Hiding from the daylight
Sitting in a tent under the midday sun of a typical California Sunday might not seem like the best place to try to experience a horror game, but that was where I tried my hand at playing Zombie Studios’ upcoming release Daylight using the Oculus Rift—and the results weren’t at all what I was expecting.
That opportunity came thanks to IndieCade, a yearly celebration held here in Los Angeles (or, more specifically, Culver City). Going into the event, I’d had the chance to try out the Rift two different times previously, with one of those occasions being the new HD version of the unit. So, really, my appointment was less about getting to experience this crazy new virtual-reality thing that everybody had been talking about, and more about getting additional exposure to the Rift when it’s used for different gaming purposes. (And, of course, seeing more of Daylight itself.)
So, there I was, sitting in a chair outdoors in the middle of the day, the random noises of crowds, other indie titles, and cars passing by filling the air all around me. Being my first real exposure to Daylight, this didn’t seem appropriate. As a longtime fan of horror games, I know the drill by now: only play at night, dim the lights, silence as much background noise as possible. For me to even feel a tinge of fear, Daylight—and the Rift—were going to need to put in some serious work.
A couple of minutes later, all of that outside world had washed away—the only world I knew was the dark, crumbling hospital that I was now inhabiting. I understand the draw of the Oculus Rift, and in my prior encounters with it, I’ve definitely been impressed by its technology and abilities. What I’d still been lacking, however, was that catch, that thing that could convince me that I really would be better off playing a game via the Rift versus a television.
I can’t say for sure that Daylight is that game—but it definitely is that spark that’s caused me to give far more serious consideration to the unit. Having played all kinds of horror games over the years, I know that fear—inasmuch as an interactive piece of entertainment can create such an emotion—is derived not simply from throwing terrifying monsters onscreen for you to kill, but by creating situations where you feel as if you aren’t prepared for what might be waiting for you. That doesn’t just come from direct threats, but from making you believe that those threats might exist. Some of the scariest moments in the Silent Hill franchise have come when there was absolutely nothing that could kill you; it was how the player’s mind interpreted the situation, and how the atmosphere affected them mentally and emotionally, that were truly scary.
While I was playing Daylight, nothing ever tried to kill me. There were no monsters, no ghosts, no demons. The most threatening moments I encountered were a wheelchair that fell over on its own and a room that glowed with a strange light.
Like Silent Hill, it was more about what my brain thought might be there, and that unease of not knowing what might be around the next corner. That doesn’t surprise me. What did was how intense it all felt thanks to the Rift, and having that experience unfold in front of my eyes as the only thing I could see. Even with the demo giving me an unfinished look at the game, and the graphical fidelity from the non-HD model of the Rift not being what I’d most want to see, there was something so immersive about playing Daylight that way. Give credit to that for what the team at Zombie Studios is building, of course, but also to how I experienced their efforts.
So many people, after having tried the Oculus Rift for themselves, have explained that you simply can’t understand the experience until you’re able to have it for yourself. That’s how I would best describe my time with Daylight at IndieCade, because it was the connection on an emotional level that the game and the Rift combined together that left me the most impressed—and, sometimes, emotions are a hard thing to quantify.
With its emphasis on exploration, psychological fears, and world randomization, Daylight is definitely shaping up to be a gaming project that I want to get more hands-on time with. The problem now is that, after having played a slice of it on the Oculus Rift, it’s going to be hard to go back. I’ve been given a taste of what the next step of immersive horror games might be, and it’s exciting—but, given how freaked out I know I can get when just playing a scary games on my television under the right conditions, it’s also more than a little terrifying.