8 years later, here's how Dead by Daylight keeps pushing the limits of horror: "You're extremely grossed out but then you're extremely proud"

Dead by Daylight x Chucky
(Image credit: Behaviour Interactive)

Do me a favour: forget what you know about The Unknown. Dead by Daylight's latest Killer might share a name with a certain social media sensation that emerged in Scotland over recent weeks, but this one's not to be trifled with. That's what I think, anyway. Creative director Dave Richard's smile is cryptic as he insists that the mystery around The Unknown, in all its unnaturally-contorted glory, is the whole point. Not even Killer gameplay designer Nicolas Barrière is able to give me a straight answer to what I consider a very fair question: what is The Unknown?

"The Unknown is difficult to talk about because it is unknown, right?" Richard laughs, citing analog horror as a core influence of the asymmetrical horror game's newest chapter. "And one of the pillars for the narrative was that this character needed to stay cryptic, and unfathomable, and unknowable. So that's how we've designed the character." In short? The DBD devs want you to play with your own theories and turn this creature into your own creepypasta. Taking one look at the physiological nightmare that is The Unknown, that shouldn't be too hard.

Chainsaw reaction

Dead By Daylight

(Image credit: Bahvior Interactive)

Dead by Daylight is not the same game it was in 2016. You don't need to have played hundreds of hours to tell you that much – between Nicolas Cage, Chucky, and Alan Wake joining the roster over the last year alone, DBD's tongue-in-cheek turn toward levity and memery has kept it in close competition with the ever-growing list of horror asyms that have spawned in its footsteps. 

"The tone of the old Dead by Daylight way was all about being scared – the hide-and-seek gameplay, the thrill of the chase, slasher movies, supernatural horror movies. It was all about horror," says Richard, which gave way to a period of further discovery once the game grew in popularity. "We're very curious and we want to go into different genres that are also out of the bounds of what horror is, and it's important to explore outside of horror as well and create a horror story within it." The changes have been welcome over the years, constantly innovating this live service playground, but Richard acknowledges that moving forward doesn't mean you can't take a step back. "In the recent chapter, we really wanted to go back to our roots, going back to this tone that feels more mature, that is really darker and more visceral," he says. "Analog horror is such an interesting sub genre that does this marvellously."

Deceptively, analog horror has nothing to do with watches. Think of found footage horror movies like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, or those spooky chain emails from the mid-00s. Each requires a remnant of some kind that is discovered, viewed, and passed on for others to puzzle over it, enshrining its contents as the stuff of urban legend. Enter: The Unknown. Its twisted neck resembles a taut, wrung-out washcloth as it flips back into a quadrupedal gait, a toothsome grin splitting a face that only Leatherface could love. Simply put, The Unknown is wonderfully disgusting and might be the scariest, grossest thing I've ever seen in Dead by Daylight.

As one of the twisted minds behind its gameplay mechanics, Barrière has loved the feedback following The Unknown's debut in DBD's public test build. "What I think is really scary about the Unknown is they obviously understand what it is to be human, but in a really unperceivable way." This no doubt refers to The Unknown's unique layered voice, possessing both male and female qualities in a truly bizarre attempt to sound approachable to humans as it calls out to would-be victims for help. "Obviously it knows what we are and what we look like," says Barrière, "But how it processes that information is just extremely strange. I think that's part of the fascination that we had with him. And I think that's transposed to players' reactions as well." Being Barrière's "first triple-A release as a designer" following a career in children's games – "The horrors of kids' games prepared you," Richard says gravely – it's more than impressive that his first punt at DBD has delivered us such an icon.

Less is mori

Masked shadowy villain looks back toward the camera

(Image credit: Behaviour Interactive)

""We design the monsters or the Killers and the tools they have, and then we have these great meetings that only happen in game dev, I hope, where we can discuss what the mori will be"

And what's an iconic Dead by Daylight Killer without an iconic mori to go with it? In keeping with DBD tradition, each Killer gets a bespoke insta-kill animation that pertains to the unique aspects of their character design. The Ghost Face takes a digital camera selfie with his victims after stabbing them in the back fifty times, Michael Myers thrusts a kitchen knife beneath your sternum and lifts you up to eye-level, and The Unknown? It scuttles over to you on all fours, belly-up like something torn from a Japanese body horror, before myriad tongues explode from a cross-cross wound on its stomach. All the better to excavate your skull through your eye sockets with, my dear. "It's a cute monster," says Richard happily. "We love it. It doesn't have a gender."

As one of the most delightfully gruesome new Killer moris of recent months, I had to ask how on earth they dreamt it up. "It's a lot of fun," says Richard. "We design the monsters or the Killers and the tools they have, and then we have these great meetings that only happen in game dev, I hope, where we can discuss what the mori will be. We just one-up each other with disgusting stuff until we reach that bar where we're like, 'Yeah, that's too much.' And then that's the one, you know."

The peer reviewing and one-upmanship is one of Barrière's favorite things about the job, too. "It's really fun because we all meet and we see what our teammates are up to," he says, "But with this character, we were just like, 'oh my god, what's that?' It's the best. You're extremely grossed out but then you're extremely proud. Which are just two things that don't exist together often in daily life, but in game development of a multiplayer horror game, go figure, it happens," Barrière laughs. "It's a sort of a pinching yourself moment. Like, 'this happened, right?'"

With The Unknown officially unleashed from March 12, Richard and Barrière are excited for the community's ongoing response to DBD's ongoing evolution, both in and around its roots in the horror genre. "At its core, that's what we want to create: a remarkable horror experience that makes you feel something – stress or fear, or the fantasy of being a super powerful killer," says Richard. "I want to make sure that the first impact we're still giving to a new player is that [it is a horror game] first." Off the back of that, he also acknowledges that DBD is about more than just a good scare. "We can have fun – dark humour exists, you know, it's a game. We should be having fun, we should be feeling other types of emotions…As long as it creates an emotion, not not every player needs to love that character or identify that character as long as someone does. So, going silly with a Survivor, or getting very serious and dramatic with a Survivor – both are legitimate in the world of horror."

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Jasmine Gould-Wilson
Staff Writer, GamesRadar+

Jasmine is a staff writer at GamesRadar+. Raised in Hong Kong and having graduated with an English Literature degree from Queen Mary, University of London in 2017, her passion for entertainment writing has taken her from reviewing underground concerts to blogging about the intersection between horror movies and browser games. Having made the career jump from TV broadcast operations to video games journalism during the pandemic, she cut her teeth as a freelance writer with TheGamer, Gamezo, and Tech Radar Gaming before accepting a full-time role here at GamesRadar. Whether Jasmine is researching the latest in gaming litigation for a news piece, writing how-to guides for The Sims 4, or extolling the necessity of a Resident Evil: CODE Veronica remake, you'll probably find her listening to metalcore at the same time.