By Paul Hunter
It's been 24 years since the original Resident Evil landed on PlayStation and wrote the playbook for creating a successful horror series. The game's popularity sparked a massive craze that gave us Silent Hill, Onimusha, Parasite Eve, and Dino Crisis — horror classics we're still talking about decades later.
While the horror genre has evolved significantly over the years, there's clearly still at least a modest appetite for old-school horror romps. I mean, look how many times RE1's been re-released, and just last year we finally got an excellent remastered version of Onimusha: Warlords.
Remasters are one thing, but what we haven't seen in a very long time is a new game inspired by these horror classics. So, naturally I got excited when PlayStation Europe tweeted and posted a trailer for Dawn of Fear, a chilling new PS4 exclusive from Spanish developer Brok3nSite. From the lumbering zombies to the tacky puzzles, the footage give off strong RE1 vibes. For that reason alone I knew I had to try this game.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be a "classic" case where I should have tempered my enthusiasm. Dawn of Fear has promise and potential, but it didn't exactly provide the nostalgic horror fix I was hoping for.
An utterly nonsensical story
I have to admit, even after completing the entire game I still have little idea what this story is about. Part of that has to do with the sloppy translation that's about as comprehensible as Zero Wing, but awkward English aside, the story is just... poor.
As best as I can make out, you play the role of Alex, a troubled guy who pretty much has the worst luck possible. First his mother dies giving birth to him, then after his father remarries and has a son Max, the three get into a fatal car accident that only Alex survives. His stepmother is so distraught over the loss she commits suicide — making Alex the last remaining family member — and that's where the game begins.
As Alex, you then decide to visit your stepmother's house to pick up your few belongings still there, and that's when you discover mom was secretly practicing necromancy (say wut?). Oh, and the house (that is a near carbon copy of the Spencer Mansion) is now crawling with zombies. And, of course, the front door gets locked so now you're stuck inside with no weapon or way to defend yourself. So yeah... that's the backstory, I think.
But the story fun doesn’t end there. What’s almost comically bad is how most bosses ramble on about various family members and all the bad things they (or you) have done — as if you’re supposed to feel something towards folks you’ve never heard of before. You also stumble upon the corpses of random relatives with Alex invariably yelling bloody murder as if you should care some guy named Ted died a horrible death.
Ironically, and surely unintentionally, Dawn of Fear’s story is so bad it may actually be kinda good.
A Resident Evil clone
From the moment you start Dawn of Fear, it’s clear this game isn’t afraid to wear it’s Resident Evil influences on its sleeve. You could even argue it’s a blatant knock off considering how closely it follows the RE1 blueprint. Here are just some of the ways Dawn of Fear “pays homage” so to speak:
- the option to use D-pad tank controls
- fixed camera angles and pre-rendered scenes
- you can’t shoot and walk at the same time
- zombies, lots of zombies
- the whole game takes place within one mansion
- there are notes scattered around the mansion for you to collect
- limited ammo, limited med kits and limited saves
- tons of locked rooms and colour-coded keys to access them
- simple logic puzzles mainly of the push, turn and insert X item variety
And that’s just off the top of my head. What’s hilarious, and without giving away too much, there’s even a room essentially lifted directly from Resident Evil — and the developers flat out acknowledge it. You can tell the team behind Dawn of Fear simply adores Capcom’s horror classic, and this game practically comes off as a fan-made passion project.
I should note too that since Dawn of Fear intentionally has PS1 era DNA, the gameplay struggles we faced in the ‘90s are back with a vengeance. Expect to awkwardly walk in the wrong direction due to the fixed camera angles, and there’s a ton of menu flipping to do even for basic actions like changing weapons or healing. Par for the course for retro horror fans, but gamers used to modern controls may find the clumsiness of this game jarring.
A shot and a miss
Looking at your weapons, again Dawn of Fear borrows liberally from RE1. Your arsenal consists of the usual horror genre staples like a handgun, shotgun, magnum and knife. Ammo is extremely limited so using your knife — particular for run of the mill zombies — is a must.
What makes the limited ammo problem far worse is the game’s piss-poor hit detection that renders guns mostly useless. Zombies seem to have invincibility frames, so half the time your bullets have no effect. Aiming also seems wildly inaccurate; so many times I’d be firing point blank at zombies only to have the bullets inexplicably miss. To be quite honest, I’m not sure how this game passed Sony’s quality assurance tests considering the gameplay is worse than the PS1 titles it’s trying to emulate.
Thankfully, and again likely unintentionally, your knife ends up being the most useful weapon in your repertoire. It has fairly decent range and accuracy, making it a capable weapon provided you fight zombies one by one. And that’s pretty easy to do since zombies have an invisible “detection line” that triggers their movement once you cross it. Given how mediocre guns are, I quickly accumulated dozens of bullets in my inventory, which is funny considering this is supposed to be a game about resource scarcity.
House of glitches
Oh my, oh my. I saved this section to last because I wasn’t sure which of the game’s numerous bugs I should mention here. Let’s start with the most egregious, and work our way down.
The most in your face technical fault happens when rooms you enter simply fail to load. They do eventually “pop in” after several seconds, but not before you’ve had a chance to see right through the room’s invisible walls. To your benefit, items seem to load first — giving you a few seconds to easily spot them before the room’s walls and furniture suddenly “appear” and conceal them.
Next, poor enemy AI takes most of the “horror” out of this horror game. The first non-zombie I fought was a four-legged creature that immediately got stuck in a wall. This wall sticking happened repeatedly throughout the game, turning what should be tense situations into comedic jokes. As well, invisible barriers stop some zombies from moving, allowing you to knife them to death with impunity. But it’s the boss fights that are real head scratchers: they’re super easy and only take a minute or two to defeat. Most of the challenge comes from struggling with the controls, if you can believe that.
The last glitch worth mentioning hit me in the face after I beat the game: trophies fail to unlock. About half the trophies are mandatory story-based, yet only one unlocked during my roughly six hour playthrough. There’s also a bunch of completionist trophies, which I’m positive I fulfilled that also didn’t unlock. So yeah, if you’re a trophy hunter steer clear of this game for now.
[Editor’s note: I contacted the developers about the trophy issue and they said it’s “already fixed” and they’re looking to launch the patch as soon as possible.]
Strictly for hardcore retro horror fans
As much as I wanted to love Dawn of Fear, in its current state it’s hard to recommend outside of the most dedicated horror fans. The numerous bugs significantly take away from the experience and you can’t help but think this game needed another six months to bake in the oven.
The controls, as mentioned, lack polish and are arguably worse than games that released 20+ years ago. And while the graphics are a cut above what you’d find on PS1, they’re still a far cry from today’s modern standards.
Perhaps most surprising, Dawn of Fear is part of Sony’s PlayStation Talents initiative, a program that offers indie devs free access to devkits, help with Marketing and PR, and connections to industry talent. You would think with Sony supporting the project, even to a limited degree, the quality would have been better.
I have to say though, despite all its flaws, I did have a basic level of enjoyment playing Dawn of Fear. Probably that has much to do with nostalgia than anything else as I couldn’t help but imagine Resident Evil the whole way through. If you’re like me and have been pining for a new classic horror fix — and can handle a game rough around the edges — then this game might just fill the void.
Final Score: 6/10 - Okay
A review code for the game was provided by the publisher.