2019 is the year of the Resident Evil 2 remake. Obviously you’ve got Capcom’s masterful effort which arrived back in February, but that’s not the only game that sought to update the 1998 classic for modern tastes. Enter Daymare: 1998, which originally started its life as a fan-made Resi 2 remake before Capcom gave its makers a telling off.
Unlike many fan projects, this project wasn’t totally destroyed by the original IP holders taking over. Instead, it metamorphosed into what is now Daymare: 1998, an original(ish) take on classic Resident Evil survival horror. And now, ironically several months after the RE2 Remake, we can see the fruits of the small team at Invader Studios’ hard work.
The origins of Daymare are pretty easy to see. There has been a laudable attempt to construct a new and original lore and narrative, but it is clearly Resident Evil 2 by another name. The whole setup with mutated viruses, shadowy companies, reanimated corpses, and a Special Forces team going by a tenuous acronym – HADES – is spookily familiar. There’s even a similar multiple character structure, as you control three different people through the game, albeit with a more linear approach as the characters only meet up at the game’s conclusion. Without the knowledge of the years of hard work the team put into their RE2 remake, it would be easy to dismiss Daymare: 1998 as a simple clone.
Considering the shared lineage of the two projects, however, what we have is a fascinating bridge between old and new from an indie team that doesn’t have the resources of a giant like Capcom. Playing through this shows the evolution of survival horror across the two RE2 games, an evolution that Daymare doesn’t always benefit from. This time last year, I would have been far more excited by the traditional approach taken here, but it is more difficult to forgive the genre’s old issues when you have played newer iterations.
First among the complaints is the clunkiness of the controls. Playing with a mixture of gamepad and mouse and keyboard, neither felt optimal. The mouse and keyboard worked best for exploring, but I struggled to tackle the bosses so switched to the pad for these. The pad itself uses the unusual scheme of using a shoulder button to jog and left stick click to run, which proved unreliable to pull off at inopportune moments and resulted in a number of annoying deaths. This was at its most inconvenient in several unfairly difficult boss fights, though these have apparently been rebalanced in the latest build ready for release, so you shouldn’t have to suffer like I did.
Inventory management on the wrist-based communicator is perhaps the clunkiest aspect of all. It makes sense for reading notes and checking your status, and there’s the usual assortment of keys and valves to collect, but it’s particularly slow and unwieldy when it comes to changing and sorting ammunition for your guns.
Weapons are restricted to three per character, with pistol, shotgun and magnum knock-offs ticking the genre boxes. These are mostly fine to shoot with, but the auto-aim had a tendency to focus on enemies that were further away rather than the one that was about to launch forward and vomit all over your clothes. The lack of a real bite or attack from many enemies feels strange as well, leaving the peril to feel more like getting out of a club at closing time rather than a viral outbreak. Vomit is no laughing matter, but it isn’t quite the stuff of survival horror.
Voice acting and dialogue is wonderfully naff and completely in keeping with the generic origins of the game. There is nothing as memorable as Barry Burton’s most infamous lines, but many cornily delivered asides will have you smiling in ironic recognition. Graphically, Daymare is pretty good but obviously cannot compete with the RE engine and won’t reach Capcom levels. There is an attempt at mixing up the locations, but many of these will still feel uncannily familiar as parts of the original remake project. Enemies are detailed enough and I did spot many of the standards from RE2 such as hard hat guy, office worker, and policeman, but there isn’t a great deal of variety.
The overall effect of Daymare: 1998 may well depend on your experiences with survival horror more generally. At this point it clearly isn’t attempting to revolutionise the genre, or even to expand on it, but instead acts as a bridge between the two different versions of Resident Evil 2. This means that it occupies an interesting space in the development of the genre, but struggles to stand alone. I enjoyed playing through the game as an exercise in uncanny nostalgia, but I’m not sure that new players would look past the more unwieldy aspects. If you do check Daymare out then make sure you play on the Beginner Mode as, despite what the menu text says the Daymare mode is the equivalent of Hardcore and will not make for the best first impression.