Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle follows the 2019 cult classic Daymare 1998, a third person survival horror that has a big list of inspirations, the second of a trilogy being developed by Invader Studios and landing on all formats. Sandcastle takes you to Area 51, where we join Reyes and her H.A.D.E.S allies searching for a briefcase containing important research materials. What could go wrong? Let’s find out.
Sandcastle predates the events of the original title by 4 years, so those new to the franchise won’t have to worry about the events in the previous game. After being separated from her team mates, our heroine Reyes has navigate Area 51 mostly alone, which is where the game starts us. The plot isn’t hugely intellectual, with most normal tropes of a sci-fi horror/action title are here, but it serves the purpose of getting us through the adventure.
Visually 1998 hits the right spots, with some decent looking visuals, despite the dark setting most of the areas keep a strong modernish aesthetic, though it doesn’t feel like I’m in 1994, not until I use something like a terminal where we have a fake Windows 95 screen, which again predates the game. Areas have a good sense of space, with some nice open areas in the game, leading into some tighter more constrictive corridors which end up feeling a little tight, it’s a good balance which can be a bit intimidating for those with more of a nervous exposition. The areas are built up well, but the way my brain works, wants me to search around a lot more, like other survival horror games clicking “use” on certain things, will either give me a description or reason why I can’t do something, there’s a bit of a lack of interactivity to the game, this goes for anything like why a route can’t be travelled down or why I can’t grab a weapon that’s part of the scenary. I do feel that most of these areas are way too dark, your flashlight will light up the area somewhat but it feels a bit weak, if this was a creative decision to keep the atmosphere more tense personally this could have been done with some more dynamic lighting. However most of the characters look good, with maybe a little bit of too much of a shine to them. Most of the time you’ll be paying attention to the back/shoulders of your character anyway, enemies look decent but you’ll be seeing a lot of the same models again and again.
Typically Sandcastle plays like quite a few other games, mainly Dead Space, and the teenage years of Resident Evil (4-6, RE2:Remake, RE3: Remake), a third person shooter with close over the shoulder camera, an easy to navigate weapons menu and nice if not a bit standard control layout. Controls do feel responsive and pretty snappy there’s a decent weapon select mode and switching between weapons is nice and tight. , I felt myself full in control most of the time with only 1 or 2 instances where due to my own incompetence I turned myself around as opposed to moving a bit faster. To its detriment due to some of the enemies movements a dodge/evade mechanic could have been a bit of a life saver, there’s too many opportunities where you’ll be swarmed by a few of the normal enemies in a tight spot, evade could have been a real key tool in your fight.
As well as your combat wheel, there’s also an easy to navigate menu system, for checking things you’ve collected on your way, with all your audio logs and other documents listed for your disposal. Searching for these can be as simple as finding them on work tops and bodies, another method of finding these items is your scanner, locked to your 4th inventory slot, this will help you search the local area for clues or as mentioned other collectable items.
Sandcastles armoury options are somewhat limited, however for the lack of range you are able to upgrade those weapons you do have. Your standard 2 weapons consist of a sub-machine gun akin to an MP5, and secondly a shotgun, ammo for these can be tight, personally I found myself quite early on running out of ammo due to respawning enemies (we’ll come back to this) Both can be upgraded through unlockable chests which can contain your upgrades, which could be things like an extended mag. The other main method of defeating your enemies is the new frost grip, this which I’m sure you can figure out will slow and or freeze your enemies, leading to a nice shotgun explosion, which looks somewhat when the T-1000 explodes in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The frost grip can be upgraded at stations, and you’ll need to keep your eye out for fuel cartridges for these, as you’ll be relying on this more than you think.
Speaking of combat, the enemies can be a real stumbling block if you’re not prepared in Sandcastle, most enemies have a blue or red variant, and dealing with these can be somewhat draining. Normal ‘blue’ enemies can be downed easily, with a few rounds of your machine gun or your shotgun. The red variants will need to be dealt with slightly differently. These guys need to be frozen and dispatched of, I found out the hard way by wasting most of my early ammo trying to down these guys. Other enemies might not necessarily need to be frozen to be dispatched but it’s down to you to work out your best tactics.
We do have some pretty mixed audio in Sandcastle, where the atmosphere of the game is pretty good, we have some good atmospheric noises, things heard in the distance really builds up the tension and that atmosphere, weapons sound chunky and like they’re doing some damage. However going into the story of the game, whether it’s a design choice or totally unintentional, some of the voice acting in Sandcastle is pretty trashy, this is probably due to the type of audience the game is being aimed at, those with a penchant for some retro survival horror, but for most people this might be a bit too much ham.
Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle will hit the spot for those who aren’t expecting a triple A experience in a horror shooter, at a mid-range price point it’ll fill a gap for those waiting for the next big thing, without being one of the hyper stylised PS1 style horrors, or a typical jump scare fest. It works and gets the job done, personally it slightly misses the mark for me due to a few little decisions, a lack of a standard melee and or dodge is a main one, but the rest of the combat feels good, the frost grip is real fun to use. Check the demo out if you’ve not played the previous game and see how you get on.
Nothing awful here, but nothing to set itself hugely apart from it’s contemporaries.