Nazim Kemal Ure tells us whether the survival horror game DreadOut, from Indonesian indie developer Digital Happiness, is a scare or a snooze
Nazim Kemal Ure
July 4, 2014
Mac, Windows, Other
Note: DreadOut is not recommended for players under 17 years of age
I consider myself a hardcore adventure gamer, but I can say that survival horror games are one of my guilty pleasures. I’m a huge fan of the Silent Hill series which clearly inspired DreadOut, and given the absence of J-horror influenced survival games in recent years, the developers of DreadOut were able to use this to their advantage to successfully fund their KickStarter campaign. Unfortunately, the end result is a below average product (or half-product, more on that later) with brilliant atmosphere, but poor playability.
First of all, I would like to emphasize that the current version on Steam is only Act I, which is the first half of the game. So don’t expect to get a full version yet. However, the second act will be made available free to people who have already bought the first part.
DreadOut tells the story of a group of Indonesian high school students and their teacher getting lost while on a field trip. They wind up in a small evacuated town which they begin to investigate. Needless to say, they soon find out that the town is full of dark secrets and ghosts.
The player controls Linda, one of the female students in the group. Unfortunately, we don’t learn much about Linda’s personality or background, because unlike the rest of the cast, she doesn’t even have a voice-over. This was a really odd design choice, and while it’s apparent that the developers felt this decision would help players relate to Linda on a higher level, it doesn’t work. You’re left feeling how strange it is that all the other characters can speak while you’re a mute person.
From the start it’s obvious that the atmosphere is by far the strongest aspect of the game. While the graphics look a bit outdated, the lightning and environmental design is top notch. The town exteriors and the school interiors (where most of the action takes place) feel very realistic. I also like that the environments look authentic - most of the signs, labels and text are written in Indonesian.
However, I can’t say the same for the ghost/creature design which look cartoonish and cheesy compared to the environments. DreadOut does manage to be really scary when you’re walking down a creepy, poorly lit hallway, or when you hear the noise of an approaching ghost, but unfortunately, all the tension disappears when you see the ghost itself.
The game’s mechanics are almost entirely based on using Linda’s camera on her smartphone. The flash of the camera is the only thing that can damage ghosts (Fatal Frame anyone?). The camera also plays an integral part in solving puzzles. Pictures of specific areas reveal hints and sometimes you’ll have to take pictures of certain objects to solve a puzzle. Although it is an interesting mechanic, I don’t think the game used this idea to its full extent. I was expecting far more interesting puzzles. Unfortunately, the puzzles in DreadOut are fairly typical, and have obscure clues.
Another interesting game mechanic is how DreadOut handles the death of the main character. When you die, you don’t get the game-over screen, instead you’re transferred into a limbo. From here you have to follow a light to get back to the game. If you die frequently, the time to reach the light becomes longer. I thought this was an interesting touch.
With all that said, the real issue with the game is the lack of content. I fully understand that the current release represents only half the actual game, but even so, it’s too short. The whole act can be finished within 3 hours max. For example, while you maintain an encyclopedia full of different ghosts, which gives the impression that you’ll be meeting a diverse array of ghosts in the game, in actuality you’ll only see a handful. Additionally, there is only one major location, and two or three non-trivial puzzles in total.
In conclusion, DreadOut is a below-average effort. While the designers were able to create a spooky world and some interesting game mechanics, they failed to fill that world with interesting puzzles, locations and ghosts. I could have been more forgiving if this were just the first episode of a season. However, given that it’s actually half the full game, I have to say that DreadOut is only for gamers who are addicted to the survival horror genre.