Really Needs Some Dread Putting In
As of writing this, only “Act 1” is available, this is worth mentioning since on the steam store page there’s a little note saying “Act 2” will be a free update that comes “later”. Is it fair to review the game when not all the content is out? Then again, is it fair to charge for a game when what’s available amounts to barely anything?
At first I got vibes of a teen slasher film; a group of students on a road trip (with their teacher for some reason?) with a funky sound track and not a care in the world. After a wrong turn they end up at an abandoned town and decide that the sensible idea is to leave the car behind and walk blindly through town, rather than just retreating from whence they came. Eventually they come across a school, and we all know kids love nothing better, so the boys rush inside, presumably to vandalise, but this is basically the last we see or hear of them. It suddenly becomes night and it occurs to everyone that the guys have been gone a while, maybe they should look for them. Upon entering everyone else disappears, and the doors are locked. Hope you like school; it’s all you’re going to see from this point on. While the game doesn’t really say as much, you’re presumably tasked with finding the rest of the suddenly missing field trip posse, though by the end of the act, no real progress is made on that front.
The backstory of the town is explained through the traditional “find the letters” gimmick. However, note “the town”, all the backstory is about the town at large rather than the place you spend all your time in; the school. By the time you’re finished, you’re no wiser as to what was going on at the school than when you started, nor why any of these phantoms are residing there.
Weirdly, once the night time portion starts, you can head back into town instead of going into the school, which reveals a UFO and a couple of other demons, just kind of… there. Sadly it feels like more effort is put into these “secrets” than fleshing out the main plot.
Back in the school, you’ll be aimlessly wandering around looking for puzzles no one asked you to solve. For some reason a pig demon has the keys to the front door around his neck, and it all snowballs from there. It uses the Project Zero gimmick of taking a picture of a scene, only for the image to show to a different place where you go and pick up an item, except there’s nothing explaining why.
If a ghost touches you, then our heroine becomes “stressed”, repeated touching causes her to collapse. Oddly rather than die you appear in “Limbo”, which is to say you wake up in darkness, surrounded by a ring of candles and an eerie source of light in the distance. Sometimes a voice whispers clues, which end up being a lot more useful than the ones Linda keeps in her journal. Sadly why limbo exists and why she’s experiencing it, or whether it’s just something that happens to everyone in this world is left completely unexplained.
Basically, don’t come to this game for the story.
The ghostly crew consists of a phantom pig, a yeti on crack, a businessman, a crossdressing teacher, a giant lady and a lady that likes to sing. After defeating a ghost, you get a little extract in your journal explaining what the ghost’s deal is, but it’s kind of irrelevant and doesn’t really do anything to tie them into the world or explain why they hang out at school.
I was initially impressed with the reserved use of the phantoms, each is a particular character in the world rather than a random spawn, though what exactly that character is isn’t really defined. The second floor contains a ghost that disappears instead of dying, after defeating it, in one of the worst attempts at a jump scare I’ve seen in gaming, you’ll periodically get a image of it going “AAAARGH!” in front of your face briefly appear on screen. This wouldn’t be so bad were it not accompanied by a constant wailing that follows you around the second floor. This completely destroyed the atmosphere. It ended up being a deterrent to exploration since I just stopped going to the second floor until I was certain I’d exhausted every other option.
You can fight the ghosts off via your camera phone, but you can’t actually defeat them, just make them retreat until they feel like attacking again. When you take the picture *something* seems to happen to them, like the pig monster gets smaller and the yeti vanishes, but ultimately it doesn’t seem to mean anything, they’ll happily come back. Also loading screen hints say the camera can be upgraded, but that doesn’t seem to be implemented. The game says that it’s the camera flash that’s defeating the ghosts, but that begs the question; why aren’t they affected by the flashlight?
The game area essentially consists of; four corridors, a foyer, a boss room and a bunch of classrooms, most of which have nothing of interest in, just an array of misaligned desks, chairs and backpacks. Oh, and toilets, a prime place for a spook, right? Not here… In fact, there are very few rooms that contain anything of interest. It feels more like a haunted house; designed to mimic creepy films and rely on the fact you were scared of those, rather than providing any actual frights of its own.
There are a few puzzles, but they don’t have any context, nor make much sense, ultimately the main puzzle of the game is; the pig demon has the front door keys, find a way of getting them. The game just doesn’t have enough content, story, locations, characters… anything.
The idea of DreadOut isn’t entirely bad, neither is the execution, plenty of horror games have clunky controls, I can forgive that. I even enjoyed some of the time I spent with it. But it’s barely a game. It’s an assortment of horror elements, jumbled together with no reasoning behind it resulting in something that completely fails in its object to scare.
Maybe Act 2 will fix that problem, but if it’s anything like the first, the only thing that’ll have me screaming is frustration at the lack of content.