Genre: Horror Compilation
Original Release: August 21, 2020
Developers: Akabaka, Daniel Mullins, David Szymanski, John Szymanski, Panstasz, Mahelyk, Torple Dook, Bathysfear Labs, Vidas Games, Scythe Dev Team, Wither Studios, Secret Cow Level
Publisher: Dread X
*DISCLAIMER: Product received for free*
Horror is probably one of my favorite video game genres. The subject and quality vary wildly, but I absolutely love it for that. There is so much potential when it comes to horror, even if there’s a particular theme in mind! And so it’s been with the Dread X Collection games. Last time it was ten solid games in one great package made by ten different developers. This time around It’s twelve! And you know what? That’s even better! I was a bit sad when I saw Airdorf didn’t have a game in the mix, but I get it. Dude’s busy with his own project (which I have said many times before that I am so excited for, at least via Twitter), and it’s good to get some fresh blood in the mix and show off work folks might not see otherwise!
Like the previous Dread X Collection, Dread X Collection II is a compilation of playable teasers for games that don’t exist…at least at time of writing. No lie, I would absolutely love to see all of these get full games some day.
Anyway, the way you choose the games is a little different this time around. There are twelve tapes to choose from (each one representing a certain game), and in order to unlock them you need to explore the house you’re in and solve puzzles to earn keys. The puzzles themselves aren’t too hard, in fact I had so much fun going through them that I ended up solving all of them before I got to any of the teasers past the first one, but that’s part of the charm of the game! There’s also a freeplay mode if you’re just in it for the teasers and nothing else, but honestly I feel like you’re missing out if you only do that.
That’s enough about the house the game takes place in (the hub?) for now, so instead let’s talk about each of the games in the order that I played them. Starting with…
SUCKER FOR LOVE
Sucker For Love is…well, it’s a dating sim. And it’s amazing. Maybe I should explain that a little bit, though I doubt that’ll help much.
So I am partial to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. I have a compilation of his complete fiction on my shelf, and while I’m still working through it, stories like The Haunter of the Dark and The Lurking Fear are some of the few pieces of literature to make me feel scared. I’m talking tension in the chest, hard time breathing, and so much adrenaline. And I love that feeling. In fact, if you’re so inclined, his works are public domain now and worth reading.
So anyway, Sucker For Love puts you in control of an unnamed dude who dreamed of an eldritch terror known as Ln’eta. You’ve spent so long trying to find her and at long last you’ve found yourself a Necronomicon…you hope.
I’d be lying if I said that I don’t bother with dating sims. Truth be told they’re a lot of fun and there’s likely one out there for you if you look hard enough. But this one plays with the typical anime tropes so well while also scaring they daylights out of me at time. This one was a delight and all I’ve got to say to wrap this up is: 14/10 would smooch Ln’eta.
Developer: Daniel Mullins
From what I understand, Daniel Mullins is very good at messing with your head. I have Pony Island in my Steam Library, but have yet to play it. I should really get around to that.
Solipsis follows that idea of blowing your mind, but does it in its own way. You are an astronaut on the moon in search of an underground geological feature using a device to measure the gravity underfoot. I would say more there, but it is far better to experience the game for yourself. However, there is another fascinating mechanic that I really enjoyed: the rationalize button.
Every so often, you get prompted to try and figure out why something is happening by rationalizing, which takes the form of matching up the shape of one of your choices with the dotted outline on your forehead. It’s a unique idea, but really adds to the horror of isolation. Think about it: you’re alone in a hostile environment, and possibly afraid. From experience, it is so easy for your mind to wander into worst-case scenarios and your mental processes to deteriorate. I got stuck on top of a mountain once in eighth grade on a camping trip and that was terrifying. We had to sleep near the peak overnight and it was so cold, even with a small fire going (with the permission from the rangers we were able to contact) and that’s something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
But yeah, Solipsis was an amazing game. I’m still thinking about it a few weeks later and even now I’m still blown away by it. It’s definitely up there in my top five games of this collection, as is our next game.
Developer: David Szymanski
I don’t even know how to start with this one. The name is ridiculous, and yet covers the gameplay perfectly. You hunt squirrels, staple them to a corpse, and then meet god. I’m not kidding, that’s exactly what the preview says when you go to unlock it in the hub.
The gameplay in Squirrel Stapler consists of going out each day to hunt squirrels for the purpose listed above. It’s my kind of weird and I love how simple the premise is. You have two gauges shown on the HUD: One for visibility, and one for the amount of noise you make. Running is fast, but you’ll spook the squirrels easily, walking is slower but better, and crouching is slow but good for stealth. You have five shots in your bolt-action rifle, but there’s ammo scattered around a pretty huge map to refill on, and as long as you have a squirrel lined up in your sights you’ll hit them. It’s simple and pretty forgiving, but man it still provides a solid challenge.
I want to say so much more about Squirrel Stapler, but I also don’t want to spoil some of the amazing tension I felt at points. You wouldn’t think that a game about hunting squirrels could be all that scary, but oh man that horror gets ramped up pretty quickly. I love this game so much, but there is one thing that really clinches it for me, and that’s the screen that shows up when you’re sleeping.
Go play Squirrel Stapler. It’s a very accurate hunting simulator from my limited experiences.
Developer: John Szymanski
As mentioned previously, Lovecraft is one of my favorite authors. He did the horror of the unknown very well and so stories like The Haunter of the Dark where you get only the slightest glimpse of the horror are my favorite. And Charlotte’s Exile recreates this incredibly well.
The idea behind the game is that your wife, Charlotte, has vanished, leaving only an encrypted journal behind. Determined to bring her back, you take it upon yourself to decipher the journal using the book whose name escapes me (front and center in the above screenshot) as your key.
Charlotte’s Exile is one of those games that’s absolutely brilliant in its simplicity. You can look up from the desk (and you’ll need to), or look around at the items on the desk (which you’ll also need to do) and match up the symbols with the appropriate letter. And because of that it’s definitely one of my favorites. Just know that things aren’t as quiet as you might expect them to be in the library…
THE THING IN THE LAKE
I’ve heard lovely things about World of Horror, but I have not touched it myself. The Thing in the Lake, however, is incredibly spooky. The aesthetic is incredibly simple, but very effective. As stated above, the game takes place in an abandoned summer camp (adding to the spooky atmosphere) across four chapters. Believe it or not, the game is tough. I got stuck a few times and eventually a “story mode” option unlocked that reduced the difficulty. That’s pretty neat.
Despite my own frustrations, I really like The Thing in the Lake. It keeps you on edge and plays with the haunted summer camp trope well, but once you get a system down you can calm down a little. There’s a fascinating story to uncover as you go, and a number of notes you can find across all four chapters. In addition to this, there’s even a riddle to solve! Play The Thing in the Lake. It’s good horror.
THE TOY SHOP
Ho boy, where do I start with this one? I had expected something like you go into a toy shop and get trapped, eventually becoming one of the toys, but I can say it’s not that at all. Rather, you are a new generation of Toy Soldier who’s just woken up in a dingy corner of a building. The horror’s a bit of a slow burn, but it picks up before long, especially when you start talking to nearby characters and their words don’t exactly match up with their treatment of you.
Something fun I found in The Toy Shop while I was messing around (well, fun to me anyway) is that you can mash the jump button and your character will make the jump sound every time, but you only get one jump. As some of you who know me are aware, I like to find as many ways as possible to do the Terminator 2 theme. You know, DUNDUN-DUN-DUNDUN. Do I have a reason for this? Not really. I just like doing it, and the fact that I can do it here gives The Toy Shop points in its favor.
There is some gunplay to be had at later points in the game, and it is kinda floaty. However, I understand that making a game in ten days is no easy task. Trust me on that one. Still, I enjoyed my time with The Toy Shop. It’s on the longer side, but enjoyable and left me wondering a lot of things. I would love to see a full version of this someday if at all possible.
Developer: Torple Dook
As some of you remember, I had some very high praise for Torple Dook’s previous game: Hand of Doom. It was a brilliant, short dungeon crawler that rocked the spooky atmosphere and had some amazing ideas. So what’s he got cooked up this time?
Well, Undiscovered is a second-person horror game. Yes, Second-Person. I watched a video essay earlier this year posing the question of what a second-person game would look like, and the closest they could find for an answer was a mission in Driver: San Francisco. Undiscovered takes that further by making the majority of the game happen in second-person.
You are a husband-and-wife team deep in South America searching for previously undiscovered ruins. You choose which character you would like to control while the other films. It takes some time to get used to, but once you do it’s a delightfully horrifying jaunt into a forgotten temple filled with all sorts of skeletal imagery.
Things ramp up very quickly as you venture further and further into the depths. You’ll find notes from long-dead Spanish conquistadors, their skeletons, and more. I was engaged with this game from start to finish. The second-person nature meant that some of the puzzle solving took getting used to, but once I did I was hooked. This is another game I would absolutely love to see more of if the stars align properly, and it makes me even more excited for Torple Dook’s next entry in Dread X Collection III: Chip’s Tips.
THE DIVING BELL
Developer: Bathysfear Labs
There’s something almost romantic to me about underwater habitats. Dangerous? Yes. Would I like to do it sometimes? Also yes. The tradeoff there is that, just like with Solipsis, isolation makes the mind wander, and the darkness hiding something potentially terrible doesn’t make things any better. The Diving Bell plays with this quite nicely.
The gameplay this time around is that you are in charge of maintaining the log for an underwater base. Something has happened, but it’s your job to fill out the log each day. How do you do this? By randomly hitting keys on the keyboard of course!
It’s never that simple though. You can see a hide option as well as a heartrate monitor on the screenshot above. These are important, and you’re even told in game that if you see something unsettling, look away from it and find someplace safe. And when you’re underwater there are always a lot of windows for some reason. Never really understood that from a structural perspective, but I guess it’s good to know if something’s out there coming close to wherever you are.
Anyway, things go south very quickly underwater. Something breaks down and you’re alone, it’s up to you to fix it or die horribly somehow. But at least you can take comfort in the your faith, right?
The Diving Bell is incredibly atmospheric and absolutely worth your time. I’ve probably said that a lot already in this article and I’m likely going to say it more, but it’s true!
Developer: Vidas Games
I’m a little conflicted about Arcadletra. The preview image on the tape case made me think it would involve something like TRON, but more horror-themed, and that’s not what I got. It does involve an arcade at least!
So it turns out that you are the owner (or possibly the operator, or both) of an arcade and you receive a mysterious gift. What’s in it? That’s a mystery. But it starts to break down the barriers between yourself and whatever you’ve opened the door to. However, the only way to go at that point is forward.
Arcadletra is one of the only games in the collection to make me scream in terror, the other being Squirrel Stapler. And I love it for that. The main character’s motivations for doing things that advanced the game weren’t clear to me, but I could be missing something. I liked the experience, but I didn’t feel like I was really immersed like I was elsewhere because of the lack of direction. Again, I know how hard game development is from experience. Making something cohesive in ten days feels insane, so I give credit where it’s due.
TO THE END OF DAYS
Developer: Scythe Dev Team
To The End Of Days feels very much like Evil Dead 2 / Army of Darkness got together with Kung Fury and had a really cool baby. Seriously, you play a protagonist with a gravelly voice stuck in a city as some unknown disaster happens around you and you decide it’s time to get back home to your family. Some wicked synth kicks in and you pull out your trusty sidepiece: the facelifter. It’s a shotgun with an axe blade just under the barrel.
Interestingly, To The End of Days ties into Scythe Dev Team’s previous entry, Carthanc. The gameplay is radically different by nature of it being a first-person shooter, but there are some story beats and environment set pieces that get reused and it’s both clever and brilliant. I love this game and while it’s still a bit tricky at points (for ten days that’s not horrible), it plays well and feels really good. Like it may not be in my personal top five, but man it is awesome.
TOUCHED BY AN OUTER GOD
Developer: Wither Studios
Touched By An Outer God is a wild time. It starts out with a little bit of exposition about an alien species known as The Growth and how they’re dangerous. You play a girl named Melissa looking for her father, whose name is Butch Killington. I kid you not, this is the most Mystery Science Theater-esque name and I love it. Gameplay is first-person and at first it’s just punching with the left and right mouse buttons, but then you get through the introductory segment.
I love Touched By An Outer God because it asks the question “what would you give up in exchange for power?” In order to power yourself up, you need to collect the body parts dropped by the Growth that you kill and consume them to upgrade yourself. Your right hand is a claw and your left hand is…some kind of gun. I’m not really sure how to classify it, but you fire clumps of blood, bone, or metal depending on your upgrades. It’s wild, it’s visceral, and it’s right up my alley. And there are so many different upgrade paths! Your left arm can fire either grenades or sniper shots depending on your choices, and your claws can change so much. It’s fantastic and I would absolutely love to see more of it.
ANOTHER LATE NIGHT
Developer: Secret Cow Level
So where Don’t Go Out was a turn-based top-down game, Another Late Night is a text-based game. It starts out pretty simple: A few chat windows, a desktop, and a new article. Then things start to get eerie.
Getting screenshots for Another Late Night was difficult. Where I could just hit F12 in all of the other games, I had to print-screen for this one, so screenshots will be limited. In addition, since it’s narrative-driven I won’t be talking about it as much as I have the other games. Needless to say it was creepy and left me wondering some things, but I might have run into some issues here and there. At one point early on I was given a choice between three options and one of them resulted in a black screen. I restarted and the same thing happened, then I changed options and it moved forward. I don’t know if it was intentional or if my game glitched, but that was my experience. I can’t be too mad though, making any game is tough, let alone in ten days’ time. Not my favorite, but not awful.
I learned after the fact that the hub was made by Lovely Hellplace, the developer of SHATTER in the previous Dread X Collection. This would explain a fair bit about why I like it so much. Honestly it really adds to the atmosphere of the whole collection and I love it for that. Adding puzzles to solve in order to unlock the games was also a lot of fun and harkened back to older PS1 horror games.
As for the games themselves, they were all pretty great! I didn’t learn that each of the collections had a theme until I saw a blog post from Dread XP discussing the work being done on Dread X Collection III. This time around, the theme was “lovecrafting” and it’s kind of fantastic to see how many different ways there are to approach that concept. Man, game development is fun. Like have you ever found yourself so in love with a medium that as you consume it, you think about what went into it and how certain things were accomplished? That’s me with video games. I genuinely love games and just how many ways you can accomplish something while taking your own approach and coming up with a title unique to yourself! And man, to be able to pull something like this collection off in ten days is insane. I’ve been working on one game for three months and it’s still nowhere near done. Hats off to all of you guys for coming up with your games and making some fantastic experiences. My personal favorites (in no particular order) are definitely Solipsis, Squirrel Stapler, Undiscovered, Touched By An Outer God, and The Diving Bell.
I’m so glad I learned about the Dread X Collection games earlier this year and gave them a spin. The indie horror community is doing some amazing work and they’re such great people. You should definitely go support them if you’re into horror in any capacity.