A bright, beautiful sunny day with clear blue skies. Fluffy white clouds lazily floating through the air. This picturesque daytime doesn’t sound like the standard horror setting at all. There’s no dark and dreary setting, no haunted cabins or mansions in the middle of the night, no thick and sickly yellow fogs obscuring your vision.
But that’s the magic of daytime horror. It takes the seemingly safest of settings and turns it on its head. No longer are the creatures restricted to nighttime. The horrors are not only known but under the glaring, oppressive sunlight they are fully comprehensible. And very few daytime horror games handle this concept as well as Hylics and Hylics 2.
The original Hylics was released in 2015 and is completely animated in claymation, lending the game its distinctive and disturbing art style. Its sequel was released in 2020 and amped up the surrealism to its natural conclusion. Both titles surround the exploits of a moon-shaped-headed protagonist Wayne, as he and his allies oppose the mad and powerful ruler Gabby.
The setting is unlike any other game you'll find on the market. The sun shines bright on the world, its intense glare exposing the entirety of the desert as well as the eldritch abominations that call themselves its denizens and the ruined alien landmarks hinting of a mass extinction event. Unlike many horror games that conceal the true forms of its horrific aberrations in the cloak of night, Hylics embraces the light and forces the player to witness every horrible sight on the screen.
As you traverse this environment, there's an unsettling and disturbing atmosphere that permeates. Monsters freely roam in every crevice of the blasted landscape, blending in with NPCs that look every bit as twisted and eldritch. Right from the beginning, you encounter beings that kill with a single touch, in a well-lit building no less. And though death is cheap (and at times required), there's still something unspeakably awful watching Wayne's skin and muscle liquefy and melt from his bones under a cheerful sun.
Even in the subtle details does the horror found during daylight shows its capabilities. One of the saddest and most uncanny sights in Hylics 2 is a Wayne clone who didn't grow a carapace in its adulthood. Its injured body is laid out, wiggling as it slowly cooks to death under the scorching heat and light of the unforgiving desert. There's no blanket of darkness or shadows under an overcast sky. Just the image of a lonely slow death, burned into your brain like the sun's afterimage.
The environmental design of Hylics is overexposed in the harsh sunlight as well, just as that one clone was, exposing how horrific the imagery is. Buildings, furniture, and pools of liquid that resemble human intestines. Twisted and warped masses of land that defy all reason and humanity. There’s a prevalent sense of wrong, an undercurrent of evil flowing through each structure and none of it is hidden from the player. As you figure out how to traverse the counterintuitive eldritch land, you’re compelled to fully comprehend it all.
Complementing this are the graphics themselves, rendered in pastel claymation. Claymation is a naturally jerky animation technique, possessing both textures and movements that are distinctively inhuman. It’s a style often used to comedic effect in children’s media, which means that its opposing use here subverts player expectations. One would expect a game that uses such a playful color palette combined with such a dazzling time of day to be harmless and safe. But danger lurks in every corner, and both allies and foes dressed in such fun aesthetics instill a sense of dread instead.
Combat is especially daunting in this regard since you must either flee from or fight these often powerful abominations directly, and there are no deep shadows. And when your party looks and animates every bit as uncannily as your enemies, there's no escaping the terror. And you can bet it's fully in view during the endless daylight, which is vital as you attack and cast magic using Gestures. Can't exactly look away from the horrors of the screen when you need to keep track of battle happenings.
Hylics and Hylics 2 embody what makes daytime horror so effective. It steals the comfort of the day, the goodness inherent in the light. It betrays and compromises our very understanding of the concept of safety, peeling back those layers to expose the true horrors underneath. It literally shines a light on the worst of the world, then forces us to stare right into its golden abyss.
Have you played Hylics? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments below.