Genre: Horror Compilation
Original Release: May 26, 2020
Developers: Dread X, Airdorf Games, David Szymanski, Mahelyk, oddbreeze, Strange Scaffold, Scythe Dev Team, Secret Cow Level, Snowrunner Games, Lovely Hellplace, Torple Dook, Wayward Preacher
Publisher: Dread X
Platform: PC (Steam)
Apparently P.T. was released onto the PlayStation Store six years ago? I never played it, but I did watch Scary Game Squad play through it and I can understand why people are upset about Konami removing it. The game itself raised a lot of questions, in typical Kojima fashion, and sadly we’ll probably never know the answers to those questions.
Anyway, the Dread X Collection is a compilation of playable teasers for horror games that will (potentially) never come out. Ten games, ten development teams, ten different takes on horror and its subjective nature. I love them all for different reasons, so I thought it would be a good idea to discuss each one in turn. This is probably going to be a longer article, so buckle up friendo. The picture above hints at Summer Night, so let’s start there.
Developer: Airdorf Games
You know how popular gameshows like Deal or No Deal get their own handheld console using a liquid crystal display (LCD), but you can’t change the game out so your only choice is to play it or… I dunno, read a book? Well, Summer Night is kind of like those. It’s based on the old Tiger Electronics handheld games that operated like Nintendo’s old Game & Watch titles. I had one of Sonic the Hedgehog at one point! Although you could only move left and right to avoid the cars as you raced by in your own. It wasn’t bad…but it wasn’t great.
As listed above, the goal of Summer Night is to pick toadstools and chase monkeys. You can only use the WASD keys to move around, and you can only move to one of six spaces based on your current location, and nothing scary happens. And sometimes, that’s scarier than something actually happening. Yep. Just zone out with a nice chill adventure in Summer Night. You’ll be absolutely fine, I promise.
Developer: Snowrunner Games
Rotgut is kind of strange, but in a good way. You’re invited to a party taking place inside of an abandoned tunnel, but the party starts at the very beginning of the tunnel and you can’t really do much there. You can stare at a dude who stares back while he raves, but that’s about it. At that point, you could either venture further into the tunnel or leave, but you just got here! Why not explore a little? What’s the worst that could happen to you in an abandoned tunnel?
Seriously though, the horror of Rotgut comes less from anything actually scary happening (a complaint made by members of the Scary Game Squad) and more from the anticipation of something awful happening. Think about it, you’re basically alone in an old tunnel off the road with no easy way to reach it. Everyone around you is high as a kite or oblivious to the world, you’re also possibly high or just out of it, and you’re going off on your own in a rusty, tagged up metal tube. It’s very easy to imagine getting stabbed out of nowhere, or worse.
I like Rotgut. Even knowing that my imagination was probably doing all of the work, I felt super uneasy the whole time. Fight or flight was kicking in, and the only thing that kept me from turning right around was the fact that I was so deep into the tunnel that it would take much longer to leave than to walk to the end. Incidentally, should you reach the end of the tunnel, hang out there for a bit. Just take in the fact that you walked all the way to the end. Take a moment and think about what’s happened down here.
THE PONY FACTORY
Developer: David Szymanski
David Szymanski is the fellow behind DUSK, a retro FPS inspired by games like Quake, Doom, Half-Life and more. The Pony Factory follows suit in its own way. You only have a bolt gun to defend yourself with in tight, grayscale corridors while spooky pseudo-theremin music plays as ponies come after you at every turn. (David if you’re reading this, please tell me how the heckie you managed this music. I can’t stop thinking about it.) It kind of takes the Doom 3 approach where something frightening is coming at you, but you at least have a means to defend yourself. However it also mixes in limited ammo and health resources like you would find in classic Resident Evil.
I like The Pony Factory a lot. In fact, I would love to see it turn into a full game someday. Will that happen? I don’t know! Browsing the Steam forums, someone did ask if we’ll ever see full versions of the game and David Szymanski did respond with “Possibly!” so we could see more Pony Factory one day. I would be more than alright with that.
DON’T GO OUT
Developer: Secret Cow Level
Don’t Go Out is a top-down strategy game. You have to survive until 6 AM in-game to win. Every turn is one hour and consists of you taking your turn, and then the things that go bump in the night taking theirs. You start with one character, but you can activate at least three more. Only one of them needs to survive the night to win.
I like Don’t Go Out in theory. The tension and dread I felt was reminiscent of XCOM 2 when I would agonize over a decision. Sometimes all you need is a failure state to get the fear going. Although atmosphere also helps. The only problem is that I’m not very good at strategy in any capacity, even if it’s not super deep. Don’t take that as a condemnation of Don’t Go Out. It’s lovely and everything about it works really well. I’m just not good at it.
THE PAY IS NICE
The Pay Is Nice is a mystery of sorts. You don’t get a lot of information about your character’s background. All you know is that you have a job to do, you’re late for it, but you don’t ask a lot of questions. The pay is nice.
The game itself operates on fixed camera angles like the first three Resident Evil games. You navigate your workplace, go to work, and keep on plodding along as things get darker and darker. But it’s okay. The pay is nice.
For me, the horror came from the lack of understanding of my situation. An unfamiliar, almost too-clean environment. Very professional, but not another soul in sight. The floor’s polished, your office is tidy, even with a lab attached, and more. It’s strange, but it’s fitting for a horror game.
Developer: Scythe Dev Team
Carthanc is…ambitious. The developers even admit to taking a gamble with the mechanics they used and sadly a lot of it didn’t work as well as they would have hoped. Of all ten games in the collection, this is the one that left me disappointed, if only because it was so frustrating at times. I love everything about it aesthetically and it does have some legitimately good scares, but it suffers because of the mechanics.
Carthanc takes the Indiana Jones approach to archaeology. You’re a lone explorer looking to reassemble a mummy in order to access the central chamber of the ruins. The instructions even give you the hint of “Think Raiders of the Lost Ark to start” and it’s kind of brilliant. But as soon as you collect one of the three pieces of the mummy, you find out that the ruins aren’t quite as dead as you might have thought.
And here’s where the problem comes in: whatever’s lurking in the ruins is really good at finding you, and a majority of the puzzles you solve are jumping puzzles. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but you’re kind of floaty and there are times where I would try to jump and I wouldn’t. I might have left the platform right before I hit the jump button, so it could be on me, but there are also times where you have to jump as soon as you land if you want to survive. And so I died. A lot. Again, this could be on me for all I know. I’m not some kind of gaming god, as much as I wish I were. But there’s another problem: the checkpoints don’t always work. Sometimes I would die, then come back right in front of the door where I died. At other times I would have to start all over with the Welcome to Carthanc screen. Maybe it’s a one-off kind of deal where you get one checkpoint, but I don’t know if that’s the case. It wouldn’t make sense to screw players over like that. Honestly? I feel like it’s probably a bug that got missed, which is fair.
Again, I want to like Carthanc. Everything about it is 100% my cup of tea. The retro sci-fi aesthetic, archaeology in space, wireframe skeletons that sound like a heavily distorted Aztec death whistle when they scream. (Jump to the 47-second mark or so if you just want to hear what it sounds like without a lot of preamble.) Everything just grooves with me and I’m bummed that I couldn’t play it without getting so frustrated. There are good ideas in there, but the execution was off. I can respect that though, making a game of any length is hard. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience here.
MR. BUCKET TOLD ME TO
Developer: Strange Scaffold
Cast Away is one of my all-time favorite films. I half-jokingly refer to it as a horror film because of how well it handles adult fear: Tom Hanks, trapped on a desert island after a plane crash, alone with his thoughts, with the only thing to do being to survive day by day. What would you do in that situation? Apart from being Tom Hanks, I mean. How would you stay sane? As humans, we are social creatures, so it makes sense that we would at least try to cope in some way. Even if that way was to draw a face on inanimate objects.
Mr. Bucket Told Me To follows this idea by introducing you to your inanimate friends right out of the gate. Mr. Spear, Mr. Bowl, and Mr. Towel are there to keep you sane by helping make your daily life on the island just a little easier. But what happens if one of them breaks? Are they dead? Should you keep them around? Or would it be easier to throw them away? They’re inanimate objects, after all. Surely you wouldn’t feel regret just discarding them, right?
Isolation is a scary thing. No rules except for the ones you make for yourself. It hits home a lot more than you would typically expect, although part of that might be quarantine rendering time meaningless at present. We’re all here, trying to make do with what we have. It’s hard to get up sometimes, but we have to keep pushing. It might be tough, but we can do it.
Developer: A Lovely Hellplace
Shatter is probably my second or third favorite in this collection, partially because of the blocky models reminiscent of early PlayStation games. It’s a very simple concept, but surprisingly effective.
The premise of Shatter is that you are an individual living in a post-apocalyptic Britain. Whatever happened is hard to say, as I don’t think it’s ever addressed. Some folks around you are hooked up to a neural network and worship some sort of god they call The Morrigan. Looking around, you do eventually find a neural implant and you’re able to meet The Morrigan yourself. They’re interesting, and they charge you with retrieving something called the Divine Pupa. The problem is that it doesn’t exist in your world, so you need to find a way to get to it wherever it might be. There’s puzzle solving, and a solid amount of lore to find if you read the descriptions of the items you collect. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. If Shatter were to become a full game, I would buy it as soon as I saw it available.
HAND OF DOOM
Developer: Torple Dook
I. Love. Hand of Doom. I’ve never even played a dungeon crawler before (unless you count the opening prison escape from Elder Scrolls I: Arena) and everything is just amazing. The music is eerie and droning, the voice work is perfectly bitcrushed to lend that spooky feel to the game, and the first-person perspective is awesome.
The story of Hand of Doom is that you are a newcomer to The Master’s domain. You start in a locked room and hear a spell whispered to you that allows you to escape. From there, you find a grimoire and need to solve a series of puzzles in order to banish The Master’s soul and free yourself. You’ll learn spells along the way through that same whispering voice, and those will allow you to access new areas.
It’s just downright cool. But you know what my favorite part of it is?
The sprites turn to face you as you move around. Seriously, it reminds me of the decorations in Mumbo’s skull in Banjo-Kazooie. Go play Hand of Doom.
Do you like escape rooms? I’ve only ever done one in my life, and that was just recently, but it was a great time. If so, you might like Outsiders. I know I did!
Outsiders happens entirely in first-person. You wake up in a house with no memory of who you are or how you got there, and at first everything seems normal. Then you see some doors kept shut with padlocks and then it’s off to find the keys! You can play on easy mode, which prevents items from spawning in random locations (my personal preference), or you can play on normal mode which shuffles them around.
I can’t really say much more without potentially giving away some of the scares or the plot, but I can tell you that you aren’t alone. You’ll know what I mean when you play, but my friend and I took to calling the mysterious entity “Buck.” Partly because they were naked, partly because it was the first name that came to mind.
So yeah, go play Outsiders. It’s clever and I like it.
I highly recommend the Dread X Collection. There’s some phenomenal talent on display here. A lot of neat takes on horror and different ways to explore the genre, so you’ll probably find something that makes you feel uneasy at the very least. I’ll be back with more when I cover Dread X Collection 2 and I hope you look forward to it!