Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle may sound like a bizarre game of word association, but it’s actually the name given to the prequel to Daymare: 1998, the third-person survival horror game that proudly wore its Resident Evil 2 influence on its sleeve like a stitched-on S.T.A.R.S. badge. Yet while Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle might have a slightly cryptic title, its intentions are certainly clear – to take the medkit-collecting, corridor-creeping, survival horror-shooting of its predecessor and upgrade it with nifty new gadgets and electricity-charged enemy types in order to elevate it above simple homage.
Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle introduces a brand new protagonist, H.A.D.E.S. special agent Dalila Reyes, who comes equipped with a standard issue shotgun, a standard issue submachine gun, and a standard issue script of survival horror dialogue. The ‘Sandcastle’ in question is the codename given to the special operation that lures Reyes into a top secret US government facility; a shadowy structure run by shadowy people conducting mysterious experiments that clearly haven’t gone to plan. If the bloodsoaked bodies on the floor aren’t enough to convince you that something very bad has recently gone down, then the anguished audio recordings will.
Fortunately special agent Reyes is able to stay frosty, quite literally so. A major point of difference for Sandcastle over the original Daymare adventure, is Reyes’ unique ‘Frost Grip’ tool, a wrist-mounted ice cannon that has multiple different uses. The Frost Grip can be used to clear paths through the environment; extinguishing flames in a battle-scarred boiler room to uncover hidden ammo pickups or alternate routes to an objective, as an example. It can also be used to solve puzzles, as was the case with three overheating fuel pipes which I had to cool down in a specific sequence in order to deactivate the security lock on the door to one area’s exit.
The Frost Grip also proves to be a crucial ingredient in combat. The zombie-like Decoys can be dealt with easily enough with a shotgun blast to the brain one-on-one, but once their numbers swell the ability to transform them from angry ghouls into eerie ice sculptures is an efficient way to buy yourself a bit of breathing space before calmly picking them off. You don’t want to take too long, however, since residual energy from fallen enemies is absorbed into foes that are still standing, making them even harder to repel. Should Reyes have enough gas left in her Frost Grip tank, she can unleash a ground-pounding get out of enemy grasp free move as a last resort, providing the perfect opportunity to deliver an action hero one-liner like “Chill out” or “Freeze”. Or, you know, something even cooler.
My only concern with Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle is that despite its ominous atmosphere, it’s not especially scary so far. The single enemy type I faced in the 30-minute demo might have been surging with sparks, but encounters with them were never actually shocking. Part of the problem is how telegraphed their arrival is into each area, emerging from conspicuous balls of electricity like time-traveling terminators. It gave me ample time to check my ammo, assume a combat stance, and pop-in a fresh stick of bubblegum, and there was never anything that jolted me out of my chair to the level of a zombie dog crashing through a Spencer mansion side window.
That said, there’s obviously a lot more of the classified military base to explore, and the Decoys are likely to be the very least of the beasts that Reyes will encounter. As new enemy types are introduced, I’m hopeful that her Frost Grip will be augmented with other elemental powers to evolve combat, exploration and puzzle-solving over the course of the journey, to potentially transform her Frost Grip into a real Power Glove.
Speaking of which, I’m also keen to see more references to the early ’90s, like the immaculately rendered GameBoy I found left behind by a presumably deceased office worker. In fact, hunting down secrets and even just basic navigation certainly seems to be easier this time around thanks to Reyes’ ability to scan her surroundings at the tap of a button. Without it I wouldn’t have been able to track down the override cable that allowed me to indulge in the 1994 equivalent of Wordle in order to open a locked weapons cabinet.
We don’t yet have a release date for Daymare 1994: Sandcastle, but it’s currently slated to arrive before the end of the year. PC owners should be sure to check out the playable demo, launching on February 21st as part of Steam Next Fest.
Tristan is a video producer based in IGN's Sydney office. His favourite form of survival horror is social media, and you can find him @tristanogilvie