PAX East 2016: Kill or be Killed in Dead by Daylight

Kill or be killed. Those are your options in Dead by Daylight, developer Behaviour Interactive’s upcoming asymmetric multiplayer horror game. You’ll play as either the hopeful survivors attempting escape or the killer making sure they don’t. If you play as a survivor, don’t expect things to be easy just because there’s four of you and only one of him. Make no mistake: the killer is hunting you. He is listening for you. He is watching for signs you were there. He is laying traps for you.

If we’re being honest, you probably won’t make it out alive.

Your goal is to fix five generators in the level that will power the door leading to safety and get out. The levels are procedurally generated each time, though, so you’re never going to be able to memorize the layout and map the most efficient routes; you’re going to need to balance exploration with stealth in order to find the generators without getting spotted and winding up on one of the killer’s meat hooks. Every time you run, you leave a trail through the woods the killer will see and follow straight to you, so when you’re looking around, tread lightly. Fixing a generator doesn’t require much more than time and a bit of timing as a prompt similar to the Gears of War active reload pops up occasionally to make sure you’re still paying attention. Missing that prompt is a surefire way to get the killer on your tail as it causes the generator to make a loud noise with a visual icon on the killer’s display.

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During my turn as a survivor, producer Matheiu Côté encouraged me to stick close to teammates, but not just for cooperation. He gleefully explained that often the best strategy for escaping the killer is to use your fellow survivors as a distraction. There’s cooperation only to a point, he said, because ultimately you only win if you get out alive. That dynamic extends to whether or not you want to save your teammates from death. You see, when the killer attacks you, he can’t actually kill you just yet. First, he has to hang you on a meat hook, which will slowly drain your life. You can tap a button to struggle and free yourself, but that will accelerate your rate of death significantly, which probably isn’t the best move unless the killer left to go hunt your friends. Sometimes the better move is instead to hang out on the hook for a little while and let a teammate come rescue you. Of course, there’s still real incentive to watch out for each other, like the ability to heal each other or work on fixing a generator together to speed things up. A one-on-one fight between you and the killer probably isn’t going to work out in your favor.

Once you’ve fixed all the generators, you can escape via one of two doors, each of which takes a bit of time to open — during which, of course, the killer will be making one final mad dash to kill you. At some point if you play Dead by Daylight, you’re going to be faced with an open escape door and a fellow survivor in need of help behind you, and which you choose is going to reveal a lot to me about your character.

While playing as a survivor is tense and filled with spikes of adrenaline, playing as the killer is intoxicating. Even in the multiplayer lobbies, you have the distinct advantage: as a survivor, you’ll spend time in the lobbies together standing idly and choosing passive perks like additional fog to make it harder for the killer to see you; as the killer, you stand out of the survivors’ view, watching. You study them, getting to see what each survivor looks like and exactly which perks they’re bringing in. From the jump, the game makes it clear that the killer is probably going to win.

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Though the game is played in third-person view for survivors, you’ll play in first-person as the killer. Côté explained that the shift here is about focus. As a survivor, you’re focused on keeping an eye out for the killer. When you’re fixing a generator, you can spin the camera around to make sure he’s not sneaking up on you. If he does, though, you’ll be able to see a red glow wash over the immediate area behind your character. Not only does a third-person camera divorce you from the action so you get the same sympathetic feeling you’d get watching the victims of a slasher flick, but the pulled-out view offers a tactical advantage you sorely need as a survivor. As the killer, you don’t need the advantage. The first-person perspective gives you tunnel vision as you hunt your targets, which doesn’t just make the action more personal; it effectively reduces your vision cone and makes it easier for the survivors to escape. This led to incredibly close calls during my round as a survivor when I managed to lose the pursuing killer for the briefest of moments, then dodge into a cabinet and watch him pass by. When I played as the killer though, that same situation in reverse made it crystal clear how important it is as a survivor to slow down and not leave a trail as I threw open the cabinet doors and wrenched the terrified survivor out.

There will be several different killers in the game, each loosely based on different classic horror movie villains, but only one was featured in the PAX demo, a hulking Jason-like with a machete and bear traps. As the killer, you can always see where the generators are, so you have a good idea at least where to patrol. If a survivor makes a loud noise, like from failing that generator prompt, a prominent icon shows up onscreen giving you the exact location. Likewise, when a generator is fixed, it turns on and gets highlighted in your view. Show up to the generator and see a fading red trail leading away and you know a survivor is very close. Chase them down and give them a good slash and you’ll injure them, making it much easier to catch up with them again later. A second slash will down them, making them eligible to be picked up and carried to a meat hook to be “sacrificed” upon death as tendrils take them away. The whole concept of needing to hang the survivors up on a hook instead of just killing them right then and there is a little silly, of course, but it provides good tension for the game on both sides.

There’s some less-than-ideal quirks to the game I hope get ironed out before release, like the fact that the best strategy as a survivor with a killer on your tail is to run in circles around him to exploit the limited perspective. It’s a bit goofy as a survivor, but it mostly just feels clumsy and frustrating as the killer. As well, though the developer described how other maps will provide much different gameplay from the forest level they were showing off, it sounds like activating generators to power an escape door is the only objective survivors will ever be given. I’d really like to see some creativity there, because while the meat of the game is ultimately about the tension of being hunted and the procedurally generated levels will add some variety to every match, it’d be nice to have something else to do once in a while.

Still, Dead by Daylight showed a lot of promise and was a good bit of fun to play from both sides. The tonal shift between the fear of being hunted and the rush of being the hunter is pretty great. Dead by Daylight is definitely one to watch. It hits Steam on June 14, with a beta opening up a couple weeks prior. Behaviour isn’t ruling out consoles, but isn’t committed to anything yet either.