I've always been a fan of games with asymmetrical gameplay, where one or more players have clearly different mechanics and goals from the rest. It might be for the relatively unique experience, or it might be because I enjoy killing everyone else I'm playing with. That's the sort of game Daemonical is; five players drop onto an island, and one of them turns into a demon with the goal of slaughtering the other four. It's a fun horror premise, and the game has a solid core to it, but it could definitely use some more polish in its current state.
The game has no real story beyond what I explained in the opening paragraph. As soon as night falls on the tiny island, one of the five players becomes a demon, and has to kill the other four. The four humans have two ways to win: they can survive the entire fifteen-minute round, or they can complete a mysterious ritual that will destroy the demon. In order to complete the ritual, they have to travel around the island and collect four pieces of a skeleton, returning them to the altar located on the island.
The two modes play fairly differently, so we'll start by talking about being a human. Your main tool for finding ritual parts is a cursed cut on your hand; you can hold up your hand and the wound will glow when you are facing the direction of the closest ritual part, or it will flash when you are within 50 meters of one. You won't be lead directly to the part, though; once you're close enough, you just have to search all of the surrounding areas in the hopes of finding it. I've had some games where I could not find any ritual parts at all, but after an update when more environmental clues were added (including blurred vision when you get closer) it became easier.
On top of finding the ritual parts (or instead of them), you'll need to survive your time on the island. You start out armed with nothing but a flashlight, but if you search well enough you can find some methods of dealing with the demon. For one thing, the demon can't stand being near fire, so if you manage to grab a lit torch you'll be able to fend the demon off for a time. The demon also really hates being shot with bullets, so if you can find a gun in any of the houses you explore, you should grab it. If the demon gets shot enough times, they'll die and respawn in 30 seconds, allowing the humans to get away (or, in the case of one match I played, fortify their defenses).
Personally, I found playing as a human to be a much more tense and scary experience. The world gets very dark for most of the match, and you only have a flashlight to light it up, along with occasional thunder (or a headlamp, if you can find one). Having a human enemy to deal with is a lot more unnerving, as they're generally smarter and more capable than an AI (assuming I am not playing as the demon), and I was constantly looking around and closing doors behind me to try and hide the fact that I was wherever I was. The scary mood is enhanced by the game's minimal UI; you don't have much on your screen, and you effectively have no markers on your screen to direct you. You only have the cut and the blurred vision to let you know where the ritual parts are, and in order to find your way back to the altar, you need to look to the sky for the red particles that indicate the altar's presence, which is a very cool touch. It feels a bit like playing a multiplayer version of Slender.
If you end up getting killed by the demon, that's not the end of the game for you. At that point you enter "dead mode" and you play as a moving ball of light that humans can see, but the demon can't. You can still be useful by lighting up the area around other humans, or leading them to ritual parts if you know where one is located. If you don't know where any parts are, though, it can be harder to find people to help; when I was dead, I ended up spending a lot of time running around aimlessly.
Playing as a demon is a totally different experience, not just in terms of gameplay but in terms of atmosphere. You have to track down the other humans in order to kill them, with balls of light being your only guides. They indicate where the humans are, but the indicators disappear when you get close enough, which means that you still have to find them manually, which can be very difficult. I didn't really have a good idea of how far away a human was when their indicator disappeared, which meant I didn't have a great idea of how large a space I needed to search. Also, playing the part of the demon removes the spooky atmosphere, since you're not likely to be ambushed by a roving monster of death; I found the experience to be more frustrating as well, but that might just be because I'm really bad at games like this.
Overall, I found there to be a monumental difference in difficulty between the two modes. Being a demon is much harder, as the simple act of finding humans to kill is really tricky even if they're not armed, and if they are it just becomes even worse. If you're human, though, the odds of you running into a demon are extremely small, and I had several matches where I simply never encountered it. Of the matches I played, only one of them was won by a demon, no matter what side I was playing on. Overall, I have to say that playing as a human is the preferable option here.
You have the option to customize your character, but as of the time of this review, the options are a bit limited. You only have a handful of options for face, hair and clothes, so it's very hard to make a character that looks much like you. Your clothes can be colored, but each change is basically changing the color of the entire garment to one solid color, like it was dipped in a bucket of paint; it's not too aesthetically pleasing, but I appreciate that the option was there.
Overall, the game is pretty rough graphically. The environment has lower-resolution textures (though it's better indoors) and there are a handful of graphical glitches, such as rain falling on staircases indoors, or tree branches clipping through objects. I also saw one instance of a demon attacking a human, causing the both of them to rise high into the air for unknown reasons. The graphics aren't really a deal breaker, though, because the lighting effects are really great, and the sound design is on point, which is the most important part of creating a scary atmosphere. Development studio Fearem knew what the most important elements of presentation were and focused on them.
The game is still in active development, and at the moment it's a bit of a bare-bones experience. There's only the one game mode, there appear to be no controller options, and they just added some new graphical options today. The developers are promising new additions, such as an XP system and more weaponry, so if you buy the game now you'll have more to look forward to later down the road. An XP system would certainly make things more interesting, and I'm curious to see if it would buff character attributes or something else.
Overall, I liked my time with Daemonical, despite its rough edges. The package is a bit minimal right now, there are some graphical weaknesses and quirks, and there seems to be a balance issues between the humans and the demon. Still, the core of the experience is solid, and it's rare to find a multiplayer game like this that's genuinely unnerving. If you're interested in a multiplayer horror experience, this game should be on your radar.
Final score: 6.66 out of 10
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.