Dead by Daylight. The game feels like an infusion of parts and concepts that are constantly in conflict with one another, leaving the question looming as to whether or not there is a possible compromise between an authenticity to the slasher genre and the need to be a balanced competitive video game. Slasher movies are all about disadvantages; the masked killer is always faster, stronger, more resilient than his victims. This is certainly true in Dead by Daylight as well, which has lead to a vocal number of players to quit the game altogether, upset by how hopeless it feels to play as one of the survivors. Part of me believes that how it should be. Neve Campbell didn’t easily vanquish Ghostface in Scream because she leveled up and equipped the right perks in time for the sequel. It can be argued that there needs to be that level of despair, those feelings of weakness, for the atmosphere to work at all, but with that comes the primal frustration of not being able to win, which is a condition that’s very hard for most gamers to get over, especially in a multiplayer game with a ranked mode. It’s not an easy solution, and a lot of the design concessions that were already made from the very beginning to “gamify” the experience are what ultimately have lead me to stop playing as much.
Dead by Daylight’s slashers aren’t actually even killers, more like inconveniencers. There are no brutal gory kills. At no point can you slice anyone in half or toss them through a wood-chipper. All you can do is pick survivors up and put them on a hook, where they’ll eventually be sacrificed to some sort of sky god after a timer passes. It’s an inelegant solution to that impossible question – how do you actually make this a game? I don’t think Dead by Daylight will ever stumble upon a perfect answer to that, but I do appreciate it for trying, if only because future titles will be able learn from it.
What I’m basically saying here is that I’m really worried that Friday the 13th game isn’t going to be any good.