The survival horror genre has certainly gotten its renaissance recently with titles such as Resident Evil 4 Remake, Dead Space Remake, and Signalis; hopping on the trend would be Invader Studios’ Daymare : 1994 Sandcastle.
Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is the prequel of its previous title – Daymare: 1998, but now with a different UI and varying gameplay mechanics in it.
The story follows Dalila Reyes, former government spy now a member of a specialist squad of H.A.D.E.S., now tasked to uncovering the mystery of an underground research facility. The overall pacing for the story decently paced, however there were some sections where it felts a bit sluggish but it can be overlooked.
One minor gripe with the story is that some instances of the plot doesn’t fit quite well, where they build up the suspense of certain story beats. only to be forgotten about later. That being said, Daymare 1994 does an excellent job in terms of building up the story and I was constantly interested in it.
The ending was pretty interesting to me as well, where it teases another potential Daymare game, all while providing some insight about Daymare: 1998.
In terms of graphical presentation, it’s relatively decent. Admittedly, I only play the game on Medium graphic settings, so I won’t really go into the quality of it. The flies in the jail area are just PNGs moving around and the animation of the character during cutscenes look a little awkward. However, the environment design team does a great job in terms of creating the atmosphere.
In the earlier level with the overrun lab, it looks technologically advanced yet creepy at the same time because of the black goo that spreads around just about everywhere. Later on in the residential area, the setting and the vibe does make it feel like an abandoned underground city that is overrun by monsters, which makes the game a lot more immersive.
Speaking of monsters, the visual designs are fine, and it doesn’t quite look scary or creepy to me. One thing that’s an improvement over Daymare: 1998 is that you can easily tell if they’re really dead. When alive, the monsters would glow blue or red, and killing them despite them still standing, their eyes and body won’t glow anymore, which is nice for ammo conservation. In the last game, it’s hard to tell if the enemy’s dead and you’ll end up putting more bullets in them than you should.
In terms of audio, there’s minimal BGM when exploring and trying to get to the next stage. To me, this is perfect, because instead of blasting eerie and creepy music, the only thing you hear is the sound of your footstep, with that echoing in an open space just amplifies the overall creepiness.
When it comes to the voice acting, the delivery sounds a bit out of place. The tone of some of the lines that were delivered doesn’t quite match what they said in that situation.
The exploration of the game is pretty much just like any other game where you run around finding clues for the puzzles, collecting resources like ammo and first aid, then continue progressing in the story. In Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle, there’s very little backtracking that you need to do. In the rare occasion that you do need to backtrack, you don’t have to do back far, and you can unlock a shortcut when doing so.There were two instances where I went through different routes only to go back to the same place that I needed to go to, which is neat and makes the game feel fresh even though you’re going back to the same place. That being said, the exploration for the game is quite linear where there aren’t branching paths, just a single line ahead with the occasional backtracking.
Daymare 1994 has you solve puzzles along the way, and there will be things that can be scanned using the new mechanic the H.A.D.E.S. Scanner. If something nearby can be scanned, there will be a visual and audio notification where you can equip your scanner and try to find out where it is. The close your pointer is to the scannable object, the smaller the circle is, and then you can proceed from there.
It’s a pretty useful tool that lets you know more about the world and setting of the game. Aside from the scanner, you’d also occasionally find documents laying around, which will also fill you in with some lore, and even give you hints on how to find the passcode required in a certain area or puzzle.
Combat and Encounter Design
Suffice to say, Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is more geared towards action game fans. Gone are the realistic reloading system from the previous title that would be detrimental to you, in with the common reloading system that most games adapts, which makes combat much more enjoyable and responsive.
I don’t think there’s another weapon in the game, considering I haven’t found any other weapons that I could pick up, aside from a shotgun and the SMG that Reyes carried with her since the start, as well as the Frost Grip which is unlocked later. Not to mention, the feedback on those weapons are a little too weak, and the camera shakes a little too much especially when using the shotgun, which makes it hard to aim. As with the SMG, is fine but the recoil really kicks in during the last 10 rounds.
Personally speaking, I wish there had been more enemy variants in the game. While other similar titles have somewhat of the same amount of variants and some even less, but I think that this game could’ve done more with it considering how the lore behind the enemy is pretty intriguing.
The Frost Grip is Daymare 1994’s unique mechanic which is a glove that is connected to a tank of liquid nitrogen which is carried on your back, and you use it to solve puzzles and kill enemies. It’s a well designed mechanic that isn’t just for a one time use gimmick. In fact, the more you progress through the game, the more you have to rely on it.
Ammo is scarce in this game, and if you’re not careful at managing your recourse, more often than not you’d find yourself running out of ammo and being overwhelmed by hordes of enemies. While bullets are still the best way to handle a horde, the Frost Grip can be a saving grace in terms of ammo conservation since you can perform a finisher on a frozen enemy.
You can also upgrade the glove if you find a terminal. Early on in the game, you can only do small upgrades like increasing its capacity or increasing its freezing speed, but you can unlock new functions like frost mines or bombs later on. Speaking of, I found myself abusing the frost mines pretty frequently considering it’s such a useful tool that prevents enemies from ambushing you by using the corpse you walked past a minute ago. While the bomb is useful in combat with multiple enemies, the wind up animation takes a bit longer.
On the topic of encounters, while I think the mechanic of the enemies are fun and requires for you to think before you go guns blazing, some of the encounters are pretty annoying where they throw in way too many enemies at you, and you don’t have the time to stop and do anything.
The D.I.D system is a main theme of the Daymare series, which is the inventory system and the UI for you to solve some puzzles. D.I.D in the game is a portable computer that is equipped onto the character’s hand, much like a Pip-Boy in the fallout series.
The UI for Daymare 1994’s D.I.D system has improved leaps and bounds as compared to its 1998 counterpart. It looks much cleaner and it’s a lot easier to use, which has honestly been a big blessing considering how annoying it was to navigate in the previous game.
Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is a solid game with tons of well designed stuff that complement each other and fits into place. The Frost Grip is a really fun and unique mechanic that definitely comes in handy when dealing with enemies.
The exploration part of the game is pretty enjoyable too with the environmental design that gives off the vibe of a creepy underground lab mixed in with an abandoned city. Paired with the minimal backtracking that you need to do, I enjoyed the overall level design of the game.
I do have some minor gripes with the game though, like the weapon handling, especially when it comes to the shotgun which I feel like can be improved.
The overall story pacing is good and managed to keep me interested, despite having some plot points feeling a bit out of place.
All in all, I would still recommend Daymare : 1994 Sandcastle if you’re looking for an enjoyable survival horror game.