At the end of my first play session as a machete-wielding murderer in Dead by Daylight, I had to do a real emotional check-in with myself. I hunted four young people in a forest, chopped them down with my DIY machete, and threw them on meat hooks one-by-one. As they wriggled around, spider legs appeared out of thin air and impaled them a few times before dragging them into a storm’s eye hell portal in the sky and subsuming their essence. It was a great time.
Dead by Daylight is a fairly fucked up asymmetrical multiplayer game that casts four players as survivors—youthful innocent types—against a single, unkillable monster man. I really liked being the unkillable monster man. I’m worried about how much I liked being the unkillable monster man.
As the monster, your goal is obvious: find the survivors and make them not-survivors. As the Trapper, the only monster playable in the beta right now, you have a massive makeshift machete that incapacitates survivors in two swipes. Swinging it comes with a price, successful hit or not—with a miss, the Trapper stumbles and slows down to recover from the brute force of the swing, which gives the survivor time to book it and hide. Hit, and—I love this—the Trapper takes a moment to wipe the blade clean. It’s a colorful concession that gives the survivor time to react instead of going down in two quick swipes, and it characterizes the Trapper, building on the idea of him being a campy horror madman toying with his prey. Even he doesn’t want it to be that easy.
But being an unkillable monster doesn’t necessarily mean victory is a given. Survivors can win by turning on generators that are strewn around the arena—they power a gate that leads to the level exit. In my few hours of play I never succeeded as a survivor, but I don’t really mind. I like that the game feels deliberately weighted towards the monster. Surviving should be a challenge. I want to feel breathless and astonished when it happens. That is, if I ever quit playing the freak.
I catch a flicker of movement in my periphery, a shadow through the trees somewhere a hundred yards up near the meat shed and its dead generator. As I approach, the survivors hear their heartbeat grow louder. The one I spotted takes off and I give chase. We dance around a few trees, and between two piles of rubbish, she grabs a wooden pallet and throws it down, blocking my path. I run into it and get locked into a short stun animation that jiggles my camera upward and prevents me from moving for a moment. I look around for any sign of movement, and spot thin red marks on a tree ahead of me. If survivors are sprinting, they leave behind a faint trail of red scratches. They’re really hard to spot, but it’s a fair enough trade. If someone sprints through the forest making a ton of noise, it makes sense to express that visually for the monster.
Thank goodness (evilness?) I’m paying attention, because as I follow the scratches, I notice a patch of tall grass shake ever so lightly to my right. It’s another survivor trying to hide in plain sight. If they hadn’t moved at all, I wouldn’t have noticed, but even the slightest twitch was enough for this ardent monster. I give them the impression I’m about to bolt by, but like the monster I am, I change my direction at the last second and bring the machete down. There’s a grim satisfaction in spotting a hidden survivor. The environments are dark, the monster’s vision is narrowed to first-person (as opposed to the survivors’ third-person camera), and the survivors have a ton of places to hide: closets, tall grass, behind trees, and so on. Playing as a monster requires cunning, a sharp eye, and a bit of foresight. You’re a hunter after prey. Some extremely desperate, tenacious prey.
Hang in there
In one match as a survivor, I was immediately caught and sacrificed to the sky portal, and the rest of my teammates were incapacitated in the same area. But because the surest way to eliminate survivors is to place them on hooks (they can bleed out, too), the Trapper is stuck with the problem of babysitting some poor pierced sucker while making sure the other survivors, supine and crawling away in every direction, don’t summon the strength (by clicking the left mouse button a whole lot) to stand up and take off for another generator. And that’s exactly what happened. One survivor crawled off into the grass immediately after the Trapper carried the other off for a quick hang sesh. She was able to get up and hide by the time the Trapper returned. The monster took off looking after her, so she snuck back around and saved her friend from the hook, bleeding, but alive. Just like the desperate third act of a shlocky horror film, these teens gave it their all. We ended up losing anyway, also like the movies, but the extended, seemingly hopeless drama was a thrill, even as a spectator.
As thematically on-point as Dead by Daylight is, it’s not a technical showpiece. Animations are pretty stilted—my murderer’s hand clipped through the beartrap as he dropped it and campers move like their ligaments are made of wood, but I get it, the priority is precision before fluidity, and that kind of polish might come in later updates.
I’m also curious to see how playing as the other monsters changes up the game. There’s a chainsaw wielding hillbilly with a special ‘crazed sprint’ ability I’m very excited to give a go. And there’s a wraith, who specializes in stealth. Turn invisible, and survivors can no longer hear that helpful heartbeat indicator. The hillbilly looks like a loud and crazy monster—the loudest and wildest way to play—while the wraith will round out quieter, tenser matches. The Trapper exists somewhere in the middle, quiet when he needs to be, but quick enough for a chase scene. Dead by Daylight is a ton of fun—it’s a tense, cooperative test for survivors and a troublingly indulgent arena for movie monster role-playing. Whether or not it sustains those feelings over months of play remains to be seen, but that may not matter. As long as I can chase teens through the woods with a chainsaw, I’m in.
My experience with Dead by Daylight was in the beta, which ends June 12th, so there’s still time to give it a shot if you can snag a key, but the game releases in full on June 14th if you don’t mind waiting.