Beloved horror novelist R. L. Stine is best known for two long-running book series; Fear Street and Goosebumps. Where Fear Street can be grisly and gory, Goosebumps tames and reinvents horror tropes for a younger audience. If Dead by Daylight is Fear Street, then, Propnight is Goosebumps. Its skeleton is identical to the Twitch-favourite, but it wears a very different, much more vibrant skin suit. And beneath that skin is a new collection of guts and organs, freshly transplanted from shapeshifting hide-and-seek game, Prop Hunt.
Created by FNTASTIC, the developer behind upcoming zombie MMO The Day Before, Propnight is an asymmetric multiplayer PC game in which four teenage survivors must escape from a nightmare while being stalked by a player-controlled killer. Breaking free from this terror realm requires repairing five ‘Propmachines’ before time runs out, with each new device repaired further delaying an unsuccessful end to the match. Successfully repairing all five without being killed will open a set of doors through which everyone can escape to victory. I’ve played around a dozen matches and can safely say that if you’re familiar with Dead by Daylight, much of Propnight will be second nature to you. Repairing the machines even has the same brilliantly tense quicktime events, which if failed cause the gears to sputter and explode, alerting the killer to your location.
Propnight isn’t just a straight doppelganger of the streamer darling, though. It splices the concept with another cult multiplayer favourite: prop hunt. Originally popularised by a mode for Garry’s Mod, prop hunts allow players to transform into items in order to hide from enemies. In Propnight, all survivors have this ability. Hear a killer striding towards you? You can vanish by turning into a box and stacking yourself on a shelf; run into the corn fields and mimic a scarecrow; or even become a cabbage and roll to safety. So long as it’s within your immediate grasp, you can become a clone of pretty much any item you can see.
This small change has a huge effect on how Pronight plays compared to its apparent inspiration. Where Dead by Daylight is a tense game of cat-and-mouse, Propnight is a panicked session of hide-and-seek. As a survivor, the learning curve demands you master how to effectively disguise yourself in the world, but the urgency provided by a match’s time limit means you can’t simply hide forever. You’re also forced to return to your human form to repair the machines, a process that takes an achingly long time and so ratchets up the tension.
While survivors do have their vulnerabilities, my initial impression is that their ability to transform into props is an outrageously powerful tool. They currently feel at a significant advantage over the killer thanks to the large amount of very small props. At least in the sole map I’ve been able to play (a classic American farm filled with corn fields and dusty barns) there are stones, soda bottles, and hammers, all of which are top-tier choices since they can be easily hidden in boxes or beneath shelves. Reducing the number of these props would dent the fun, though, and so I’d like to see FNTASTIC experiment with map design to find ways to balance out the near-invisibility that comes with turning into a rock. Better sightlines across the map, be that through raised geography or windows and gaps, could go a long way toward both aiding the killer and increasing the pace and tension of the game.
In order to combat the prop system, each of the four playable killers has something in their ability set to help seek out survivors. The Keymaster, for instance, can temporarily place spectral eyes that highlight nearby teenagers. Meanwhile the Imposter can not only disguise themselves as props – something no other killer can do – but also as other survivors, allowing the wolf to hide among the sheep. These tools help keep tabs on what the survivors are doing, but it seems abilities alone are not enough to carry a killer through a match. Map knowledge and learning the proper placement of every item in the world will almost certainly have significant tactical value – seeing a stack of crates that’s one too tall becomes a tell-tale indicator that a survivor is trying to hide from you. But even without the understanding of how every corner of the map is decorated, I quickly learned to become suspicious of oddly-placed items and listen for the gentle tinkle of a soda bottle rolling across the room.
In bonus points for Pronight, all of this is really funny; watching a killer hit everything in a room while you sit disguised as a pumpkin behind them is a punchline that consistently endured through my multiple matches. This is aided by an appealing visual style; the four different killers all look as if they just walked off the set of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, while the survivors include a Billie Eilish doppelganger that Epic Games could lift wholesale if she ever did a Fortnite concert. It’s a style that scrubs away horror’s usual grime, but retains a distinct sense of character; there’s still a final girl, a confident jock, and a nun-like banshee ready to shriek until your eardrums burst.
What I’ve seen so far of Propnight is already a solid proof of concept. With just one map and four killers, it has already demonstrated itself as a fun and humorous alternative to other, more grisly multiplayer horror games. And while at this stage it’s probably impossible to knock its beloved progenitor from its perch, Dead by Daylight should probably start sleeping with an extra knife under its pillow.
Propnight is holding a PC open beta on Steam between October 15 and October 18.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Entertainment Writer.
Source: IGN Video Games All