Asymmetrical multiplayer in video games may not be new, but it remains a relatively untapped space. For those unfamiliar, it’s a sub-genre of game where two or more teams work against each other to carry out different objectives, weaving together cooperative and competitive elements. In Evolve, for instance, a team of hunters would attempt to track and kill a player-controlled monster as it scoured the map for food, while Friday the 13th: The Game has seven others trying to explore and survive while being hunted by the implacable Jason Voorhees.
Dead by Daylight from Behaviour Interactive uses that same core template, albeit within its own horror setting. It’s a natural fit and one that reflects the struggle between a group of survivors and their merciless pursuer, as portrayed in myriad slasher flicks. They’re hardly the only studio trying to marry these two together, as with the aforementioned Friday the 13th, and with Last Year due to enter beta in mid-August.
At a glance, Dead by Daylight seems pretty straightforward. Five players are thrown into a randomly generated arena – four survivors and one killer. As a survivor, your objective is to locate and repair five generators scattered around the map. Doing so will power two gates that, when opened, will lead to an escape route.
Meanwhile, as the killer, your job is to stop them by patrolling the area and chasing down any survivors you encounter. Instead of straight-up butchering them, you’ll need to carry injured players to a hook, offering a sacrifice to a hellish being known as the Entity. A match ends when all survivors being killed or have managed to escape. Thankfully, if you are killed, you can bank your experience points and jump straight into another lobby without waiting for the game to end.
There’s a plate-spinning quality to how the game plays out. Survivors that have been downed or hooked can be rescued by allies as they struggle against the Entity, so this forces the killer to choose between monitoring them or keeping an eye on the generators. Similarly, survivors will need to decide which generators to focus on, making sure there are palettes, lockers, or other obstacles to cover their retreat should the killer come knocking.
While it sounds simple, there are a number of advanced mechanics and nuances that help create various strategies for either role. For example, where the killer can only see in first person, survivors have an over-the-shoulder third person camera, helping them check around obstacles. Killers, on the other hand, can lean on audio cues to detect where the survivors are and what they might be doing.
The pre-game setup also allows players to customise loadouts with consumable items found in chests and purchased using experience points. Equipping your character with a toolbox will help them repair generators faster, and that’s boosted even further if they happen to be packing a modifier as well.
Admittedly, the killers are bit more varied. There are six in total, each based on familiar horror archetypes (such as the hillbilly or swamp witch) with a prescribed set of abilities, whether that’s cloaking, placing bear traps, or being able to blink from point to point.
With nothing in the way of playable tutorials, those first few matches in Dead By Daylight will confuse and frustrate. Survivors that are new to the game can be sniffed out almost immediately by seasoned killers. On the flip side, savvy survivors can run rings around a killer that’s only just beginning to learn the ropes.
It takes a while to settle in, but there’s certainly some fun to be had. That’s despite most player actions being limited to holding down buttons to perform various actions – at least as a survivor. Whether patching up a team-mate or mending a generator, you’ll be forced to watch a meter gradually fill with the occasional quick-time event to keep you on your toes.
On paper it sounds numbing, but there’s just enough tension to mask that repetition. If you’re lucky enough to escape the killer’s clutches, it feel rewarding to know that you’ve truly outsmarted them. On the flipside, there’s a dastardly delight in toying with the survivors like playthings, especially when a match reaches its climax.
The biggest problem here is repetition. Whether playing the role of survivor or killer, it doesn’t take long to fall into the same cat and mouse routine. By only having one means of escape, Dead by Daylight gets old fast with both teams employing the same predictable tactics over and over. While its horror trappings help to add a certain flair, that illusion will fade from time to time, exposing what is a fairly basic spin on the asynchronous multiplayer trend.
While there’s some nice menu designs and artwork, Dead by Daylight comes across a little drab when in-game. Outdoor environments seem to shuffle the same assets into random locations, occasionally changing the colour scheme or placing themed landmarks. Although rough around the edges, it’s serviceable.
With the multiplayer horror genre slowly coming to life, Dead by Daylight stakes its claim as one of the frontrunners. There are plenty of interesting ideas at play here, straddling the line between familiar online games and something completely unique. However, the patience required to learn the game will be too much for some. It’s not a taxing game by any means, but the asynchronous flow and bold unusual will rub against common multiplayer mindset. There’s also the pricetag to consider. As we saw with Friday the 13th, players are effectively buying into an experimental breed of multiplayer game that has yet to produce its first stand-out winner.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 Pro