Dread X Collection 5

Genre: Horror Anthology

Original Release: May 20, 2022

Developers, in order of play: Christopher Yabsley (Outpost 3000), Roope Tamminen (HUNSVOTTI), Shakles (Gallerie), Darkstone Digital (The Book of Blood), Stroboskop (Karao), VisceralError (Rotten Stigma), Nikk F. (Spirit Guardian), FYRE Games (We Never Left), Philosophic Games (Vestige), colorfiction (Resver), iwilliams (Ludomalica), Matt Reeves (Beyond the Curtain), Phantom Sloth Games (INTERIM)

Publisher: Dread XP

Platform: PC

A yellow sign attached to bathroom tiles that reads "Pee is power, hold it in!"
Sometimes it’s the little details out of the way that make you smile the most.

It’s been a while, huh? Life’s been very busy for me, between starting a new job, catching covid, having to get up at 2:30 AM for said job, the list goes on. But in the time since the last post, Dread X Collection 5 came out! I love covering these collections partly because of the sheer variety on display. So many different developers coming together to do all sorts of crazy stuff in such a short time frame. If nothing else, you can respect the effort put in. I’ve been working on a Gradius III clone by myself on and off for two years now and it’s not anywhere near done (mistakes were made, but I’m seeing it through as time and spoons permit) so seeing twelve games from different devs plus a hub world all in one bundle and having them function as intended is just amazing to me.

This collection feels a little weird to me, but that’s likely because it’s the first in the series that doesn’t feature anything from Torple Dook. However, he’s currently working on a full version of Hand of Doom (which is looking amazing, by the way and I’m eager to play it myself), so it’s completely understandable. Beyond that, it follows the format of the collections since 2: You’re in a hub world, in this case a party venue called Outpost 3000, and as you solve puzzles you’ll unlock games to play in your preferred order. Unlike Collection 2 (possibly 3, I only ever played through story mode once there), you unlock progressively more of the hub area in a set order. This is shown in the form of comic pages that you’ll find in the next area you unlock as well as next to you after completing one of the games, alternating so that you get more of the story as you play. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it’s neat. And what would a party be without guests?

The lights in Outpost 3000 have gone out. There's a single pinprick of light in the darkness a few feet away from the birthday table. You are not alone.
You’re never truly alone in the dark…

Honestly though, we had a place kind of like Outpost 3000 back home. It was called Laserdome. There wasn’t any sort of overnight lock-in option so far as I’m aware, and it was more about laser tag with an attached arcade, but it was sweet nonetheless. So for me this feels kind of nostalgic since I had my 13th birthday party there.

As ever, I’ll be covering these games in the order that I played them, so you may have to scroll a ways down to find a specific game until I learn how to set up bookmarks like Wikipedia articles and the like, but I’ll cover them all, I promise!

HUNSVOTTI

Developer: Roope Tamminen

Two blond children look down into a well. The word "Hunsvotti" is written above the scene
Simple, but you know you’re in for an adventure when you see two children staring down at you from inside a well.

I’m not really sure how best to start talking about this one. My introduction to Scandinavian traditions and festivals is Ari Aster’s Midsommar, so my knowledge is a bit…skewed, shall we say?

Picture it: Finland, 1888. Juhannus has come, a celebration of summer and a nightless night all in one. Your father chastises you for hiding away from the other children for some time now and suggests you try a simple ritual: throw seven flowers into a well, and the reflection at the bottom will show your future love. Of course, it’s not so simple. Everyone is out celebrating and enjoying the festivities and you’ve always been more than a bit sickly compared to them. In fact, you can’t jump. Pressing the jump key or the attack key will instead make you cough. And you have the most delicate cough I have ever heard and it is amazing. I can’t describe it accurately with words, it’s something you just need to hear for yourself.

A village in Finland celebrates Juhannus. The girls dance around a maypole, boys throw bread, a table of roasted piglets is off to the side. A well sits in the middle of it all.
It’s very colorful and pleasant, but don’t let that fool you into thinking nothing scary happens.

So that’s the meat of the game really: you wander around the village looking for seven flowers to throw down the well while the kids of the village enjoy their festivities or just take time to harass you. You’ll get knocked down more than once, and sometimes it won’t end well. You’re obviously not exactly the star of the village. In fact, some of your fellow villages would rather call you the Hunsvotti (scoundrel if the bab.la translation is to be believed) and I’m sure you can only guess how that will go.

From behind a tree, the player observes the men of the village trying to throw bread as far as they can. This is a game called "Truislinko"
I have no idea exactly how this particular game was invented, but it sounds kind of amazing. Just launch bread as far as you can.

There are a whole bunch of games on display throughout Hunsvotti. I can’t personally speak to their accuracy, but it’s neat to see them in action. If nothing else, it makes me want to see more of the world as I’m able.

I really like this entry. Between the thatched roof cottages (don’t tell Trogdor), the festivities, and the horror present, it’s right up my alley. I got scared, but I wanted to see the end of the game, and I think that’s the mark of any good horror game. Ya done good, boss.

Gallerie

Developer: Shakles

A large gallery is seen in the distance with a single orange light in the corner of the building. The sky overhead is a blend of green and magenta clouds. The title "Gallerie" is in the lower right-hand corner
This is such a gorgeous shot.

Gallerie is a heck of an entry. It’s split into three episodes that you’ll unlock as you finish the previous entry, but it does something that I haven’t seen many other games try, if any: it utilizes ASMR. Now I’m not very familiar with the concept myself, but there’s a whole section of YouTube about it. But from what I understand it’s meant to relax the viewer or help calm them down. In this case? God no, I felt so uncomfortable. The best way I can describe the sensation was an unpleasant tingling in or on my eardrums and down my neck. The only other time I feel that is when I’m in the shower and the water droplets are hitting the hair on the back of my head. I don’t like the tingling at all, but I can’t pull myself away from it either. I felt like Data when he tried his first alcoholic drink in Star Trek: Generations:

My experience with Gallerie’s ASMR is every moment in this clip. More? Please.

The gist of the story is that humanity first made contact with alien life 20 years prior, and in recent months you’ve noticed a number of disappearances centered on the titular Crux Gallery. It’s finally time you investigate, and you’re in for a heck of a trip. Now I’ve never been to an art gallery myself, but I know that a lot of them have a sort of guided process where exhibits have some audio accompaniment either on a cassette (boy I’m dating myself here aren’t I?) or right near the exhibit where you can plug in some headphones and hear more about the relevant piece. This is where the ASMR comes in. As you explore the gallery, you’re guided by the curator via an earpiece.

The curator of the Crux Gallery introduces themselves. The room features two green glowing battery-like structures in a pool of a glowing magenta substance.
Again, you might not think something as innocuous as a guided tour of an art gallery could feel sinister, but wow did it put me on edge the whole time.

Now I don’t want to go into a lot more detail here because I don’t like to spoil the plot if I can help it (I will say this until the cows come home), but man this took turns I was not expecting. Something about the gallery itself feels…alien, for lack of a better word. It’s similar to Discworld’s Death trying to create things in his domain, where the towels in the bathroom are hard and fused to the rails because, as an outsider, he knows how things are supposed to look, but not how they function. And this actually serves the game incredibly well.

Five tall humanoid statues adorn an empty gallery space. Their arms and legs are unusually long compared to their bodies. The curator suggests this is an allegory for evolution.
There’s also something profoundly creepy about having a group of super lanky statues gathered together like this and a disembodied voice describing them to you as an allegory for evolution.

Gallerie also encourages you to explore! There are a number of easter eggs, for lack of a better term, scattered throughout each episode. I don’t know that I’ve found all of them (or what it unlocks, if anything), but it’s kind of satisfying to look around and say “oh cool! An egg!” and I miss when this was more common in games. Now unfortunately I did experience a crash shortly after loading into episode 2 while I was taking notes for this piece, but I’ve beaten the game before so for all I know it was just a freak hiccup.

Overall, I really liked Gallerie. There are five difficulty levels, each named after different art techniques like Chiaroscuro. These are explained in the menu when you decide on them so I won’t go into it here, but something that I found really added to the game for me was that after you beat it, you unlock a Behind the Scenes option in the main menu where you get to learn more about the approach taken in development and some of the different things that were tried out. I may have mentioned it before, but I love learning about the production of stuff I watch or play (i.e. Tommy Wiseau wrapping a San Francisco rooftop in a green screen in order to project a San Francisco rooftop in The Room) and this is no exception. I won’t say it’s my favorite in the collection, but it’s up there for me.

The Book of Blood

Developer: Darkstone Digital

A mysterious figure in a sinister mask looks to the right against a carnival game in the background. The words "The Book of Blood" adorn the top right of the image.
Sometimes a smile is disarming. Other times a smile is unsettling. It really depends on the look in the eyes, doesn’t it?

Have you ever been to a carnival? They’re not bad and it seems like a lot of times they’re run to benefit the local fire departments. At least they were back home. I don’t know how they’re run elsewhere in the states. Anyway, The Book of Blood takes place at a carnival! You’re closing up for the night when one of your buddies hands you an old book lying just outside of the trailer you operate. You’ve volunteered to lock up the carnival gates after everyone else leaves, so you’ve got some work left to do. There’s just one problem: you’re not alone.

A figure in a black shirt and purple vest with an orange tie looks up to the player. A plain white mask with a creepy grin stares straight ahead.
I like this guy but I don’t have a name for him. My notes just call him “Friend Murderclown”

The fellow above appears out of nowhere and hands you a note that simply reads “let me in” before disappearing again. Obviously it’s not a good idea to let some random individual roam around after hours for a number of reasons (chiefly your health and safety), but they’re not just going to walk away.

At this point, the game focuses mainly on solving puzzles found in the titular book. You have a card with an adjustable lens and a brief explanation of what you need to do at the beginning of the book: Figure out how to adjust the lens on the card, find the clues for the next puzzle, and so on. It’s not so easy though, Friend Murderclown will be around and more than willing to shank you at a moment’s notice. In fact, you also need to keep your trailer locked to keep him out. And he scared me a great many times over the course of a playthrough.

The figure from outside the trailer is inside, holding the player in place with his left hand. His right hand has a knife. He is preparing to stab the player.
Setting aside the fact that I’m about to be stabbed in this shot, the lighting is exquisite.

Now before I talk about another part of the game, I do want to mention that I ran into a specific glitch more than once while playing that made the game unplayable for me. So here’s the inside of the book:

The book found at the beginning of the game. Each page contains a puzzle, with the page on the left serving as a demonstration of how to solve the puzzle.
It makes sense in context.

As I said earlier, you adjust the lens of the card to match the symbol on the page, then you move the card around to line up the lens with the relevant page. It’s pretty straightforward. What happened to me was that as I was moving the card, my mouse cursor disappeared and all I could do was drag the card around. I couldn’t turn the pages or close the book or even adjust the lens. All I could do was move the card around. I ran into this issue twice consecutively and I don’t know if it’s because I picked up some stuff I found around the carnival grounds that I ended up needing later and that threw off something in the game’s code, or if it’s because my mouse has a bad habit of registering a double click when I only click it once (the sensitivity is as low as I can set it, so I probably just need to learn how to clean it…or the relevant components are going bad), but that did sour my experiences a little bit. Which is unfortunate because when I was able to finish it, the game was great.

But that brings me to the other part of the game. Periodically, you’ll have to wander the carnival grounds proper in order to get things in working order so you can go back to solving puzzles in the book. While you’re doing this, Friend Murderclown will be out and about and he won’t hesitate to stab you repeatedly if he gets the chance. You have a map of the carnival in your trailer so depending on what needs to be fixed, you’ll be able to find it fairly easily. Just watch out for your friend.

The figure looking for the book stands outside the player's trailer. Their neck is tilted to the right, looking almost broken.
Maybe he’s a vampire or something. He just kind of stands outside the door expectantly, as if waiting for an invitation.

Overall I had a great time with The Book of Blood. Glitch aside, it felt a lot like the podunk carnivals we’d have back home every summer and so it hit a nostalgia bone for me. I kinda miss those carefree days, although we didn’t have someone wandering the grounds trying to stab us. God what a great design though. Simple, but effective.

Karao

Developer: Stroboskop

Approximately five women are falling out of a building. Some have guns pointing back up to the top of the building. The word "Karao" is written in the lower right, appearing to be smeared in blood.
I’m not sure exactly what’s happening in this shot, but it certainly sets the tone.

I’ve never been to a karaoke bar. I’ve sang along to songs many times over the years (who doesn’t?), but nothing like a dedicated karaoke bar like what you see in Yakuza 0 and others. And that’s where Karao happens. It’s late, you’ve had a lot of drinks, and the public restroom is unavailable or not there (honestly I forget), which is unfortunate because you need to go. We’ve all been there.

A band is performing on a stage. The man in the green shirt up front is dancing as the guitarist and pianist play. The word "instrumental" is projected on a screen at the back of the stage on a blue background.
The music is top tier in this game. Even this little instrumental loop had me grooving, and the dude on stage is straight up jamming to it.

So you manage to sweet-talk the bartender into giving you the key to the toilet in the back, but coming back isn’t so straightforward. In fact, you can’t even get back to the front. Instead, you find yourself in what I can only call some abandoned subway tunnels. There’s ratty furniture everywhere, broken glass, and it’s dark. You’ve got a headlamp with you and that’s about it. You’re gonna see some things and a lot of them are going to make you ask “what was that?”

An accoutrements horse mask lies on the ground in a spotlight. A woman's body is hovering slightly above the ground, facing away from the light.
For example: That horse mask everyone seems to have. I swear I saw it everywhere for a time.

Karao is not what I was expecting from the title and the menu image. Being honest, I was expecting it to be a night of karaoke that took a dark and very unfortunate turn where a lot of people jumped out of the window. Instead, you wander the tunnels trying to find a way out while staying alive from what’s lurking there. And like with Gallerie, you’re rewarded for exploring. There are seven rail levers across the game and if you can find them all you get a cute little reward. Nothing like a golden shotgun or a sweet cape, but I think it’s fitting.

Sadly I ended up calling it a day before I was done when I sat down to play this again to take notes. I had some personal business to attend to and then I just kind of forgot, so I don’t have a whole lot of screenshots. However, I will say that the song you’ll here a lot over the course of the game will get stuck in your head. I still sing it to myself periodically and I’m not sure how to feel about that.

Some sort of recording booth. There is a green banner in the background featuring a man's face in front of a dark green sunburst. The man is smiling.
I don’t know, and I don’t know that I want to know. And yet it makes me smile all the same.

I like Karao, simple as that. It’s short, but effective, and keeps you on your toes. Thankfully, you have a shotgun and there’s enough ammo and health around to keep you going. But man I would not want to go down those tunnels myself. Bravo, unseen protagonist. You’re a braver individual than I am.

Rotten Stigma

Developer: VisceralError

A twisted creature stands just outside of the light so that its shape can be made out, but not its features. The words "Rotten Stigma" are found in the upper right.
You’re probably wondering “what is that?” and you’re not alone.

In 2006, twelve children disappeared at the Gallagher Sports center. One of them was an 8 year-old girl named Amanda. Your daughter. You are a retired policeman named Neal. You’ve worked up the nerve to investigate the disappearances, and tonight’s the night.

A note attached to the door of the Gallagher Sports Center explains where the key to the door can be found and provides a clue for reaching it.
Admittedly when I first read this, I thought they meant the key was literally under the game world. I thought I was going to have to find a way to boundary break in order to grab it. Thankfully that was just a brain fart.

Rotten Stigma plays very similarly to Silent Hill, which makes sense since the developer is, in their own words “a little obsessed with Silent Hill and Dead Space.” This is not a bad thing, by the way. Those are both excellent games and the love for them shows. Neal has a radio on his person that starts to crackle when monsters are near. The color of the radio screen changes from green to yellow to red depending on his health. He’s got a pistol with a little bit of ammo to defend himself, and there are some items around the sports center you can use in a pinch. They won’t keep you absolutely safe, but it’s better than nothing. Classic horror vibes and I’m so happy about that.

Neal finds himself next to a pool. The room is dark with only his flashlight to illuminate the area in front of him.
There’s plenty of walking room, and yet somehow an abandoned pool still feels claustrophobic. Maybe it’s the darkness.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one that wouldn’t lead to my giving away plot, so I’ll just leave it at this: Rotten Stigma is a short and sweet experience that gives me the heebie-jeebies for a lot of reasons. It reminds me a lot of my first playthrough of Silent Hill a few years back and how much it freaked me out. If I wasn’t actively working on a puzzle I found myself dreading what might be around the corner of an area I hadn’t covered yet. It might just be another puzzle, or it could easily be another monster and I’d be low on ammo. Inventory management is tough, even when you have plenty of space in your pockets. But that’s also something of a key of older horror titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, or even Dead Space. I like it when a horror game gives me tools to defend myself, but also leaves me on edge enough that I have to pick and choose my fights. So to that I say, bravo.

Spirit Guardian

Developer: Nikk F.

The words "Spirit Guardian" are in the center of a dimly lit room above a blue rug. "Spirit" is written in bright blue and looks as if it were spray painted. "Guardian" Guardian is spelled out using letter blocks, the blocks are glowing as if something were inside.
It’s simple, but I love how the blocks glow like there’s something inside them.

Spirit Guardian takes place at an old daycare that’s long been abandoned. From the moment you set foot inside, you hear a spirit talking to you. They’re friendly, advising you to be careful of Nanny since she won’t let anyone leave. Sounds rough, huh? Honestly, it’s not that bad. Nanny has a very obvious tell for when she starts patrolling, and her footsteps are loud enough that you can hear her coming. Just…don’t get cocky and think you don’t have to hide. I did that and it was not fun.

The player is inside a locker. Through the slats, two arcade cabinets, a row of lockers, and Nanny can be seen. Nanny is facing the wall.
Nanny does that thing that really freaks me out about ghosts and can walk through walls. Nowhere is safe from a ghost.

Anyway, Spirit Guardian stands out to me in part because of its art style. In my notes I call it pseudo-cel shaded, but I don’t know that it’s an accurate description looking back over my screenshots. The game uses primarily 3D models, but your inventory is 2D images with a fairly bold outline and when you have a flashlight or key in your hand they’re also 2D. It helps them stand out a lot, and each has a very clear silhouette.

There is one specific puzzle I want to talk about a little bit though: at one point you’re given a spoon and have to find an egg and bring it to a shrine the spirits have set up. You can’t drop the egg or you have to go back and grab another. The problem is that I’m really not sure what causes you to drop an egg or if it’s random. I tried walking normally and it would fall with my first step or hang out for a few and then fall. Crouching while the egg was on the spoon would cause it to drop immediately, and I don’t even want to imagine what would happen if you ran with the egg in tow. On top of this, Nanny’s patrols don’t stop so while I never got caught at this point I can only imagine what would happen if she catches you while you’re carrying an egg. My big problem here is that I can’t for the life of me figure out what I was doing wrong, if anything, or if it’s just randomized based on how you’re moving while you carry the egg. I dropped 38 while trying to do this one puzzle. Yes, I kept track out of sheer curiosity.

The player is in a dimly lit bathroom. At least twenty three broken eggs are visible by the bathroom sink. The player is holding a spoon.
This isn’t even all of them, but you can see exactly where the eggs land if they fall off the spoon.

I don’t dislike Spirit Guardian, honestly. The egg thing is a bit silly, but it makes sense since that’s a thing kids do. I never did, but I know kids play that game. Maybe that’s why I struggled with it so much. Still, Nanny kept me on my toes and the whole thing has a pretty somber feel while also keeping up the scares. It’s like when you’d stay late at school for a club or because your parents were picking you up and all of the classrooms would be empty, except in this case you’re alone except for the company of some ghosts and a nanny. And eggs…so many eggs…

We Never Left

Developer: FYRE Games

A hallway in a house is lit by the light of a black computer screen displaying green text. There is an axe embedded in the door to the right by the computer. The words "We Never Left" are written in pixellated text above the scene.
Sometimes the horror is even scarier because your imagination does the work. So it is with text adventures.

I was born in 1991. By this point, a lot of games had elements we recognize them for today: a playable character, or at least a camera that allows us to explore an environment, and a degree of agency based on what the game’s built around. Gosh that sounds really simple when you break it down like that doesn’t it? If only making them were that simple.

All this to say that by the time I was born, text-based adventures had fallen by the wayside for the most part, at least as far as I’m aware. I knew about them with my siblings enjoying DragonRealms and seeing the text fly by with them entering phrases like “draw a sword” or “pet the piglet” in the middle of it all. My first text adventure was actually Thy Dungeonman, many years later.

A computer sits on a desk describing a scene. Important material is highlighted in red text. In the box below, the player has entered "go DENNIS"
If you know, you know.

We Never Left is very similar in nature to this sort of game. The premise is that your cousin has gone missing, and all that was found was a note containing your contact information and the message “FINISH THE GAME.” I took this to mean that we were actually finishing a game that was in the middle of development, but that’s not the case. Instead, the game opens with you uncovering clues by looking around your cousin’s house. You’ll find notes from a journal and audio recordings that provide some background on events leading up to your cousin’s disappearance, but the real meat and potatoes of the game is found in the text adventure you’ve been asked to finish.

Now I’ll admit that this is not the first text-based horror game I’ve seen in recent years. If any of you are familiar with Stories Untold, you’ll know The House Abandon. Funnily enough, that’s the only other text-based horror game I can think of, and both of them actually got me pretty invested and feeling tense over the course of the game. It’s neat and I don’t see it a lot, so maybe that helps me get more immersed. Am I jaded? I don’t know, but hey I liked my time with it.

Now here’s something fun that I didn’t realize until after I beat the game and checked out the extras. The dev, Conner Rush, is also the mind behind Summerland. I remember a coworker at my old job sharing the casting call with me and my auditioning for at least one part. Didn’t get it, but hey it was worth a try! Glad to see you’re still out here making stuff dude!

Vestige

Developer: Philisophic Games

An old TV lights up a dark room. In the snow on the screen, the word "Vestige" can be made out. A game console and controller are on the table in front of the TV.
An image like this, anything could happen.

Some of you might recall that Philosophic Games is the mind behind Axis Mundi in Dread X Collection: The Hunt. Well, he’s back with a new entry and this one spooked me just as much as Axis Mundi did. This time around, your parents are away for a while and they’ve asked you to take care of their place while they’re gone. It’s being renovated, but it still feels really heckin’ cozy.

The player stands in the entrance of a home in Vestige. An attic door can be seen in the ceiling. Three plants of various sizes are in view, and along the back wall is a refrigerator and a dining table. The windows are dark.
Is this just a European thing? It’s simple, but I feel like I could just relax here no problem. American homes don’t quite give me the same vibe.

It’s pretty calm at first, but before long you’ll notice that there’s a blink mechanic. I’ve played a lot of SCP: Containment Breach, so when games have any sort of mechanic that involves blinking I am set on edge almost immediately. Nothing good ever comes from having to close your eyes in a game for any period of time, I swear.

Anyway, once you’ve dropped your stuff in the guest room and watered the plants around the place, you decide to look around in the attic and stumble across your old Tribox and a game you played a lot as a child. Once you find a working (and compatible) TV, you start playing it and I am not exaggerating when I say that it is probably the sweetest not-PS1 PS1 game I have ever played other than Bloodborne PSX. You’re a skeleton on a motorcycle and you have to deliver letters from the dead to the living while also pulling off sick tricks and flying off of huge jumps.

A skeletal courier cruises across the landscape on a motorcycle. An arrow is seen at the top of the screen pointing toward the next goal.
I would play a full version of this in a heartbeat. It’s like Paperboy meets Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and the music for each stage is great.

Things start to get a little weird after this though. The game spazzes out and things start happening around the house. And this is where the blink mechanic comes into play. You’re in too deep at this point, you have to figure out what’s going on while also staying safe from the horror you’ve unleashed. Man, who’d have thought being an undead courier came with so many strings attached? You don’t even get hazard pay!

An old game is seen on the TV, the skeletal courier has fallen off of his bike. His feet are seen up in the air to the side of the motorcycle.
I mean it’s not like you really need health insurance, you’re already a skeleton.

Vestige was a fun, short experience that left me thinking for story-related reasons while also scaring me repeatedly. It’s simple, but sometimes simplicity is best! I enjoyed my time with it and would happily play a full version of Mail Madness: Memento Mori if it ever came to be.

Resver

Developer: colorfiction

A cityscape in black and white with minimal detail. The word "Resver" is written in white at the center of the screen.
Black and white isn’t done very often of late, and that’s something of a tragedy.

Resver is a short and sweet experience, you can finish it in maybe 15 minutes or so. That’s not a point against it either, far from it! I follow a few people who have said repeatedly that a lot of bigger horror games overstay their welcome and get more frustrating than scary because of it. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk, but I think Resver does it well.

The premise here is that a nightclub in Pittsburgh, PA (opposite end of my home state, heck yeah) has reopened twenty years after a fire that left at least 384 injured and 75 dead. Tonight, your friend has called you and invited you to the celebrations! Not like there’s much better to do on a rainy night, right? Plus, how often do you get to enjoy a nightclub’s grand reopening?

A cat lies on the floor of the player's apartment. Hearts are floating above it and the player's cursor is a hand.
You can pet cats in Resver and they give off little hearts and affectionate chirps as you do it. I love that. Cats are great.

I think what makes Resver work is that it focuses on telling the story it has to tell without bogging things down unnecessarily. It’s similar to Rotgut from the first Dread X Collection in that the journey is the real draw. The visuals are detailed just enough that you can make out what happening, but not so much that they distract from everything else. Well…outside of the nightclub scene anyway.

The nightclub scene is in full swing. People are enjoying the music and activities as lights go everywhere and three figures are projected over the crowd.
If you can make out everything going on in this scene without context, more power to you.

Resver left me a bit confused on the first playthrough, but everything kind of clicked on the second run and I was able to appreciate it a lot more. It’s not among my favorites in the collection, but it’s something that sticks in my head and I think it deserves credit for that.

Ludomalica

Developer: iwilliams

A partially opened board game sits on a rug with four lit candles nearby. A red light pours in from a partially opened door. The title "Ludomalica" is written in red, pointy text.
And they say you can’t play board games by yourself.

This one. This is the game in the collection that freaked me out the most. This is my favorite game. You know how everyone knows someone who used a ouija board at one point in their lives and how they all have really creepy stories about what happened afterward? Ludomalica is basically one of those stories. Let me set the scene for you:

Your parents are gone for the weekend. There’s a game in the attic by the name of Ludomalica that you’ve been forbidden from ever playing. The only time it’s ever been out of the attic was the night of your grandfather’s disappearance. Until tonight. Tonight, you play the game, heck your parents’ rules.

A board game is laid out with alternating light and dark brown spaces. Some spaces have question marks. There are three rules: You must be alone, all of the lights must be off, the door must be closed. The first rule is crossed out. The die on the board shows two pips.
You’re probably wondering what those question mark spaces do. Don’t worry. You’ll find out.

From the above screenshot, you can see that the board game has only three rules:

1) You must be alone.
2) All of the lights must be off.
3) The door must be closed.

Sounds pretty straightforward, yeah? Just make sure all the lights in the house are off, candles excluded, and close your door, and then you can roll the die! I’m not kidding, the game actually will not let you roll the die until all of the conditions are met. The rules will cross themselves out as you satisfy their conditions, but will also clear that cross-out if anything is amiss, so you’ll know what needs to be done. The game itself is pretty simple: just roll the die and move your piece across the board. Land on a question mark and things will happen. They start pretty mundane at first, a light turns on here or there, but the further you progress along the board, the more serious it gets. I actually found myself hoping for a very specific roll of the die just to avoid a question mark space and just felt dread whenever it came time to see where my piece was going next. I don’t like the idea of being haunted, and this is exactly how I’d imagine that feels.

A poster of two skeletons holding swords is seen on a dark green wall next to a light switch. The poster reads "Fiend's Isle"
Although we do have a really sweet poster on the wall, so that offsets the haunting factor. At least a little.

Even knowing what was coming when I was taking notes for this post, Ludomalica freaked me out just as much as it did the first time I played it. Maybe I’m just a weenie, but there’s something invasive about how the game works and that immediately sets me on edge. And then it gets worse and I’m sitting there like “oh no…no no no no no…” and yet I need to see the end of it despite every cell in my body saying “turn it off, turn it off, turn it off.” I mean I like getting scared by horror games, that’s why I play them, but dang man this basically serves as a cautionary tale. Don’t mess with powers beyond your comprehension, kids.

Beyond the Curtain

Developer: Matt Reeves

A painted face is seen from just behind a purple curtain that's only slightly opened. The words "Beyond the Curtain" are seen to the left, appearing to be splattered in paint. In the bottom right, "Matt Reeves Production" is written.
Henlo, creepy friend peeking out from behind the curtain

I wasn’t quite sure what to think about this one my first time playing it. The premise is simple: A young child falls asleep in the middle of a puppet show and wakes up alone in a theater with all of the doors bricked over. There’s no way out except through the curtain on the stage, and that’s where the game begins.

The reason I found myself more going “huh” than anything is because a lot of the horror comes from the environmental design and the ambience. But on playing it again, it hit me that it’s very reminiscent of some nightmares I had in my childhood. One I remember vividly is that my mom had come into the bedroom to say good night when the air conditioner turned on. I remember that it used to make a sound kind of like a wine glass chiming when gently struck before the air started blowing. In this specific nightmare, it started up and then the grate detached and started hovering a few feet from the vent and it started sucking up everything from inside the room, including people. I started to scream and then I woke up to someone saying good morning to me. I was never really scared of the air conditioner after this, but it’s stuck with me for years, and I think I had this nightmare in pre-school.

Three puppets are on stage having a conversation beneath a stone arch. The lights are dimmed, but other people in the crowd can be seen. Behind the scenery is a gold curtain lying partially opened.
I have a friend who’s freaked out by dolls, so it’s not much of a stretch to say that puppets do the same for a lot of people

This is kind of what Beyond the Curtain feels like to me. I don’t have the easiest of times understanding what scares kids. I know what scares me, but relating to kids and understanding why they’re scared has always been difficult. But I think Beyond the Curtain helps me appreciate that a little more. When I was young, I was always uncomfortable in new situations when I had to figure them out for myself, like my first day of fifth grade. It was new and a change to routine and I hated it. And I was always worried about what would happen if I were lost and alone. You know, I’d ask myself what it would be like if I were in a Cast Away scenario long before I ever watched the movie. What if I got lost in the woods? What if I got lost in a city? What if no one else was anywhere to be seen?

A collection of wooden buildings fronts like what you would see in a play tower above the player. A noticeable fog cloud hangs low to the ground.
Of course, imagine how much worse that feeling would be if any of the buildings around you were just set pieces and backstage stretched into the darkness.

That’s creepy by itself, but then you scatter some lifeless puppets around the scenery, add in some unsettling ambient music and you don’t trust a thing in front of you. And let me tell you, what you find behind that curtain is vast. Like any screenshots I can share don’t do it justice. This is one of those games where you’re encouraged to take in your surroundings and that actually makes it scarier to me. Everything feels just that little bit off where you know something’s wrong but you can’t quite explain what.

I get big Labyrinth vibes from this shot. Like all I can picture is David Bowie mirroring my movements on the underside of the platform while Within You plays.

Obviously this kind of horror doesn’t work for everyone. It’s like how some people, myself included, are terrified of spiders, and others just vibe when they’re around. Your mileage may vary with this one, but that’s fine! I liked it and, in the words of Weird Al Yankovic, since this is my stinkin’ show, I say it’s worth a shot!

INTERIM

Developer: Phantom Sloth Games

An empty stage with a pink light in the center. the word "INTERIM" is layered just ahead of the wall to create a 3D effect. A giant eyeball is  seen just behind the stage.
I do love me some giant eyeballs just hanging out.

Not gonna lie, I thought this one was about a game show when I read the description. I’m not sure why I thought this, considering that the Steam description makes reference to a major motion picture. Maybe it was the description in the hub menu. Ah well.

INTERIM is a neat little Twilight Zone-esque showing where you take control of Alfred, a down-on-his-luck stagehand or janitor (not quite sure which) who works on the titular show. It’s just after a taping (I think, but it’s not really important to the plot when it takes place) and your boss tells you to start cleaning up. So you do, and then weird things start happening.

Alfred's boss stands in the doorway to his office, instructing the player to start cleaning up the stage. The boss has height and width, but no depth. Swanky purple shirt though.
It’s so weird to know that he’s standing in the doorway, but to realize he’s a projection rather than a 3D model. I’m not knocking it, I think that’s neat.

This gives you a feel for the physics in INTERIM while also letting you play around with movement. It’s…janky. Not gonna lie, I had a bit of a hard time manipulating objects here and there. I managed, but I can see why others might struggle more. I can’t be too harsh though, lord knows any kind of solo development is an undertaking and when you have a short deadline (I believe each Dread X Collection game is developed over the course of a month or so? Please, correct me if I’m wrong), things might turn out a bit unstable. Like if I were to release my game right now you’d have a couple of backgrounds to fly past and a half-functional missile to fire. Making a game is hard, and if you think otherwise I challenge you to try your hand at it. But I digress. Let’s get back to talking about the game itself.

After you’ve cleaned for a little bit (or got distracted playing with the eye prop like I did), you hear a noise coming from your boss’s office and suddenly he’s nowhere to be found. And then you see…something. It looks to be a walking eyeball and it disappears after walking into the nearby green screen area. Not much left to do here but follow it! Can’t exactly walk away with someone in the studio if you’re not supposed to be there, you know? That’s not safe.

A walking eyeball creature is heading from the recording area to the green screen directly across from it. There is an eyeball on a green stepladder. The word "INTERIM" is hung by wires to the right of the green screen.
It only just occurred to me as I’m writing this out that the ladder is green to make it look like the eyeball is floating. Chroma key compositing is amazing.

I want to take a moment and really praise the visuals, specifically the models. Phantom Sloth’s done work on a few other games I’ve covered or heard great things about (The Diving Bell in Dread X Collection 2 and Inscryption, respectively) and I always love what I see. It’s weird, but it’s the right kind of weird where it makes you wonder what else is out there in this world. That’s something INTERIM did really well. As I looked around, I kind of wanted to see more of the world and get more story on our friends. There was an extras menu after beating the game and I’ll admit that I did not look through that due to a lack of time, but maybe there’s more in there? I’ll have to take a look later.

One of the eyeball creatures towers above Alfred, operating a camera. Rain falls onto the screen and there are lines of static interspersed throughout the scene.
When you think about it, this is kind of like a reverse kaiju film.

This was another game where I felt a second playthrough was warranted. Not for the same reasons as Beyond the Curtain, but more to see what would happen if I did things a little differently. When you first start the game, you’re informed that INTERIM is best played in front of an audience. I’m not sure if that’s a sort of nod to the plot of the game or if it’s done so that streamers can have their chat vote on what to do, but either way works! At the very least, give it a fair shake!

Conclusion

All told, I think this was a hell of a collection. A lot of talent and energy on display here with plenty of scares to boot! I loved exploring Outpost 3000 (the music in the Slime Hole area is a highlight for me), I loved playing every one of the games, and I think it speaks to their quality that I went back to replay each of them to take notes for this piece. Maybe horror has the place in my heart that it does because things are so tough right now that getting scared makes me feel something other than empty. My heart races, my breathing becomes heavier, and I’m more alert. Yes, I’ve just described being scared, but it’s such a rush and I don’t get the same feelings from horror movies. Except for The Grudge.

Anyway, I feel I can provide Dread X Collection 5 my seal of approval here. Y’all earned it.

A gold coin with checkmarks flanking a skull  with eyes reads "Jazzy Approves" on the top and "Recommended" at the bottom

I’m gonna take a snooze cruise now. Take care of yourselves, alright folks? The world’s a lot for all of us right now and I hope that putting out little articles here and there helps even a little bit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s