Genre: Horror Anthology
Original Release: April 13, 2021
Developers, in order of play: Redact Games (ARK 2), Dan McGrath (The House of Unrest), Vidas Games (Seraphixial), Christopher Yabsley (The Fruit), Mr. Pink (Rose of Meat), Torple Dook (Black Relic), Philosophic Games (Axis Mundi), KIRA (Uktena 64), David Szymanski (Creative Director)
Publisher: Dread XP
Platform: PC (Steam)
*DISCLAIMER: I was very kindly provided a free copy of this game by the good folks over at Dread XP*
I know I usually open with a picture and my attempt at a witty caption here, but I think a bit of preamble would be more apropos this time around. See, I don’t think I can properly emphasize just how impressive it is that the folks over at Dread XP were able to create four different anthologies in just shy of a year. Reaching out to so many developers, writing a cohesive overarching story (I swear this is not a jab at Kingdom Hearts), coming up with a different theme for each collection, there is so much work involved in any one game. Hell, I’m still working on getting everything working in my personal project almost a year after starting it and nothing teaches you to respect game devs quite like futzing around on your own project. Seriously, try it sometime! You might find a new hobby and gaming can always benefit from new faces!
Anyway, this time around we have seven games made by seven developers with Dread X Collection alumnus and DUSK creator David Szymanski working as the creative director. Each of the games in this collection has a focus on shooting game mechanics, be it first-person like Half-Life or, in the case of Black Relic, third-person like you would expect in Resident Evil 4. I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical about just how much variety you could have with that sort of theming, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t happy to be proven wrong by the end. Honestly, that’s one of my favorite things about video games: there are so many different ways to approach any one genre or subgenre and none of them are necessarily right or wrong. Everyone has a different interpretation, and their life experiences help shape those interpretations. It’s beautiful, and really helps reinforce the notion that games are art.
So now that I’ve gushed a little bit and such, I think it’s worth diving into the games proper, no? I want to take a bit of time and focus on the launcher to start since, just like Dread X Collections 2 and 3, it’s a game of its own in addition to being a launcher and fits in really well with the rest of the works.
ARK 2 Research Station
Developer: Nate Berens (Redact Games)
ARK 2 serves as the hub area for Dread X Collection: The Hunt. You play as a tracker named Artemis (voiced by the wonderful Autumn Ivy) as she explores the seemingly abandoned research station trying to figure out what’s happened to the research team and finish developing the cure for the Cognitovirus that’s established itself across the world. The base proper is creepy in that usual abandoned building way, but also pretty comforting at times. It felt cozy in that isolated way I’ve made mention of with The Diving Bell in Dread X Collection 2 and Reactor in Dread X Collection 3 with that same sense that if any one thing goes wrong I am absolutely screwed. Still, I like it. As you progress through the games, you’ll unlock codes that you can use to open more of the research station and make more headway into the aforementioned cure. Artemis also has her own gun that can be used to solve puzzles here and there. You won’t be shooting monsters with it so much as finding creative solutions to the problems in your way.
On top of that, the games themselves are immediately accessible! I do like that, but I also really liked having to explore and solve puzzles for keys to access additional games. It’s a different approach, but neither is any better or worse than the other and it really comes down to personal preference. That’s something you’ll have to decide on your own, but give it a try! There’s also a freeplay mode if you just want to play the games and not worry about the story. There’s really no wrong way to play the game, so have fun with it!
As ever, I will be covering the games in this collection in the order that I played them. This is honestly my favorite part of writing about any of these collections, because it introduces me to new developers I might never have been exposed to otherwise. I get to see new talent and broaden my horizons! And with that, let’s get into it, starting with The House of Unrest!
The House of Unrest
Developer: Dan McGrath
The House of Unrest feels a bit like classic Resident Evil mixed with a little bit of Alan Wake and a dash of FAITH. You are a priest summoned to what I want to call a rectory (I grew up catholic, so for all I know that could be the wrong term for it) in order to cleanse it of evil. Your character says that this job will take all of their holy power, and so you’re armed with a crucifix, a pistol, and two AK-47s. I’m not kidding.
The main gameplay of The House of Unrest consists of exploring the house proper in search of various items. You have no limit to the amount of ammo available, which is good because you’re going to need it to deal with the flesh monsters you run into. Your inventory screen will show you which items you have as you pick them up, and cross them out as they’re used so that you can keep track of what you still haven’t found a use for. I can’t stress enough how much I like this as a mechanic. It’s a really nice way to remind you of what you still need to do in case you get turned around. The game is designed to be played in one sitting, but you can still get a bit lost if you tunnel-vision as I tend to. I did, but after a quick glance at the inventory I knew exactly what I needed to do. That, I think, is a mark of player-friendly design.
You’ll also find notes across the property that suggest what to do without giving away the answer directly. It provides a little bit of worldbuilding and it’s a nice little throwback to the aforementioned classic Resident Evil while also breaking the tension a little bit here and there. I got some good laughs while also appreciating the environmental design. Seriously, I don’t know a lot about building houses or other stuff in Unity or the game engine of your choice, but I can appreciate the work that goes into it. This game also made me realize that I am an Ork because I can never get enuff dakka, and I will always be thankful for that. It was a great game to start the collection with, and I don’t know that I would change the order I played in if I had to change it up. I like The House of Unrest a lot.
Vidas Games of Dread X Collection 2’s Arcadletra returns! I remember being perplexed by that one, but not in a bad way. This time around, we find ourselves in the shoes of a father looking to retrieve his daughter Charlotte from a commune at her request. It starts off on a dimly lit shoreline in search of a way to reach a submarine that somehow leads to another world and that is somehow the most grounded thing about the game. I should point out for the readers that may not have the collection for themselves that this game uses intermittent (albeit mild) flashing lights and a lot of loud noises (which the player is advised of as the game launches, and I really appreciate that) so those with sensory issues should be advised that this may be rough on them. Luckily, I believe you can reduce the volume as you need in the options, so that should alleviate some of it at least.
Seraphixial is an incredibly surreal experience. The environments feel like an alien’s attempt to recreate a patch of earth using only locally sourced materials so it conveys that unnerving sensation that you aren’t supposed to be there while also enticing you to dive progressively deeper into the commune. And this is where I have to take a moment and really highlight the creature and prop design.
All of the monsters you encounter in Seraphixial follow that motif of familiar, yet alien. Each of the weapons has its own biological feel with the pistol magazines having wriggling tentacles and the rifle having an eye where the barrel meets the butt of the gun. I’ve always really liked that in games, but I haven’t seen it since Prey 2006 and it was honestly my favorite part of the game. The seeker rifle scope was a tentacle that latched onto your eye! Why isn’t there more of this? More games need living weapons.
That’s a tangent for when I cover Prey 2006 by itself though. The weapons of Seraphixial include a pistol, a rifle, and a shotgun with three barrels. I cannot stress how a small change like an extra barrel on a shotgun makes it feel so very different. Little ideas can lead to some neat things to play with!
I don’t really know what else I can say without giving anything away about the way the game plays out and that is something I do not like to do. But if I can give you one tip, beware the sunflower. Trust me.
Developer: Christopher Yabsley
The Fruit is probably the strongest game in the collection for me. It’s ambitious without going overboard, has so many great ideas that get executed well, and you reload your gun manually! I’m kind of glad I’ve put as much time into Hot Dogs, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades as I have because it gave me a basic idea of what to do at each step (although the game does highlight exactly what needs to be done next each time you reload and that’s really nice) and I can only imagine the amount of work that went into getting that working properly. I actually got to play a bit of this ahead of release and tried with a controller just to see how it handled and it wouldn’t register my trying to open the chamber no matter how many times I tried it. Thankfully, that’s been fixed since release and everything works as it should. Cocking the hammer, opening the chamber, inserting the bullet, and then closing the chamber is simple and effective, but also incredibly immersive. Like I found myself pulled into it in the same way that I did as I played through the demo for Gloomwood (which I would also highly recommend if you haven’t tried it yet)
The premise of The Fruit is that you have come to the village of Ravenshollow in search of your lover following a letter bidding you farewell. In order to find them, you’ll need to tap into forbidden knowledge and learn an eldritch language while defending yourself from those poor souls tainted by the fruit itself. And this is another thing I really like, the puzzles in The Fruit revolve around speaking one or more of the five characters of this language as you learn them, in turn unlocking new areas and allowing you to learn more about Ravenshollow and what’s happened to its denizens.
I was scared, but also intrigued and fully into the story of The Fruit. It’s one of those games where, given the option, I would gladly have my memory erased to experience it fresh all over again. There aren’t a lot of games that I can honestly say that about. But I’ll go one step further here and say that I would absolutely love to see The Fruit have its own standalone release one day. It’s fascinating and I need more.
Rose of Meat
Developer: Mr. Pink
Rose of Meat is one of those games that is incredibly difficult to describe, even with text and pictures. Even if I had video embedded, I’m not sure that would do it justice. It’s an experience, it’s a dream, it’s something that I’m not even sure words exist to properly explain. Someone on Steam just wrote “Rose of Meat is a Mr. Pink game” and I’ll have to take their word for it because this was the first Mr. Pink game I’ve ever played. So let me try to walk you through the start and then I’ll hit you with the reasons to play it for yourself.
Our story begins with you fishing in a boat as a giant hand emerges from the ocean and knocks you out. The next thing you know, you’re on an island filled with giant eyeballs staring at you and meat people in various poses. Once Naked Revolver Man spins away into the ether, you meet a Lady in Red who tells you that you can have her old shoe if you can find it along the beach somewhere. Along the way, you’ll meet a handy purple head on a neck to rival that of Lesser Dog named Dyk. He’ll tell you all sorts of handy tidbits by leading with “Did You Know…” and I never fully trusted him, but he seemed to have a good head on his…shoulders.
So, if I had to give a few reasons to play it for yourself, it would follow as such: Meat people in various poses that you can climb on top of, old women as a source of wood, and the head spider. I couldn’t make any of this up if I wanted to, this is the kind of material that would leave even Salvador Dalí feeling outclassed. This is perhaps the most creative entry of the entire collection and the fact that it leaves so many people, myself included, at a loss for words is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen happen in my life.
Do I have any serious critiques? Not really. People have said that ammo is a bit scarce and yeah it’s random whether or not meat folk will spawn with ammo, but you can spawn them indefinitely with Ladyshoe and I never really found myself having to do so personally. That’s really the worst of it for me. I got turned around a lot, but that always happens to me in games. Doesn’t matter how well-marked the path is, my internal compass almost constantly resets which way is north, so I’m always going to be a bumbling goober.
Rose of Meat left me with a lot to think about. Whether or not this was the intention isn’t for me to say, but it’s fascinating and I’m glad to have played it even if I don’t fully understand it. I think I need to check out Golden Light now.
As I mentioned earlier, Black Relic is the only third-person shooter in the collection. I’ve always enjoyed Torple Dook’s entries in each of the collections, and this is no exception. Black Relic itself takes place within the Hand of Doom universe, with plenty of nods to the events of Hand of Doom and some pleasant reuse of the sound design therein. The premise here is that you are a monk charged with protecting the titular Black Relic on the most holy Eve of Commitment. Obviously things go south and before long, you’ve picked up a crossbow and you’re hunting down the cultists who’ve sacked your monastery.
Something I love about Torple Dook’s work (specifically Undiscovered and Black Relic) is that it has that mid-to-late PS1 aesthetic to it where you can see the individual polygons that make up the characters, but everything in front of you is well-defined enough that you can look at it and say “yep, that’s a monk.” It’s part of why I get so incensed about Sony’s Jim Ryan asking why anyone would play PS1 or PS2 games. That and it shows such callous disregard for both gaming history and preservation efforts. But you know what? Jim Ryan is a goober. And that’s beside the point. I’m here to talk about games and what I think of them, not rant about an industry bigwig who has no idea who I am.
So once you’ve got your crossbow, how does it handle? Really well, actually! You’ll have to reload after each shot, as you would with an actual crossbow, but, excluding a small handful of enemies, everything you need to shoot is either destroyed or killed in one shot and ammo crates loaded with extra bolts are scattered pretty much everywhere. Even if you run out, you can push enemies away to give yourself some breathing room and you can run for the nearest ammo crate. And even if you get hurt you can literally pray your health back. It’s nice! The game also has some excellent scenery. Visibility is low, but the game takes place on a stormy evening and the lantern is important, especially as you venture further into the night.
It’s really cool to see how Black Relic ties into Hand of Doom and some of the lore surrounding it. And Torple Dook’s work has gotten progressively better over the past year. Like Hand of Doom was excellent, Undiscovered was so neat, and I still mimic the walk cycle from Chip’s Tips all these months later, so it’s nice to see Black Relic join the ranks so to speak. I don’t have anything witty to close this out with, I just really enjoyed Black Relic and want to see more of this universe.
Developer: Philip Hesselbäck (Philosophic Games)
I feel like I’ve mentioned it before, but I am really afraid of ghosts. I have no real reason to be, however I remember seeing two blue-white pinpricks of light flash in my closet when I was a kid and it’s stuck with me for all of these years. Axis Mundi tells the story of a ghost hunter in Värmland, Sweden. You’ve been hired to investigate the unusual happenings in a newly constructed mall and you’ll be alone in the mall at night in order to keep things quiet. You’ve got a special camera at your side and that’s all you’ll need.
The game is similar to Fatal Frame both in concept and gameplay. Granted you don’t have to worry about healing items or reading a wheel of Japanese characters and figuring out which one corresponds to which number. I get that it’s a much older game, but man that was rough. Anyway, the core gameplay is to photograph ghosts as the reticle in the center turns red in order to capture them and to move out of the way as your camera recharges. I played on the higher difficulty of the two (Hunter and Hunted, respectively), so I was able to take two hits in rapid succession before having to restart a section, but I don’t know if that’s also the case for the lower difficulty.
So what I had expected for Axis Mundi was to explore the mall and capture all of the ghosts in order to clear them out. This is sort of the case. As you explore the mall, you’ll find a number of spectral memories that you can enter by photographing them. These will actually take you into the past, over quite the range of years. There you’ll learn more about why the ghosts are haunting the present, and be able to help them move on. It’s kind of somber, really.
I found myself thinking a lot about what happens after we die because of this game. Not in a bad way of course, but in a similar way as when I got sad at the end of Bicentennial Man and started reading the wikipedia article about death. It just got me thinking about the kind of impact each of us has on the world and what truly matters in the long run. We should all be much kinder to one another.
Man the name Philosophic Games works really well here, huh?
One other thing I really like about Axis Mundi is that there’s a lore book that you can access at any time once you’ve found it, and by recreating certain photos you also unlock bits of lore about each of the ghosts you’ll encounter as well as some bits of history depending on the era you find yourself in. I found it worthwhile to fill it in, you might not. That is ultimately your call.
If you’re looking for something to make you think about how we treat one another while we’re alive, you could do much worse than Axis Mundi. I was scared, but also pensive if that makes sense.
Normally I try to space pictures out with two paragraphs, but this one also has a worthwhile disclaimer at the start and it leads into something I feel is important to talk about.
Uktena 64 is a hunting game. Each stage has multiple difficulties, but all stages revolve around killing infected wildlife and then taking pictures of them for the CDC. For every photo, Jebadiah will have a fun quip like “crispy”, “Put. It. In me”, or “Poggers!” and that can lead to a lot of tonal dissonance given that you’ll be hunting killer turkeys and more.
Something fun I learned as I played is that there’s a bit of Cherokee legend scattered throughout the game. You’ll find it in books in each course (though I only found part 1 and 3 myself) and I’ve recently taken an interest in Native American history and legend personally.
Uktena 64 is a really solid game, honestly. The knife striking sound is really satisfying, the guns all have good punch, and you can get some really silly photos just based on how the animals land. Though that brings me back to the cheat at the beginning. It’s not the only one in the game (you’ll unlock others as you beat it), but you can only have one active at any given time and you’ll have to clear it and then re-enter whichever cheat you want to use. So, how exactly do the animals look with Pate active? I saw someone in a steam review say not to use the cheat, but I’m not the kind of person to listen to warnings without knowing why.
As ever, there is a crazy amount of talent on display in this latest installment of the Dread X Collection series. Each game feels different enough to be unique while staying true to the basics of a first-or-third-person shooter. It’s made me want to look into each of the devs’ other available works and support them in the future.
I also want to give a special shout-out to everyone who worked on the collection behind the scenes, be it QA, community management and outreach, or creative direction. In fact, here’s another screenshot from Black Relic that has lists them. Go show them all some love!
And so, to close, I can safely give Dread X Collection: The Hunt my seal of approval.
I provided the link to the Steam page up at the top, but I’ll provide it down here as well just in case. If you’re curious, you can check it out here