Review: DreadOut (Act 1)

DreadOut-StoryDreadOut is a survival horror game designed and developed in Indonesia. As such, it features a lot of references to Indonesian folklore and mythology, which in itself is unique and refreshing considering these themes have not been explored to great extent in previous games. The game itself was developed through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, and was built on a budget of approximately US$29,000.

The story follows Linda and a group of her friends, who come across a deserted village that isn’t on their map. Upon investigation, it becomes clear that there is much more to the town that meets the eye, as numerous ghosts start to appear at night time, and Linda herself feels as if there is something happening within her relevant to all the goings-on.

DreadOut will be delivered in three parts – Part One, Part Two and a Free Roam mode. Part One offers an interesting storyline, but it definitely leaves the player wanting more. This isn’t to say that the “journey” through Act One is unenjoyable – in fact – it’s pretty fantastically paced, but many people might feel unsatisfied at how much of the story has been obviously left out for a future iteration of Act Two. While the game’s pacing is pretty well done, there are some pretty common horror tropes exhibited here that many hardcore fans will roll their eyes at, but on the whole the writing and the story is pretty well focused – for what we’ve got here in the first act anyway.

DreadOut-PresentationWhen talking about DreadOut, it’s important to highlight the two major ways in which DreadOut presents itself – on a more ambiguous, non-tangible atmospheric level, and on a technical level.

For the former, DreadOut is one of the most atmospheric horror games I’ve ever played. The village Linda explores is very much deserted, and most players will feel some discomfort as they explore the village – through a combination of miserable and dilapidated visuals along with a very well thought out soundtrack. This combination gives much greater weight to the game’s “scares” too.

On a technical level, the game already suffers from very dated visuals. Running on a simple Unity engine, DreadOut does not look very good at all, even on a good setup. Textures are muddy and Linda doesn’t really move or animate as fluidly as she should – this is particularly noticeable when Linda is “reacting” to scary things in the game – where the animations seem to be awkward and disjointed. One could argue that this is more of an attempt to appeal to the “old-school” style of horror games where everything wasn’t clean, crisp and in high definition, but it does result in a very ugly game. That being said, it’s worth commending the team for not reusing asses throughout the story as almost every area, texture and model was entirely unique – right down to signage posted around the area.

The strongest element of DreadOut’s presentation is easily the score. While the voice work is cheesy (as most would expect from a game of this calibre), the soundtrack is particularly effective at establishing a brooding atmosphere. There are little games that have a soundtrack similar to this – though the closest one would have to be the relatively unknown Cursed Mountain, featuring some very sombre Gong-like instrumentation. The soundtrack mixes some ominous and ambient tracks with some heavier, yet subdued guitar pieces. It feels quite similar to Akira Yamaoka’s work, but significantly less polished in terms of production and with a uniquely localised Indonesian tinge. Most good horror games manage to use their scores to instil dread and fear into the player – and there were many times in DreadOut where I would ponder whether a distant noise was part of the game’s moody soundtrack or an actual occurrence in-game. It keeps you on your toes, essentially.

DreadOut-GameplayAnyone who has experience with the Fatal Frame/Project Zero series will know how DreadOut plays. Linda is armed with a smartphone, which she can use to light up the area as well as take photos of ghosts. The idea behind the game is pretty simple, and also similar to Fatal Frame – the game rewards players for letting the ghosts get closed before taking a photo of them by doing more damage to said ghost. It’s a simple system that distils risk-reward to its purest components, but it works very well in a game like this.

As with most horror games, there are numerous puzzles to solve throughout the village in DreadOut, and most of them are pretty well designed and not just thrown in for the sake of having puzzles. Those who explore more as they play will be able to find clues as to how to solve these puzzles, or non-subtle visual cues strewn throughout the environment. It feels like a rarity for horror games to get puzzles so right these days, and thankfully DreadOut does a good job at capturing the essence of what made puzzles in horror games so great. They’re reasonably challenging, and they’re foreshadowed well – although those who weren’t brought up on a healthy diet of Resident Evil and Silent Hill in the 90s may find trouble in advancing through some segments of the game, which give little to no indication of what to do next.

One of my biggest issues with Outlast, was the way the game seemed to lose creative steam as the narrative progressed. The scares became formulaic and predictable, and there were no more surprises in terms of enemies. DreadOut is quite different, which is surprising considering it’s meagre budget. There are a lot of occurrences in DreadOut that will scare the player, and the game doesn’t re-use the same old jump scares – and even better every ghost is unique. This variety in the enemy design is to be commended as it consistently keeps the game fresh – an issue with Outlast was once you saw some of the enemies up close and personal they became less scary on subsequent encounters. DreadOut remedies this not only with varied designs for the ghosts but also with varied methods of scaring the player. It’s not perfect, but it certainly makes an effort to scare the player consistently.

The team have also packed the game with a lot of optional content, some of which is so hidden that most player will not discover them in their initial play through. There are many ghosts, including a hidden boss battle, that are relegated to optional encounters. The general gist to discover most of these optional encounters is to ignore the game’s demands and engage in copious amounts of backtracking, but it can be enjoyable to be rewarded with a new and gruesome ghost to battle. Additionally, there’s some new areas that we stumbled upon too, but nothing really happened in them, so they feel kind of pointless, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them utilised in future acts.

Without a doubt the most contentious issue with DreadOut is its length. While the game is challenging at time, most players will be able to breeze through it in anywhere between three and five hours. The team at Digital Happiness intend to make the second act of the downloadable content free, which is to be commended, though you’ll have to shell out for the Free Roam mode. By itself, Act 1 is not conclusive enough to recommend, but considering the future downloadable content which will house the conclusion, Act 2, is free, it’s hard to see the price as anything but a bargain. Just be warned that at present, Act 1 is over pretty quickly for most veterans.

    1. Hi alibolong. I agree, for both acts, $15 is not steep at all. This review was written before Digital Happiness made the announcement regarding their strategy for DLC pricing. As I mentioned in my review, the value for money for the title would hinge on their DLC strategy and I’m very pleased that Digital Happiness went in the right direction in this regard.

        1. The review has been updated. As price was not factored into the score itself, everything remains the same.

  1. I think the comment about the price being too steep for a 3 hour game is completely out of place, considering Gone Home is $20 and you can finish the entire thing in less than one hour and a half, and after you’re done with the game there’s nothing left to do but throw stuff around to have fun with the physics (the only difference is that Gone Home was an “art game” by established developers, but that doesn’t make the price any less steep). By the way, Gone Home was reviewed on this site and there was no comment about the price in its review.

    I just read on the DreadOut fanpage the second part will be free to those who get it on Steam, which is a very good thing.

    1. Hi Serge, thanks for your comment.

      I am unable to account for the lack of mention for a price in the Gone Home review as I was not the one who wrote it. As a horror fan through and through, I know there is a lot of stuff on the market right now so I thought it would be prudent to mention how long the game was for how many dollars you pay.

      I’d also like to highlight that while I may have been unimpressed by the game’s length – I was purposefully non-committal in my words as some players may be challenged more by the game and get more time out of it (hence why I mentioned “most players” rather than making a sweeping statement about the game itself).

      As mentioned above, I also wrote this review prior to the downloadable content being made free. I support this decision and think it’s fantastic of Digital Happiness to offer the Act 2 for free and relegate Free Roam to just paid content – especially considering how small their team is. I just felt that with the conclusion this game has – namely one that has been purposefully split into two – it may have been problematic to charge for both DLC, which was the operating assumption based on what was communicated throughout the community regarding this title.

      Regardless, I purposefully made sure that the price of the game, in this instance, did not bear a large weight in determining my score as the experience that DreadOut provides is a very unique one and this totally makes up for it.

      I hope I’ve allayed any concerns you may have.

      1. Personally, I think $15 for a 3-ish hour game is a fair price to ask, specially if the game is replayable. If it is or not, is a very subjective thing. I’ve played Fatal Frame more than ten times, but I never got myself to play Dead Space II a second time even if I also liked the game.

        My main concern was when they recently revealed the game would be split in 2 acts. I have nothing against split games, but it’s not the same to announce right off the bat the game will be “episodic” and revealing you won’t get the full game when you’re so close to release.

        I mostly mentioned Gone Home because I see price and gameplay length
        mentioned in some cases but not others, specially when the game is not
        “great.” I don’t recall any review from (mid-to-big) gaming sites saying “the game costs $20 but you only get one hour of gameplay,” surely because they were too focused on how life changing the game was supposed to be. Here’s when things could get interesting but dangerous because there’s nothing stopping you to charge, say, $100 for a game that’s maybe 4 hour long but that’s the equivalent to The Picture of Dorian Gray when it comes to the story, for example. It would seem AAA games have the advantage there because at least they all cost the same while indies can ask for whatever they want for games and that makes choosing a price a little bit difficult.

        Personally, while I generally liked the game I didn’t find it life changing and while the story was good it was not AMAZING as others put it. Maybe because I’m already used to “adventure games.”

        1. I guess I just appreciated the different take on what is a traditionally tried and true formula. Indonesian folklore and mythology is largely untapped and I enjoyed that new aspect of the experience a lot. As I said in my review, it didn’t feel conclusive enough and that’s my biggest issue with the story.

    2. I reviewed Gone Home and I think the price is ok, not great, but ok. I think of it this way. You buy a movie for over 20 bucks and you get, most of the time, about an hour and a half to two hours of entertainment; plus the story in Gone Home is fantastic.

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