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Dread X Collection (PC) artwork

Dread X Collection (PC) review


"I wanted tagline to be 'The X From Cyberspace,' but who says 'cyberspace' these days?"

Just the thought of playing Dread X Collection dredged up a lot of fear. No, this anxiety didn't come as a result of the content it provided. More than anything, I wanted this compilation to shine because it's one of the first--if not THE first--video game horror anthologies. In my experience, collected scary works tend to turn out either like "Creepshow" or "The ABCs of Death." In the former case, the compilation remains so dedicated to a central theme that all of the offerings come together harmoniously, creating something all around special.

But then there's the latter film, which was ultimately just decent. Mainly, it suffered because it was all over the place in regards to tone and quality. Some entries, like "D is for Dogfight" took you through emotionally charged, well-shot tales. Then you have "M is for Miscarriage," a disappointing entry from a great director that came across as a lazy attempt at dark comedy.

Deep down, I feared Dread X would be another "ABCs," with some games hitting just right and others falling tragically flat. I knew its publisher would need to feature a variety of titles, because ten walking simulators or first-person shooters would grow wearisome after about three installments. Plus, horror gaming is versatile enough that a compilation of this type could easily include numerous kinds of games. This is, perhaps, one of gaming's advantages in this realm: anthology video games can easily use variety to maintain freshness throughout an experience, where such diversity in film can lead to more jarring collected works if not handled with absolute care.

Like so many modern scary games, Dread X borrows from P.T., plus a little dash of Tarantino and Rodriguez's "Grindhouse." Here, you have ten individual products that act as fake playable teasers for hypothetical, full-length works, from narrative-focused affairs to ones with more action or interactive elements.


THE GAMES

Dread X Collection (PC) image
1. THE PAY IS NICE
Developer: Oddbreeze Games
This one encapsulates the vibe of working a high responsibility, high stress job you might secretly hate. However, you can't leave it because the pay is nice. You take the role of a researcher gathering top secret data that sometimes involves shooting your coworkers and mixing and administering drugs. The game handles like an old school survival-horror title, with tank controls as your means of movement.

You don't interact a whole lot with this one, as you mosey about from one place to another to advance the story. For all intents and purposes, this is a visual novel with Resident Evil-ish mechanics. The most interaction you encounter involves searching for notes around your office and using the info to create a drug. Though I've not experimented, others have reported that the data you input doesn't matter because the outcome is the same either way. This leads to the obvious question: why bother including a segment like this if different actions don't alter the results?

All the same, this title gets a bit unnerving at times, and feels like the kind of thing you'd read in a magazine like Cemetery Dance. It's not the most exciting product on offer, but it works as a handy introductory title.

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2. DON'T GO OUT
Developer: Sacred Cow Level
Imagine a batshit monster movie from the '80s turned into an 8-bit, turn-based strategy game, and you've got Don't Go Out. Your objective is to survive until morning (which arrives after so many turns), while numerous dangers prowl the grounds. For one thing, there's a weird red monster running around outside, not to mention a crimson substance that slowly takes over the premises with each passing turn. If either threat advances on one of your party members, they're dead meat. You can avoid these fates by entering a cabin at the top of the screen, but then you still have to worry about a Cthulhu-like beast dwelling within it. Thankfully, you receive randomly selected cards each turn that grant you various bonuses, like additional party members or torches that allow you to see darkened parts of the map.

This one can be tough if you don't know what you're doing, but it's also very short once you figure it out. You come away from the brief campaign wishing for more content, but remembering that this was only meant to be a playable teaser. Maybe if we beg developer Sacred Cow Level enough, they'll put together a full-blown version of this slice of goodness, complete with multiple maps and tons of new cards, maybe even a co-op or versus mode. I'd love that.

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3. HAND OF DOOM
Developer: Torple Dook
When you dabble in indie games these days, you're guaranteed to come across tons of faux-retro titles. Modern devs love to show off their inspirations, and this offering wears it on its sleeve. Hand plays like a first-person RPG from the early '90s, minus the combat and party building mechanics. Games like Heretic, Eye of the Beholder, and Strahd's Possession immediately come to mind as you take in its retro presentation, although this piece doesn't play quite like any of those examples.

This one is more of a puzzle adventure where you advance by learning spells and chanting them in the right areas. Although the graphical style is neat to behold, the experience wears thin after a few minutes, especially when one of the segments involves exploring a pitch-black maze and repeatedly casting a light spell so you can press several buttons on the walls. Yeah, that portion of the campaign is just as tedious as it sounds, too. I get that these games were made to be playable teasers, but that knowledge does little to diminish the notion that Hand feels like it's holding back.

Dread X Collection (PC) image
4. SUMMER NIGHT
Developer: Airdorf
Do you remember those LCD games from way back, like the Game & Watch series or the ones from Tiger Electronics? This one plays a bit like the former, where you control a little dude trying to nab mushrooms while avoiding monkey feces and giant centipedes. That concept may not sound all that scary, except when you consider this title smacks of hits like Pony Island and SUPERHOT. As with those works, you're actually controlling a character who's playing a game within the game. Meanwhile, creepy stuff happens in the protagonist's vicinity, such as footsteps and nearby groans. These freaky happenings tend to coincide with a grim reaper that appears on the LCD screen and warps the game's rules. You just know that once you progress to a certain point, something awful is going to happen and you're going to scream...

This one hits just right, builds perfectly to a climax, and doesn't disappoint. It makes effective use of minimalism, timing, and silence, and itexpertly balances its cuteness with its underlying terror.

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5. OUTSIDERS
Developer: Mahelyk
At first, you might feel like you need to skip this beast because it begins with you waking up in an ominous house. Oh, original... Here's the thing: you're locked in, and you must escape before an invisible timer runs out. While scoping the joint, you'll find all manner of tools and a handful of keys that unlock some of the doors you can't get through. Plus, there's a cornfield out back with a blood trail leading into it. That's not all: a masked psychopath sneaks through the hallways, Roswell aliens stalk the cornrows, and a malevolent ghost eventually shows up near the end of a session. Needless to say, whoever locked the front door wants you dead in the worst way.

Each time you perish, new clues written in blood manifest on the walls. Some of them tell you about hidden buttons or locations of items you may not have known about. Before long, you piece together the mystery behind the house and realize what you must do to leave.

This was one of my favorite teasers in the collection. It flips the creepy old house trope on its head effortlessly, and show us that trite concepts still have a lot to offer if someone with a fertile imagination tweaks them.

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6. MR. BUCKET TOLD ME TO
Developer: Strange Scaffold
Most of the games on this list are dark and dreary. Mr. Bucket, however, is a rather bright, colorful game where you attempt to survive a few days on a desert island. With the help of your trusty spear, bowl, and towel, you catch and eat fish, drink water, and wipe your ass after taking a dump. As you are a lonely soul on this isle, you've also drawn faces on all of your goods and named them. Yes, even the feces-covered Mr. Towel. Although your friends seem all too happy to help you, there's one problem child who serves as the antagonist: Mr. Bucket.

This guy isn't happy about what happened to him, and demands a sacrifice every night that you're alive. So come night fall (which occurs either when you choose to end the day or you run out of stamina), you select one of the three items to destroy forever. Your only recourse afterward is to make do with your remaining equipment and whatever plants you can utilize around the island. For instance, you might use yellow leaves to clean your bum rather than the towel. The only downside is the towel completely gets the chocolate off your starfish with a single use, while each yellow leaf only removes a small portion of fudge frosting.

This game isn't all that scary, and its survival elements are a bit sparse. Still, it's darkly humorous and thankfully ends before it can overstay its welcome. If nothing else, it serves as a refreshing break from the other moody titles.

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7. ROTGUT
Developer: Snowrunner Productions
I honestly couldn't tell you much about this one because it's the most bare bones game in the package.

You get invited to a party of some kind, and must search a whole town to find it. You have to hope while you wander aimlessly that the game doesn't glitch, resulting in you clipping through a wall or the floor and into an inescapable dead zone that prevents you from finishing this mess. Then again, even if you do make it to the rave, you still need to wander around long enough to figure out how to end the experience, and sometimes even that won't work for some reason. There are no traditional frights on offer, save for the occasionally instance of eerie imagery.

Honestly, this title isn't scary or thought-provoking. It's just weird and occasionally grim. More than anything, it feels like the kind of thing Valve would have delisted from their storefront years ago.

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8. THE PONY FACTORY
Developer: David Szymanski
From the developer of games like The Music Machine and DUSK comes a first-person shooter where you play a man who uses "hell energy" to create ponies in an abandoned factory. Why? I don't know. People these days are obsessed with cartoon ponies, some so much that they straight up "Rule 34" the ones from a children's TV series. Let's just say I've unfortunately stumbled upon some stuff I wish I could "unsee..." Maybe that's what Szymanski was referencing... At any rate, the protagonist inadvertently creates a horded of undead, equestrian monsters rather than animated friends or living blow-up dolls or whatever the hell he was going for...

Each stage is a gauntlet of corridors, with ammo and medkits arbitrarily placed, plus pony-creatures popping up here and there. Like Doom 3, you have to switch back and forth between your gun and flashlight, which is never not irritating. You advance by finding an unlocked door and venturing through it.

This title is a bit frustrating and annoying, but also entertaining and challenging. You only battle two different enemy types and obtain a single gun, but the whole thing only lasts about an hour at most. Its stiff challenge factor marks it as the most rewarding offering on the list to finish, but also the toughest (besides Rotgun, which is only hard to get through because it's broken).

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9. SHATTER
Developer: Lovely Hellplace
You start this cyberpunk adventure off not knowing what you're doing at all. A little tinkering reveals that you need neural implants to continue with the storyline, which in turn cause giant, pink insects to appear. Speaking with the largest of these critters reveals your mission: to save a divine larva from the clutches of humanoid flies in a distant building. Really, there isn't much more to the experience than that and bribing some guards with a greasy quid you find lying around...

This one is stylish and neat, with its faux-PlayStation visuals and late '90s sensibilities. However, games like this beg for so much more content that you only walk away wanting more. Maybe that's a good thing, since this is supposed to be a fake teaser or demo of sorts, like the rest of the products in this compilation. Here's hoping this one is just the tip of the iceberg, and we get a more expanded post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk London in the future.

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10. CARTHANC
Developer: Scythe Dev Team
This title is a real balls-to-the-wall experience where you survive a few fast-paced, first-person obstacle courses or platforming sequences to collect pieces of an alien mummy, all while avoiding the dead one's laser-bodied guardians.

This experience plays out like "Indiana Jones" with an extra dash of sci-fi-horror. Sadly, at times it becomes a bit aggravating when you get into certain tasks like jumping up some steep steps while trying to get away from the aforementioned foes. Quite often, you make one misstep and it's curtains for you. Games of this nature tend to work better as 2D platformers rather than first-person actioners, and this one ends up falling just a little short of greatness because of it. It still offers terrific visuals and a wonderfully dark art style, but at the cost of constant irritation.

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Add it all up: Dread X's quality varies from one game to the next, but this title works as a wonderful introduction to indie horror games and what they have to offer. It gives you a taste of everything on the table without wearing you out completely, sending you through breezy tales that last only long enough for you to get their drift. What they're mainly saying is, "There's other stuff out there like this, so seek it out." This collection isn't just a teaser for games that may not come to be, but a full-fledged trailer for its own category.

Bottom line: Dread X is a solid collection of scary games despite a few hiccups. It provides boatloads of variety that keeps the overall trip from growing stale. This slew of products may not be the video game answer to "Creepshow," but it's definitely not the "ABCs" of its kind for that matter.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (October 31, 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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