Daymare 1994: Sandcastle Review – Terror From Space

The original Daymare 1998 was notable as much for its development origins as its actual gameplay – starting life as it did as a fan-made Resident Evil 2 remake. While never quite escaping from the shadow of this context it turned out to be an enjoyable slice of survival horror that showed some genuine potential. I was therefore excited to try out Invader Studio’s prequel title and was pretty impressed with the demo content I tried out earlier this year.

There has clearly been a development in the overall polish of this prequel, with some impressive visuals and lighting at times. The game is also less slavishly reliant on the setting of Capcom’s series and actually begins to establish an identity of its own here. There are, though, a couple of retrograde changes here as the multiple characters are jettisoned in favour of one protagonist and the number of weapons is reduced.

Once again you play as a member of the elite HADES squad, clearly acting as Invader’s equivalent of STARS. In Sandcastle, though, you play as tech specialist Dalila Reyes, a former spy with a mysterious past who has been recruited by HADES and sent into a secret government installation to retrieve a briefcase containing essential information. This installation is based at Area 51 and the storyline therefore takes on a surprisingly X-Files inspired turn. This aspect actually helps the game to stand out from the more generic plot of its predecessor.

Not long after entering the secret base you are confronted by reanimated corpses possessed by strange electromagnetic pulses. These enemies come in two main variations, blue ones that can be taken down pretty easily and red ones that are faster, stronger, and more aggressive. As the game progresses you’ll encounter other enemies but there are only 3 types, with a ranged attack variant and a reanimator-type that can teleport and insta-kill you. The latter in particular proves more frustrating than challenging as the clunky controls work against you. This lack of variety in enemies does hold the game back somewhat. There is a unique endgame boss but this is pretty awfully designed and actually makes the conclusion somewhat anticlimactic.

As mentioned above, graphically Sandcastle is a significant step up from Daymare: 1998 and some areas look really nice. Environmental lighting is good, but your flashlight is somewhat glitchy and often doesn’t illuminate areas as it should. Voice acting is functional but not particularly memorable and cutscenes feel a lot less polished than the rest of the game, with awful lip-synching and very plasticky faces.

Probably the best new addition to Sandcastle is the Frost Grip weapon that you find during the game’s first hour. This can be used to both freeze enemies and solve numerous environmental puzzles. The former is essential as a way of managing the more aggressive types and conserving ammunition and mastering this is the key to success. The puzzles are mostly fine but they generally involve spotting the hot spot and freezing it and can feel quite repetitive.

Alongside your Frost Grip you have a submachine gun and a shotgun. The former is fine for standard enemies but really lacks stopping power so is pretty ineffective against anything more aggressive. For these enemies you’ll be relying on a combination of shotgun and Frost Grip. Ammo is fairly limited but does seem to dynamically spawn or get dropped by enemies when you are running low. Health kits are scattered around the map too and there seemed to be a generous amount of these. The combat did suffer from the cumbersome controls though so I dropped the difficulty down after a number of frustrating deaths.

Daymare 1994: Sandcastle is a decent second title in the series which makes some improvements but still struggles to come together as an complete experience. The basic combat and movement controls lack the refinement of the titles from which it takes inspiration. Taken alongside a story that goes from interesting to incoherent in the 6 or 7 hours it takes to complete and you have an interesting title that is worth a look by survival horror fans but not at full price.
  • Improved polish
  • Some nice environments
  • Frost Grip adds options
  • Frustrating combat
  • Clunky controls
  • Storyline becomes incoherent
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Just your average old gamer with a doctorate in Renaissance literature. I can mostly be found playing RPGs, horror games, and oodles of indie titles. Just don't ask me to play a driving game.