Daymare: 1994 – Sandcastle Review

To be dedicated fans with a huge passion to remake a golden-era classic and do it well enough that you’re asked by the original creators to cease-and-desist is one thing, but to take that effort and turn it into its own series that players can get excited over due to what it has now become is another. It turns out the team over at Invader Studios however have been capable of just that and after a successful first effort with the rather enjoyable Daymare: 1998, Invader Studios are back, this time with a prequel in the form of Daymare 1994: Sandcastle.

In this latest entry, you take on the role of Dalia Reyes, a special agent of the Hexacore Advanced Division for Extraction and Search, or rather H.A.D.E.S, who is a private Biotechnological company within the military. Whilst the attitudes of our protagonist and her bulshy, no-nonsense partner Major Radek are being introduced, the tone is slowly setting, a TV is seen to inform us that a school bus of 40 students has overturned, with two dead and others missing, the local area is getting hit with a series of tremors causing destruction and to further the mysterious ongoings, in the same neck of the wood Area 51 is causing the government to panic – giving something for even a private military group to deal with.

Your task from the off is to head into the eerily silent and poorly lit corridors of Area 51 alongside partner Major Radek, and boss Commander Foster, who tags along for the ride, to figure out what’s going on. Of course, in typical survival horror fashion things quickly go awry, and the team gets split up with our protagonist left to bump into the horrors lurking in Area 51 all on her own.

Unlike the traditional zombies you’ll find in similar early-era Resident Evil titles, the horrors of Daymare: 1994 come from an electromagnetic source that has unleashed upon the facility and is capable of reanimating corpses before having them run at an alarming speed to attack you as if fresh off the set of 28 Days/Weeks Later. Some enemies will show a blue color to them indicating they can be killed off and will stay dead, whilst those with a red tinge to them will release a ball of electricity and fire it into nearby dead bodies to reanimate them and give you more enemies to take down.

To put them down you will need to utilize the various firepower options you’re equipped with be it, with the sub-machine gun proving my favorite out of the options that include a shotgun and a pistol too, but ammo isn’t always freely available and so the key to success may be just how well you can use the freeze gauntlet, the new feature that’s introduced early on. With the gauntlet equipped you can freeze enemies before shooting or hitting them to kill them permanently to ensure they have no way to further reanimate others or to cause any extra harm to you, should you be a tad late on that, you can use Frost Grip on a revive that’s underway to stop it in its tracks, but you’ll need to have your reactions on point should you wish to use it effectively, especially when there are multiple enemies around at once.

Sadly, whilst the enemies look the part with a creepy visual appearance and unexpected speed, it has to be said that variation isn’t a strong point, be it with how to deal with enemies or the enemies themselves, and it’s not long before you find it becoming second nature on how to deal with them thanks to the self-refilling ice-cannon on your arm freezing those that need it, and the shotgun capable of blasting most things away in a moment’s notice. In fact, the only real struggles I came to face were early on when I misplaced my limited ammo and became overrun but a little experience was enough to put that risk to bed later on in the game, which is a shame when we’re talking about a game looking to fill the never-ending void some of us have for a true jaunt through a survival horror adventure.

Whilst enemy variation isn’t a strong point, the story you’re here to experience isn’t bad, and although it’s hardly the most original tale out there, and even runs a bit of a predictable route with a traitor in our midst, there is still enough to keep you reeled in and wanting to see the end, with a few additional plot twists along the way.

A positive though, and a major one really, comes from the voice acting, with characters feeling genuine throughout and really selling their attitudes whilst also delivering some occasional comedic banter which pushes things along nicely along the way, although anyone who gets irritated by the cheesiness of Resident Evil will probably find some irritations here too, but with such a heavy influence what else should you expect.

Another area to discuss is the puzzles, as whilst there isn’t anything that’s going to have your head spinning at all here, there is a typical certain item fits certain thing that goes on throughout, and the need to traverse from point A to B to pick up a key or activate power before going back to progress, it’s basic puzzling, it’s 90’s era puzzling. Personally, I enjoy it but in 2023, there may be a few that will find it all a little simple. My biggest wish for a survival horror is to bring back the need for a notepad and pen to figure things out, but we’ve not seen that for years, Daymare 1994 isn’t going to have you doing that, but it does enough to keep that old-school horror feel.

The big talking point for me (at least when talking to the wife about what I was playing) throughout was the visuals, and when I play a game if something looks real enough, I can find that initial engagement, keeping me hooked will require all the additional points to be spot on such as story, puzzles, etc, however, visuals are the first thing I notice and it’s fair to say Daymare 1994: Sandcastle looks absolutely fantastic, especially when considering this is an effort from an indie studio that don’t come packing the huge budgets. Each location is eerie and brings a somewhat frightening atmospheric tension, corridors feel haunting, and absolute attention to detail has been given to even the smallest things such as leaflets and posters, not to mention the great efforts put into creating a sense of dread within the inaccessible areas thanks to lighting and well-placed blood splatters, Invader Studios have hit the right notes in the creative department for selling a daunting experience.

Conclusion

Overall, Daymare 1994: Sandcastle is in a unique position in that it isn’t a game I would recommend to people over the likes of the aforementioned Resident Evil games, as it doesn’t do enough to feel unique in its own way, but instead I would recommend it to someone who wants more of those same experiences. Maybe in the future, we can see something to make the series become more of its own but for now, Daymare is a great option to delve into if you want more Resident Evil whilst you wait for more Resident Evil.

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This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.

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Good
  • Visuals create incredible atmospheric tension
  • Voice acting
  • Improves on predecessor
Bad
  • Needs more variation
  • Hasn't quite got out of the shadow of Resi
  • Protagonists run feels a bit clunky
7.2
Good
Written by
After many years of dabbling and failing in Dark Souls and many other equally brutal gaming adventures, I can now be found in a state of relaxation, merely hunting for a little extra gamerscore or frightening myself with the latest Resident Evil - Sometimes I write about it too!

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