There’s something thrilling about being scared. Psychology tells us that it's because of the rush of adrenaline and endorphins that are released when our body senses danger. The biochemical reaction results in a sense of euphoria, particularly when we realize we’re safe after all. It’s that rush that spurs thrill-seekers to bungee jump, motorheads to race and, people such as me, to play horror games like Dead by Daylight.
While Dead By Daylight is inherently a survival horror game, it’s not exactly scary. Sure, the setup is undeniably frightening on paper, with killers that include the iconic Michael Myers from Halloween and Ghost Face from Scream hunting down skittish survivors desperately trying to repair broken generators in order to escape the Entity, to which they may be sacrificed. But once you (as a survivor) get over the initial fear of the uncertain - and become a regular player - that terror lessens considerably.
Better the devil you know, they say, and when you know the devil is a chainsaw-wielding cannibal then you kind of know what to expect from your match. But it’s when Dead by Daylight is unpredictable that it is at its most frightening. It’s the tense minutes you wander around a silent map before you work out who the killer is, unexpectedly being snapped up off a generator by Michael Myers or (my least favorite) spotting a Pighead from Saw silently lurking in the long grass behind you.
In other words, it’s Dead by Daylight’s unpredictable jump scares that are where its horror truly lies. Because what’s more terrifying than the unexpected. And with the upcoming Ringu-inspired Sadako Rising chapter, developer Behaviour Interactive looks like it will tap into that unnerving strength more than ever.
Sound of silence
Jump scares are often seen as a “lazy” horror film trope, and it’s not hard to see why. Modern horror films overly rely on them as a means to frighten an audience, with directors throwing in a sudden noise or movement that they know will instinctually make us jump.
But it’s not just films that use jump scares. The Resident Evil series regularly utilizes the technique (remember the zombie dogs bursting through the window in the first Resi game?) as does Silent Hill, while the Five Nights at Freddy’s series has its horror cemented in jump scares, with animatronic characters regularly popping up on your security feed.
Dead by Daylight is a bit different. Its jump scares are not scripted, instead, they’re a mechanic that those playing the killer have control over - and it makes for a much more interesting (and replayable) game.
Dead by Daylight offers a range of killers, each with their own power, including the Nurse, who can teleport herself forwards with a blink, the Clown, who throws bottles of intoxicating gas, and the Trapper who leaves bear traps around the map to catch survivors as they flee. But while all of these killers offer their own degree of fear factor, more akin to a slasher movie, it's the game’s sneaky stealth killers that I find provide the most horrifying.
So what exactly makes a stealth killer in Dead by Daylight? The way I see it, if a killer has the ability to either become invisible or get up close and personal with you, typically without you hearing their terror radius, then they’re pretty damn sneaky. The terror radius is an in-game sound indicator that survivors use to detect whether the killer is close. It sounds like a heartbeat and grows louder and faster as the killer draws near, which in itself is an excellent way of building tension and inducing anxiety in survivors, before climaxing in a scare as you come face-to-face with your pursuer.
Stealth killers, on the other hand, often have powers that allow them to do away with the terror radius and become undetectable - so you won’t hear them coming. Take Wraith for example who, with the toll of his Wailing bell, can turn invisible before reemerging to slash his victim. Or the Pig who, when crouched, is totally silent and able to ambush survivors who aren’t vigilant enough. But the best of them all is Ghost Face, who has the ability to sneak up on survivors and instantly put them in a dying state.
The lack of any warning whatsoever of the danger that’s coming almost turns jump scares, as we know them, on their head. Usually, they’re characterized by a building of tension that leads to a sudden image or noise. But, here, there is no shoehorned tension-building. Instead, the unpredictability is what causes the fear, and the killer player wields all the power.
The introduction of Ringu’s Sadako (AKA The Onryō) in Dead by Daylight’s next chapter suggests that developer Behavior Interactive intends not only to lean further into the elements that make the game most frightening in the Sadako Rising chapter, but to build upon them.
Sadako herself follows the pattern of the game’s other stealth killers, she is undetectable and has the ability to Manifest and Demanifest into the Psychic realm. That means she can go invisible before scaring the bejeesus out of you by popping up where you least expect (and want) her. But, what makes Sadako unique, is her Projection power, which sees her projecting herself through television sets throughout the map, adding Condemned progress to any survivors within 16 meters, and giving her the ability to essentially teleport. Once a survivor is fully Condemned, they can be killed as soon as they’ve been knocked down, and - with the combination of her invisibility - survivors may have never even seen her coming. What’s more, killers can equip an add-on that makes the sound of the television’s noise global, so you’ll never quite know which television Sadako will climb out of next.
Sakado’s introduction adds a side objective of sorts to matches in which she’s the killer. Survivors are able to turn off the TVs temporarily using a videotape, however, this also progresses their Condemned status. In order to reduce that status, a tape needs to be inserted into the main television (which shows a visible aura), but doing so spreads Sadako’s message to other televisions - ultimately impacting other survivors. Running around with videotapes and turning off TVs takes precious time away from repairing the generators needed to escape and, all the while, survivors will need to keep an eye out for the terrifying white-gowned killer.
And that too, is where Sadako differs somewhat. She’s perhaps the most unnerving killer to join Dead by Daylight yet, crawling through windows and television sets with her grimy fingernails but looking pretty harmless in comparison to the likes of the gnarly Hag. Her iconic look itself is unsettling; she’s not brandishing a chainsaw or a knife as a stereotypical killer does, instead, she’s understated and, therefore, unpredictable.
But it’s not just survivors that are subject to her terror. Those playing as her may find that she lunges at the screen unexpectedly while matchmaking, resulting in a jump scare more akin to the standard technique we’re used to.
Controlling the fear
Sadako has many ways to scare you up her tattered sleeve, but ultimately how she does that is down to the person playing her.
It’s that level of control that makes jump scares, and scares generally, work better in games than they do in films. In most horror games, you’re tasked with escaping and surviving, you’re not simply watching the action unfold with popcorn on your knee but instead integral to how events will play out. But this does still have its limitations, as you’re at the mercy of the script.
Dead by Daylight takes that one step further, throwing away the script and ultimately letting players have pretty much full control over how the game’s horror plays out. Each time it’ll play differently, as elements like the killer player, survivor players, perks and add-ons differ each time, so the experience is never the same.
It will ultimately be up to players how Sadako spreads her fear through Dead by Daylight. Will they utilize her undetectability to strike fear into survivors through unpredictable jump scares, will they unnerve them by climbing through windows in a ghastly way, or will they simply condemn them with her curse? Until the release of the Sadako Rising chapter on March 8, the fearful anticipation is enough to make my skin crawl.
Sign up to receive daily breaking news, reviews, opinion, analysis, deals and more from the world of tech.
Vic is TechRadar Gaming's Associate Editor. An award-winning games journalist, Vic brings experience from IGN, Eurogamer and more to the TechRadar table. You may have even heard her on the radio or speaking on a panel. Not only is Vic passionate about games, but she's also an avid mental health advocate who has appeared on both panels and podcasts to discuss mental health awareness. Make sure to follow her on Twitter for more.