Invader Studios are back with another attempt at bringing classic horror vibes to gamers. Their debut title Daymare: 1998 has a cult following among Resident Evil fans, which is no surprise as it started life as an unofficial Resident Evil 2 remake. Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is the later-released prequel to that title, and has the lofty goal of separating this series further from Biohazard’s shadow while addressing the issues from the original. Will this be a daydream or a nightmare to play? Read on to find out.
Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is set 4 years before the original Daymare title. It puts you in control of Dalia Reyes, a special agent in the employ of H.A.D.E.S. (Hexacore Advanced Division for Extraction and Search), a private military company working for a large Biotechnology company. Fans of Resident Evil will already know where this is going.
Area 51 has gone dark. Several people have been killed in the area and the President is under fire for being unable to give a decent explanation as to why. H.A.D.E.S. are tasked with Operation Sandcastle which will see them rapidly infiltrate the infamous facility to investigate.
Reyes and her team land successfully and for the first 15 minutes or so it seems to be going okay. Of course, things soon go wrong and the team gets separated. Signs of life start to flicker on in the facility, leading to a shocking encounter between Reyes and reanimated corpse oozing electricity.
In typical survival horror style, the mission doesn’t go as planned and you end up untangling conspiracies and questioning who you can trust. Fortunately, the story is much more comprehensible than the original Daymare. It helps that it follows one protagonist whereas the original jumped around with wild abandon between 3 of them.
The story is serviceable for the genre yet quite pedestrian. The issue is we are now swamped with throwback horror titles, and while Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle has plenty of components to make it noticeable, it still lives very much in the shadow of an Umbrella Corporation and the pesky S.T.A.R.S that ruin their day.
Don’t Call It a Throwback
Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle much like Daymare 1998 aims to be a throwback to the “glory days” of survival horror; Think “Boomer Shooter” for scares. It doesn’t quite work though. Daymare: 1998 took inspiration from the classics such as the original Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Alone in the Dark. It’s clear that Sandcastle instead looked to later titles like Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space. This isn’t a bad thing by any stretch. Just consider it more of a heads-up that this is more of an action horror than all-out survival horror.
Featuring an over-the-shoulder camera angle, you work through the corridors and offices of Area 51 linearly, coming across the occasional puzzle or locked door. While there is a bit of backtracking, it is quite minimal. The game seems dead set on keeping you on track throughout the roughly 6-hour rollercoaster.
You have access to a machine gun and shotgun as your weapons through the story. Upgrades can be found to improve damage or round capacity, but the combat variety in Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is its major weakness and that isn’t just reflected in the lack of available weaponry.
I’m Not Going Back to the Cooler!
Pacing is insanely important in every game. Enemy variety and pacing them apart keep the experience feeling fresh and interesting. Sadly, Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle has only a few enemy variations. You don’t see much more than one grunt that runs, one that throws, and another that hovers menacingly.
Enemies come in blue or red. Blue ones are just standard enemies whereas red ones require freezing before you kill them, or they just soak up what little ammo you have.
Fortunately, you do have access to an ice weapon (think Batman’s Mr. Freeze sans cheesy one-liners). This isn’t just used on enemies, but a lot of the game puzzles rely on heavy use of this too. There are some cool alternate combat uses of this too, like creating a shield of ice to minimize damage or leave an ice mine. Still, it doesn’t take long for tedium to set in as you fight the same set of enemies over and over.
You can find a rhythm to how you approach the combat sections but I did often find myself just taking the L and retrying because I’d used too many resources. The encounters don’t change so you can memorize what is going to happen for the best result.
My final thoughts on the enemies are to do with the one attack they all have and use all of the time. Every enemy other than the one who throws stuff will grab you. This completely kills your momentum and allows it to drink your health bar like a cool glass of juice, without fail, every time. Considering the lack of enemy types, you’ll be getting grabbed far too much. This really does a number on your enthusiasm to survive.
The Spice of Afterlife
To break up the tedious combat and linear exploration, you have the aforementioned puzzles peppered about. None of these are particularly brain-taxing as the solution tends to be right in front of you. Thankfully there isn’t a repeat of the Morse Code puzzle from Daymare: 1998.
With its simple puzzles, a lack of melee, a focus on freezing, and a short supply of ammo (despite being an action-focused horror game), Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is a simpler more streamlined title than some. I felt that this damages the identity crafted by the previous game and comes across as a little uninspired.
Trying to flesh it out a little are optional files to find and of course, audio logs to listen to. Sadly, these don’t let you walk and listen. For the eagle-eyed players, there are also alien bobbleheads scattered around for you to take down, an idea that I’m sure no one will recognize from a collection of highly successful remakes…
If “360” had a Visual Style
On the presentation side of things Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is consistently better looking than the previous Daymare. It hits that sweet AA spot with its visuals and thankfully has much stronger character models this time around.
The lighting is fantastic and helps to set the atmosphere. There are plenty of partial effects to help drive home the fact this is a horror title and enemies are going to bleed and lose a limb or two. A certain section where you’re running around in a storm looks particularly amazing.
What holds Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle back visually is the location variety, the enemy variety, and just a generally quite “safe” art direction. As the game is mostly set in Area 51, the bulk of the game is set within labs which can get quite repetitive, especially when you’re fighting the same enemies, with the same weapons in these labs for hours.
Voice acting is predictably a mixed bag and while it never quite hits the “so bad it’s charming” biome of Resident Evil 1 or Alone in the Dark, it varies between passable and someone reading from the script for a quick and easy payday.
Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle, while being a more focused and polished product than the original, comes off worse due to the lack of individuality and abysmal pacing. The baffling choice of only 2 firearms, the poor enemy selection, and the lack of general atmosphere outweigh the more coherent plot and consistent visuals.
The game is an okay time for fans of the original Daymare but it won’t convert any new fans and certainly doesn’t even come close to being in the ring with the blockbuster horrors of the year like Dead Space or Resident Evil 4 Remake.
WAIT FOR SALE ON DAYMARE: 1994 SANDCASTLE
Many thanks go to Leonardo Interactive for a PC review code for this title.
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