Regular readers will know that Tim is our horror game guy, mainly because he’s not good with horror and it makes us laugh. This time it’s down to me to get scared because Tim is busy with other games. That’s what he told me anyway.
So to DreadOut, the first full title from Indonesian based developers Digital Happiness. Where they are from is relevant because it’s a big influence on the game’s locations, style and themes. Digital Happiness are up front saying that Fatal Frame was a big inspiration for DreadOut but that meant little to me because I’ve never played that series. In that sense, I can review DreadOut with a clear head. I did ask Tim about Fatal Frame and he said he loves to hate it because it terrified him. *gulp*
In DreadOut you take on the role of Linda, a high school student on a field trip with a few chums and her teacher. Rather than finding rich sources of education, they stumble upon a blocked road and what appears to be a deserted town. After some fumbling around at the barricade and talking to the other characters the whole gang decide to check out the town and find out what’s happened to the inhabitants. Of course if it was you, you’d probably get back in the car and find another way around the road block because that would make sense. But then the game would be rather short which wouldn’t be much fun.
Linda is somehow equipped with special ability senses to detect spirits, something that’s going to become very handy as the gang head into the town to look for clues. Linda also carries a phone which is key to the game mechanics. It’s also a phone that has unprecedented battery life. Now if only all phones could be like that.
Having lived in Indonesia and spent a lot of time in towns and the countryside I can really appreciate what Digital Happiness has created in DreadOut. The game’s locations are quintessentially Indonesian, even down to the toilets. I’m not sure if the toilets are supposed to scare you when you discover them, but they are very similar the ones I had the misfortune of experiencing at the Mandarin Chinese Restaurant in Bandung quite a few years ago. Not pleasant.
What I really appreciate about the locations is the fact that Digital Happiness has not westernised the game, all the text on objects and signage are in Indonesian, which are then translated on the screen in text. The game would have lost a lot of appeal and charm if they had opted for a translation on the objects.
Wandering into the deserted school Linda is fully equipped to deal with the ghosties. Her camera is the key to solving the game’s main puzzles and also dealing with the many ghosts she encounters as she wanders around. The camera is her weapon against the apparitions and when activated in first person mode she can spot specters and clues; something she cannot do without the camera on. Pics of ghosts can be snapped and also added to the Ghostpedia, part of the inventory and quest log which will hold clues as you find objects.
Ghosts have weak spots which you have to figure out, but there are a few pointers offered when you get them in your camera sights to help you defeat them. Snapping the ghosts will tend to do damage, so looking for clues on the best way to deal with them does play a part but a few quick pics can often get the job done. Ghosts also have their own backstory and there are clues dotted around to help paint a picture of what happened to them, as well as the mysterious town. These clues are not always easy to spot but the camera will help you find them.
Players are also helped with some visual indicators on the screen when there’s something afoot. If a ghost is nearby the screen will go red around the edges which is a warning to get ready for something horrific. Whether that indicator removes or ramps up the tension is likely to be down to your own personal fear response. I still found myself jumping on a few occasions, even though I knew to expect something to pop out of the shadows. If there’s a clue nearby the screen will also go grey around the edges which means it would be a good time to pop up the camera and take a look around.
What I’ve really enjoyed about DreadOut are the puzzles. They don’t require Mensa-like abilities to solve, but a few had me stumped for a while and encouraged further exploration of the level. There are usually little clues around, for example a black cat wandering down a corridor enticing you to follow. This leads you on to the next puzzle in a natural way without resorting to quest arrows.
Prior to the game’s release some of us media types got our hands on a copy of the game and there was concern over the game’s length for the price. When you buy DreadOut you get the first part of the story, or Act 1 as Digital happiness call it. The plan was to release Act 2 for around $9 but after taking feedback on board, Act 2 will now be released for free. So although there’s only a few hours gameplay in Act 1, at least you know that there’s still more to come. This is one reason why I’ve avoided spoilers and too much explanation in this review. Wouldn’t want to ruin those jumpy moments, after all.
If you’re sick to the back teeth of zombies, which let’s face it are not that frightening because we see them all the time in games, then DreadOut is a breath of fresh air. The game is not going to push the limits when it comes to texture quality and cutting edge graphics, but Digital Happiness has done a great job with the locations in Act 1 and the game’s overall atmosphere. Those are two very important factors if you want to scare people. Some of the English speaking acting is a little overdone, but there’s not too much of that throughout the game. The rest of the game’s audio is nice and subtle.
Despite Act 1 being short, I know I’m looking forward to the second part of the game. If you’re a fan of what I would call the more traditional survival horror game then DreadOut is definitely worth picking up on Steam. Mechanically speaking it’s probably not the most original horror game, but it subtly pushes all the right buttons without trying to scare you at every turn.