Dawn of Fear Review – Gold Star For Effort
There’s no easy way to say this. On a surface level Dawn of Fear looks like shit. When I first saw this game, I thought it was a prank. The character models did not move their faces. The movement was jerky and weird. Everything about it was so over the top bad that I was convinced I would not be able to play for more than twenty minutes before having some kind of brain hemorrhage. And yet, Dawn of Fear was beguiling. I could not put the game down. Some primal part of my mind was touched, neural pathways I haven’t used in a decade came back to life. Everything here was wrong, and yet, it all felt right. I realized I was re-experiencing the magic of Resident Evil again.
In Dawn of Fear the player takes the role of Alex, a man returning home upon hearing of the death of his stepmother. The game begins with you and the lawyer/executor guiding you into the house, and telling you to look around while he gets some papers ready. You walk around the first few rooms, hear some gunshots, and run back to find the front door locked and your poor lawyer crucified under mysterious circumstances. Now you’re stuck in a house full of spooks that you need to confront in order to leave.
Thus begins the game. Fans of classic survival horror will know the Resident Evil style gameplay well. The player must roam around the house, fighting off various enemies, keeping track of the very limited health packs and bullets, solving the occasional puzzle, and of course, juggling random objects. The driving gameplay force of these games is the need to find the next key object—a literal key or otherwise—in order to open the next door. The house is something like an advent calendar if each section was hidden in different locked rooms. To less experienced survival horror players, this may seem like a cheap way of getting the player to explore. But honestly, that’s just as compelling as any other bullshit reason games may offer. Why fight that boss? Because it’s there.
The mechanics of Dawn of Fear are kind of rough. I’m fairly certain, and willing to give the benefit of the doubt, that this is by design. Movement is awkward with the fixed cameras, though you get used to it quickly. Shooting is extremely rigid—to call them tank controls is not enough, closer to Howitzer controls—and it’s awkward to go through the menu to use items. Though this is hardly an issue, especially if you’ve played, you guessed it, Resident Evil.
Unfortunately, the enemies in Dawn of Fear are kind of rough too. I encountered just a handful of enemies, all very clumsy. There was the basic zombie, of course, and then a guy on all fours who had his arms and legs replaced with swords. Both of these are dispatched with ease. But at some point, larger demons invade the house. These guys were tough because they are almost impossible to kite, due to the slow mechanics. I could not turn around and fire fast enough. So unless you kill them before they get close, very difficult with such slow-firing weapons, there is no way to not take damage.
The bosses in Dawn of Fear were not all too great either. The first you encounter seems to be a giant made of a number of corpses, which although was kind of cool, the fight itself was just luring it in front of a button that would smash him on their head with a shipping crate three times in a row. Not super thrilling, but hey, it’s the first boss. The next boss was an invincible lady who you had to stun on top of a grate and then run and turn a switch that would light her on fire, three times. You see the pattern. These bosses are certainly not the best, but I appreciate them trying.
Dawn of Fear has no inventory system. Your menu is just a three page notebook: weapons, items, and notes you have found. Unlike Resident Evil, which required keeping your limited inventory organized and forced the player to decide which items you could carry and which ones you had to leave behind, Dawn of Fear solves the limited pocket space problem by simply not giving you any items. There are like two guns and one melee weapon that you use; a pistol, a shotgun, and a knife that looks like a turkey baster. There are health packs, but they stack, so you can carry as many as you like. And key items you don’t have to think about until it’s time to use them. It’s not terrible that they’ve removed the limited inventory system, but forcing the player to decide what to take was one of the better survival mechanics in Resident Evil.
The exploration in Dawn of Fear, while rudimentary, was still fun. The puzzles offered were not the best, either stupidly easy or a random crapshoot. One example of a puzzle was a room with four statues that needed to be placed in the correct sides of the room. The statues all had a subject on them, for instance, world history, and you simply needed to examine the bookshelves on each side of the room, which basically told you where the statues needed to go. Beyond obvious. On the flip side, in order to turn on some power, there was a switch of random numbers that needed to be flipped in the correct order to get the voltage exact, but it was impossible to see what number you had landed on in the tiny gauge, and so it was just flipping switches randomly and hoping for the best. Not ideal.
Ah, but puzzles were never the draw of these Resident Evil style games. It was always about exploring a spooky environment. The mansion you’re stuck inside in Dawn of Fear is nothing special. Everything you would expect to be there is there; bedrooms, a pool, a maintenance area, a courtyard or two, and one secret spooky lab. It’s not that big, not that complex, not even that particularly interesting, and yet the thrill of finally getting that locked door that you haven’t been able to get in open never gets old.
Visually, Dawn of Fear is just kind of meh. Not terrible, not even that bad to look at, minus a scene or two of static faces during talking cutscenes. Everything about it is just basic. My enduring thesis is that style is always better than graphics, and this is definitely a game with no definitive style. Beyond the Spanish/Mediterranian architecture of the house, there is really nothing at all noteworthy about the game’s visuals. Even the camera angles are not that creative, often just a straight rip out of Resident Evil. At this point it really becomes more of a copy than a homage. This is far from a complaint. I’m just required to report on the graphics. If you’re playing a PS1 game homage for graphical quality to begin with you’re in the wrong place.
The story in Dawn of Fear is also quite rudimentary. Something about Alex’s mom doing blood rituals to bring back her child, or something. I don’t know. Doesn’t really matter. We just need a reason for there to be spooks and creeps in this mansion. What I do really like, and some may disagree, is not the story, but the writing. The dialogue, written by Brok3nsite, a studio in Spain, appears to be Spanish more or less just run through Google Translate. Per the game’s description on the PS4 website, Alex is “a young man who sings to draw and always carries his notebook,” just to give you a sample of the writing. I can’t tell you what I joy this always is for me. Not only is it really funny, but it’s also just really sincere. These guys love their game and were so eager to bring it to an English speaking audience, but they couldn’t afford a translator. So they just hoped for the best. I unironically appreciate it.
You may have noticed that basically every sentence begins with “it’s not great.” Well, in most regards it’s not. Dawn of Fear is an unabashedly amateur game. And yet somehow Dawn of Fear overcomes it’s overt mediocrity, becoming much greater than the sum of its parts. I can’t describe why. I’ve hated games for far less, but something about this one just lets me overlook all the bad and focus on the good.
There’s not much that can be said about Dawn of Fear. It doesn’t do much else but smash that nostalgia button in your brain. Dawn of Fear is just Resident Evil made more accessible. It runs smoothly and there’s no need for a PS1. There are no new concepts here, and some old concepts are not captured in full. But despite all this, it was made with love and overall I kind of enjoyed it.
Dawn of Fear is bad, but it’s bad so good. I can’t overlook its problems, but somehow it overcomes all the mediocrity and is a fun nostalgic experience.
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