There has been a whole lot of talk and hype around Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle here on the site for a while now and we are finally here to play the game. A lot of this hype comes from the look and feel of what Invader Studios has put together for this new third-person horror title, but personally, as I get to play as a member of H.A.D.E.S. heading out into Nevada to look into some extra weirdness out there. All of that is exciting, sure, but does Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle hold up to all of that excitement? That is what we are here to dive into today now that the game has landed on the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. Let us all dive into our review of this game and if it will be worth your time and money too.
The day is just going as per usual for Dalila Reyes out there. Taking on a new bit of tasks in the mix and being a techie and a scientist in a time when things were not so advanced. This is why H.A.D.E.S. has tapped Reyes to join a team to head out to Rachel, NV to check in on some sciency things that have gone awry in the mix. That might be a bit of a misnomer, though, as the true horrors of the game start to flood out there and aim to help Reyes, the team, and the world end with all of their living. It is time to put some of that training and gear to good use.
I am going to kick this all off with one of the elements that was not overly terrible in Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle but was something that felt like it missed the mark. That being the gunplay and combat in the game. Seeing as we will need this to go about in the game and make it through the horrors that are out there, it feels as if this should have been nailed down. Sometimes, it is completely on point. Other times, you can have a shot perfectly lined up and the enemy right in the crosshairs, but somehow still miss. It would be one thing if it was tied to the ability of the various horror-inducing things in Daymare but this was more of a gameplay thing for me. Made only worse when we get the Frost Grip addition. You see, the enemies we kill will wake up others if we do not kill the glowing orb that is released after, and this is done with another firearm weapon. This never broke the game at all, but it could have been dialed in quite a bit more to better enhance the game.
From there, we are going to dig into the puzzle and "hacking" minigames we had in Daymare here. Again, a mixed bag when it comes to the game here. They were challenging and fun to complete but there was no help whatsoever in the game to explain what needed to be done. That can be a solid way to design things for a game that is meant to not hold hands, but in many cases, there was a timer added in to force more tension in the mix. This would have been nice in general, but when trying to learn how to solve one of the hacking elements in Daymare while worrying about monsters and then a ticking clock, it is hard to focus. It does place you in the mindset of the character a bit more, sure, but when it comes to advancing the game and having a great gameplay experience, it quickly turned tension into frustration and slowed the pace of things down quite a bit. Sometimes it leads to looking for other ways around certain puzzles that would have me facing more enemies than actually giving them all a try. This is not a thing that can be done in the game before you think you can.
Now we move to the power-scaling of enemies in Daymare here. This one is going to be a mixed bag once again. There is a running theme. While having the dual kills needed to put down some enemies in the game is nice, having some that shift from looming threat to instant death in the matter of one encounter feels like the wrong choice to go with. For instance, there is a slow-floating creature in the game called a Sparker. The first time you face one also has some of the various Decoys (zombies) in the mix. It was challenging to unload into the Sparker while handling the rest, which gave some great tension. Even when the Sparker was doling out some solid damage along the way. Then the second time this happens shortly later, the Sparker is just an instant kill without warning. Not only frustrating but also breaks the way Daymare has been setting the rules of things in the game. For tension and story, it works. For a consistent and enjoyable gameplay loop, it leads me to needing to walk away from the game to burn off frustration. Moreso as the previous encounter was the first time I was hit with multiple deaths in a row when being taught something different the whole game so far.
If Invader Studios was aiming to give us a world that looked amazing while also adding in all forms of tension, they nailed it perfectly here in Daymare: 1994. The locales are all made to feel familiar while adding in all of the proper horror elements into the mix. The team even did an amazing job explaining away some of the elements that were in the world just for gameplay logic while also amping up the horror in the mix. This truly came to light early on and carried all the way through the game too. Sometimes as a misdirect to keep our heads on swivel in Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle but many times just to lean into the horror of the world and setting Reyes found herself in. There was not just gore and horror for the shock value. Everything felt like it had a reason, which only further added to the horror of it all when I was playing. Something that many others should take note of when working on their own projects. It feels like a small thing but made a massive difference in the overall experience.
While frustrating at times in Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle, the extra puzzles and minigames to press forward do fall into this category more than the other. To explain, while a few repeated themselves and there was little explanation of what to do, once it was figured out, it always came with that "ah ha" moment. Even if there were many failures beforehand or other issues. Even the simplest of the puzzles made me feel like a bit of a puzzle wizard once I figured them out and gave me that next "high" before heading into the mix of the horrors laid out in the world. Again, these were dispersed in Daymare to keep the game perfectly paced, and felt like they belonged more than just needing something to break things up in the game. All while giving those 90s video game vibes that still run rampant today. They never were bogged down or felt like they were out of place just because. Massive kudos to the team for figuring out how to manage all of this in a game that feels as if it could have been a dark shooter from the start.
Lastly, and this is going to be something that is not for everyone, but Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle's story and dialog in the game felt right in place with the 90s theme of things too. Just the right level of campiness with the right level of how things could most likely play out in the game's world. I say that, as there are few things that feel like they would be out of place in a real-world setting, but with Daymare being slightly adjacent, it was not too far off for the macho marine to side-eye the feminine scientist. All to get her to respond. When these things do pop up, it is a little off at first, but then the game makes sure we understand why this is the case in the world we are finding ourselves in. A world made only better by having these oddities and keeping us engaged in the survival and shooting of these monstrosities out there. Go in with that thought and it will add to the experience as we move about the world and try not to be the next creature munched on or shot with weird balls of energy too.
As you may have noticed here, there are a lot of mixed feels for Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle. The gameplay and gunplay are not the top level many AAA developers would have, but it does not break the game by any means. It leads to some frustration in the mix, but it is quickly dwarfed by the setting and other elements in the game. The tension is paced out correctly to hit those perfect peaks and valleys even when just walking through empty locations. I lean more on the enjoyed side of things for Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle and was able to overlook some of the faults I did run into. Knowing some of these things from the start would have made the experience a bit smoother and not let me get set in my ways before things changed in the game. That is why you are here, though, so now you have learned and can take the recommendation of picking this one up. As long as you enjoyed titles like Resident Evil and Dead Space. This one is rather close to those but vastly different in tone and execution.
I give Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle 16 Alien Bobbleheads on the Alien Bobblehead scale.
Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle — Hades Plays The Game [PS5 Gameplay]
Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle was developed by Invader Studios and published by Leonardo Interactive for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on August 30th, 2023. A PlayStation copy of the game was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes.