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Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle (PS5) Review

Creeping horror from Invader Studios and Leonardo Interactive, Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle harkens back to another time.

Welcome to the Daymare

Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is the continuation of a love letter to the origins of the survival horror genre, originally started by Invader Studios in Daymare: 1998. The first time around was sweet and beautiful, but this entry proves that even the most ardent love can become a bit stale, not that that’s an altogether terrible thing.

Nothing has really changed much from the original Daymare 1998 though, so if you played that original title, you likely know what to expect from its prequel. Just like its predecessor, Sandcastle is a third-person survival horror game, including most of the trappings that presents.

Gameplay

The main difference between playing Daymare and the Resident Evil modern remakes (for example) is that Daymare feels clunky at times, and shooting your weapons at enemies doesn’t really give a satisfying feeling. At times that makes it feel like a game from the original era of the genre, and at times it just feels stagnant.

It’s heavily inspired by that time, and the first Resident Evil games, so comparisons are bound to be made. The similarities can get a bit ridiculous at times too, with ammo being scarce and enemies taking a lot of resources to take down for good (though that’s a good thing). Sandcastle elevates pressure on the player, and the mechanics work well to make the game feel tense. What’s not really good though, is a big difference from the classics; the addition of the Frost Grip.

Make your way carefully

At first a fun gameplay mechanic, Frost Grip borders on ridiculousness, bringing the utility of legendary fixtures like the Gravity Gun from Half-Life. Just like that “weapon”, it can be used to solve environmental puzzles and is a must-use for certain enemies that cannot be killed with conventional weaponry.

The UI has also been updated for this sequel, and will be familiar to players of those more modern Resident Evil games. It’s intuitive, easy to use and it does its job well. In my opinion, the UI is one of the best parts of this game… though that doesn’t really bode well for the rest of my review.

Plot

Sandcastle is a campy game inspired by the campy B-Movie aesthetics of what made the original Resident Evil games such beloved pieces of history for many gamers worldwide. The main difference is that Daymare feels a tad bit lifeless too at times.

The story is just so forgettable that I just trudged my way through the game and didn’t really care for anything. I typically read every piece of discoverable content in a game, such as notes, letters and the like, but I just couldn’t bring myself to bother in the case of Sandcastle’s world.

One of Sandcastle’s suitably-freakish beasts

I don’t know what it is about the game that just feels so artificial but it’s obviously not a good thing. I understand how the story started, and I 100% for sure remember going through everything and seeing the ending.

Again though, none of that was all that interesting, and honestly I was just relieved that the game was done and over with when that moment arrived. Was part of that relief due to the amount of bugs I ran across? Yeah, probably.

Technical Issues

The scariest part of Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is the multitude of crashes that I experienced, some being in the middle of save-points. Some puzzles I interacted with locked me in their UI too, even after solving them.

Naturally, I waited for a lot of them to load. I “let them cook” as well, so to say. After a while however, it occurred to me that the game just crashed or got stuck. It wasn’t a fun experience having to go through the same enemies to solve the same puzzle a second time.

I also wanted to come back around to those controls, because the clunkiness ties in here. I appreciate the utilization of the PS5’s controller features such as the adaptive trigger, but it didn’t feel as smooth as say, Final Fantasy XVI’s implementation.

Sometimes the trigger would be hard to push down only to be extremely loose after a few seconds of depression. I am certain that this isn’t a problem with my controllers as mine are all new, so I have to imagine it’s most likely related to how the developers coded the game or something.

The walking animation is also just as janky as the combat. There’s something about how the characters move, talk and even shoot that’s just… weird. It shouts “the uncanny valley” in a furious voice. I’ll add that it also somehow approaches being a bit charming at times, but most often it’s still a big pain in the butt.

Overall

Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is an ambitious project that lives up to the hype of a “90s horror movie” in that it’s that “good” kind of campy. Yeah, it’s janky as all heck when it comes to the controls, but it’s otherwise a passably fun experience.

It doesn’t feel like a premium game, and if you look at it that way going in, you might be able to forgive some of its shortcomings. And hey it does provide 12 hours of fun… as long as it doesn’t crash. Too much.

Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle
Release date: August 30th, 2023
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), Xbox Series X|S, PS4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Leonardo Interactive
Developer: Invader Studios
MSRP: $29.99 USD

Ambitious but flawed

Premise - 50%
Gameplay - 62%
Presentation - 70%

61%

Okay

Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is a prequel to Daymare: 1998, itself a game that played and looked like the survival-horror games of old. If you love those 90s gems, you might like this too, as it both plays similarly and contains many of the same themes. Though unlike with those classics, Sandcastle features a pretty lifeless and uninteresting world/plot, and adds in a whole bunch of bugs. That includes regular crashes.

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About Benj

Benj likes video games, neckties and scotch. His favorite games include Resident Evil 2 and Final Fantasy VIII. You may contact him at [email protected]

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