On release in 2016, Dead By Daylight was an exciting prospect; an asynchronous multiplayer game where four players would face off against one monstrous, player-controlled killer. It was an idea that had been messed around with for a while, mostly in the form of player-made modes like Halo or COD’s ‘Michael Myers’; but Behaviour Interactive was, to my memory, one of the first to build a whole title around that core, undeniably exciting premise.
Three years later, after making its way to almost every gaming platform under the sun, we finally have Dead By Daylight for mobile. It’s free to play, available for both iOS and Android, and, for me, bordering on being unplayable.
For those new to the game: As the humans, you’re tasked with escaping the level. You can do this by either powering generators to open the main gate or by surviving long enough to uncover a secret hatch. The killer’s job is to stop this from happening, take down as many humans as possible, and maybe stick them on a hook to then be sacrificed to some sort of tendrilled demon from above.
I’ll get this out of the way early and say that the extent to which the new free-to-play economy impacts progression is something we’ll only be able to nail down after many more hours of play. For now, I’ll say that it does feel a little grindy, with an obvious push toward getting you to invest in some premium currency. My concerns with the port are more immediate, more deeply rooted than something that could later be altered in straightforward patches.
For starters, Dead By Daylight was never a conventionally good looking game, but it had a sense of style; a certain murky, hazy Texas Chainsaw-like grit to it. Dead By Daylight mobile, by comparison, looks really quite awful. I’ll say that it holds up better in motion than it appears in the attached screenshots, but this is still a rough, ugly port.
Likewise, its wonderful monster designs are muted by low-texture models and bugged in-game lighting that either makes the ghouls appear totally flat or blindingly bright. Any sense of atmosphere that the original versions might have had has been thoroughly scrubbed away by the limitations of the mobile platform. Though, quite honestly, it’s hard to believe this is the best that could have been done from a presentational perspective.
This also appears to be an older version of the game without the newest killers or maps, which is in keeping with the general lack of polish and sense that the mobile version is the least definitive way to play.
I could maybe accept the stripped-back visuals and content being necessary concessions if the controls didn’t also show similar signs of this just being a flat-out iffy port. They’re especially annoying when playing as the killer, where failing to snag your victim is often the result of banging into a wall or choppy animations as opposed to being genuinely outplayed or outmanoeuvred.
I was anxious that it might just be me being useless, so I made sure to give my brother a go – a guy who’s clocked up hundreds of hours in Dead By Daylight’s earlier PS4 and PC versions. First impressions for him weren’t great, as we sat and waited eagerly for a match to load, with the game appearing to crash three times before eventually gurgling, spluttering back to life.
I spent most of the match looking over his shoulder, watching in complete amusement as he careened drunkenly around the drab map, occasionally getting a hit in through sheer dumb luck but never quite being able to not appear totally sozzled. Lord only knows how ridiculous the lumbering Leatherface rip-off looked to his would-be prey.
Admittedly, we both gradually got, let’s say, acclimatised to the less-than-ideal on-screen button placement and cumbersome movement, though dodgy controls don’t stop being an issue just because you grow to tolerate, or learn to work around, them.
Everything takes too long; animations drag on and constantly slow you down. I’m aware that this is likely a balancing decision – I agree that you shouldn’t be able to rapidly spam attacks as the killer – but when paired with how slow everything else is it becomes an insufferable pain to play.
I generally had more luck as the humans, even if I suspect that might just have been because the unfortunate individual playing as the killer was having such a hard time. And that sucks, obviously.
Everyone should be fighting to play as the big, bad monster. It’s one of the few things that 2017’s Friday the 13th managed to do well, with the building score and ludicrous – easy to use – supernatural powers really selling the idea that you were this unstoppable evil.
In the case of Dead By Daylight, well, there’s almost no tension to any of it, let alone moments of genuine fear. I was bored and annoyed after several rounds of play, though I kept going to see whether the many rotating upgrades would in some way improve things: They don’t.
And yet, despite all I’ve said, I’m hopeful that Dead By Daylight for mobile can gradually be salvaged. The PC version in particular, though flawed, has a dedicated playerbase for a reason, and the developer has proved that it can keep the formula fresh with new characters, including Freddy Krueger, Ghost Face, and that gross pig thing from Saw.
It’s probably the very best game of its type, and yet I simply can’t recommend this mobile version to anyone besides the most obsessive fans.