DreadOut (PC) review
"Dread in tooth and claw"
We sit on the outside of horrifying events, looking inward and telling the cast of characters not to do things as if they'll hear us. Don't go in the cave. Don't investigate the strange noise. Don't mess with the obvious seals holding an unspeakable evil at bay. Don't look under the bed. We say it all the time because we have the gift of foresight going into these affairs, knowing what greets these ignorant folks as they unknowingly step into their graves. However, if we were in their shoes, we wouldn't do things any differently...
Recently, I had the opportunity to yell at a teacher and her students during an apparent field trip. They reached in impasse in their journey where a bridge had collapsed, and thus decided to wander away from the car in search of a way around the roadblock. They all traipsed into an abandoned town without thinking, "Huh, maybe this place is empty for a reason and we need to get the hell out before whatever calamity befell it claims us as well." I tried to warn them through the monitor, because I knew from looking at DreadOut's header on its Steam page that some supernatural force now resided there, and that they would be lucky to get out alive...
Did I mention this game also transpires in Indonesia? If you're even a little familiar with that country's various tales and folklore, then you know of the pure nightmare fuel that's is in store for this unfortunate group...
Night falls and most of them unsurprisingly go missing while checking out a ruined school, leaving behind protagonist Linda. They obviously didn't hear me through the screen. Hell, even if you aren't dealing with ghosts and demons, you shouldn't be kicking around a dilapidated building because of more practical and realistic safety issues. Obviously, no one thinks of that. Linda enters the structure to find her friends, and comes across a huge, pulsating lump in the middle of a hallway before long. A quick snap of a picture with her phone sets the mound in motion, revealing it to be a massive boar with a human face and a key around its neck. And before you can piss your pants, the thing ambles after you, your only weapon being that aforementioned device.
Thankfully, DreadOut is basically Fatal Frame Lite, where you fight spirits by taking photos of them using your smartphone. Unlike Tecmo's tough survival-horror franchise, this game's combat is a little more lenient. The phone's screen provides an obvious tell with a wide window of opportunity when it's time to take a shot, and you need only to capture the pic to deal damage. No waiting around for just the right moment; you can even "rapid fire" your camera and harm your foes without much fuss or muss. Only a few enemies require you to do anything special to defeat them, including a prostitute ghost that can only be stopped by snapping a pic of the hole on her back.
Your phone also doubles as a puzzle-solving device, especially during the early phases. You can scour the school all you want, but you'll only find a handful of items--few of which actually allow you to advance the campaign. The trouble with this segment is the school eventually comes off as a whole lot of padding, filled with empty rooms and unnecessary sections that add nothing to the experience. I mean, you already have a dark, ominous setting, and you don't need so many needless, vacant spaces.
However, once you try snapping photos around those seemingly devoid regions, you find leads that take you to a locked room behind a cabinet, where you fight a boss to get a pair of scissors. As you know, event items only lead to more scares, what else do you do with the scissors except approach the sleeping pig demon I mentioned earlier and snip off the keys dangling from his neck. All the while, sweat beads on your forehead because you fear the hungry swine will wake up and feast on you like the the antagonist of some Aussie horror flick.
By this point, you can't tell Linda not to do anything because she's pretty much in it until the end. Whatever, Linda, just go ahead and progress toward that ominous doorway that appears to be made out of buzzing insects. I don't want to, and neither do you, but do it anyway because why the hell not?
Your opponent on the other side is a beautiful woman, but her looks do little to diminish her deadly, ghostly effect, especially once she lifts you off the ground and sucks the life force out of your gullet.
After some time, you end up bumping into a few of your companions. Predictably, they opt to split up yet again, and you can't help but yell at the screen. Eerie situations never end well when someone suggests a divide and conquer tactic in horror works, and you won't be surprised by the results here...
You eventually travel to other parts of the wrecked town, fighting off impish creatures and finding one of your friends who's now possessed. The ensuing scene there leads to a clumsy chase segment where you can't quite outrun your "frienemy" effectively, leading to numerous "game overs" before finally reaching the end of the segment. Thankfully, death only takes you to a limbo realm. Sadly, though, each time you enter the place, you find yourself positioned farther away from its exit. While that might provide some relief, you eventually find yourself so far away that these respawn events grow tedious.
Sadly, all of this culminates in one closing area that feels more like a mid-game event. Even the final boss doesn't feel quite "final." You see, this title started out as an episodic product that saw its run cut short. Rather than stopping without any kind of finality, the game received a second act that attempted to tie up the loose ends, but only came across as an abrupt finish. Perhaps the developers figured they could wrap things up with a sequel, and thus didn't feel the need to answer all of your questions here. Still, you can't quite shake the impression that DreadOut ends before it can truly satisfy you, but yelling at your computer doesn't do any better here than it did before. The credits still roll, and you're still a little sad.
I know that makes me sound greedy, but I wanted to continue shouting at characters who should know better. There's so much ground this game could have covered with the dank little town that the experience leaves me a tad jaded, even if it does conclude with a huge cliffhanger that serves as a selling pint for DreadOut 2. Nonetheless, this title remains a solid investment, even if it isn't perfect. It delivers your creepy fix well enough, and with some tight Indonesian frights to boot!
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (October 29, 2021)
Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.
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