This review was originally written for WalaWala Games.
A free copy of the game has been provided in exchange for an honest review.
Developer: Digital Happiness
Genre: Survival Horror / Action / Puzzler
DreadOut is a third-person Puzzle/Survival Horror game by Digital Happiness. In it you take on the role of Indonesian teenager Linda, who was on a school trip when not-so-suddenly her group becomes trapped in an old, creepy, abandoned town.
Sounds familiar? Surely it’s the starting point of many a game, but the kind of horror DreadOut brings out is one of my favorites. You see, here you’re not hiding from invincible monsters, you’re not running away, and you’re not (really) fighting the ghosts (technically speaking). If you’ve ever played Fatal Frame, you’ll be quite familiar with the play style and ambiance of DreadOut, for Linda is armed only with a camera, and that is all she has to fight off the apparitions and, yes, solve puzzles.
DreadOut is comprised of three different acts (0, 1 and 2), each a bit different than the previous one – act 0 serving as a sort of glimpse as to what to expect, Act 1 setting the pacing, and Act 2 completely changing the pacing you’d gotten used to; all acts follow the same storyline; and while in essence the story might not be out of this world in originality (despite the twists and turns taken and the stories within stories), and while the ghost design might not be anything too different (even if they’re unique to Indonesian lore), the game gets plenty of cookie points for being in a different setting and full of ghost (and thus, cultural) lore.
Controls in the game are fairly simple: You run (stamina dictates you need a break every so often), you walk, you interact with doors and objects, pick items up, and use your phone’s camera to snap photos, solve puzzles, and defeat ghosts. And also to illuminate really dark areas, too. Linda has a ‘sense’ which helps her find all these things, when a blue vignette appears you’re near a puzzle, item or secret, while if it’s red, it means there’s an enemy near.
Although the graphics and textures are a tad dated and will not give an AAA game a run for its money, they’re still fairly decent, and the characters are attractive enough to look at that you won’t be put off by their faces every time they turn around. Despite this, the general ambience is quite good, and succeeds in making you forget that it’s a game and giving you that creepy feeling every survival-horror abandoned town and building should have. The voice overs are pretty good too, something I was pleasantly surprised with. The music is really good – it’s not always creepy, but it’s still good, and in the parts where it is creepy, it succeeds at it. The game also makes use of silence and sound bites to make you on edge, like playing soft, creepy laughter or crying when you least expect it, managing to create something that truly has you on the edge of your seat.
This is the kind of horror I like, the type that’s more psychological and situational than just jump scares and loud noises, and while DreadOut does have a few jump scares, they’re not quite as obnoxious as the ones utilized in most horror games.
If you’ve never played Fatal frame before, this is how the “fighting” aspect works: All “fighting” is done through the camera. You point it at the evil spirit and snap a few shots, which damages it, and it eventually disappears (unless it’s invincible… then it’ll just leave you alone for a little while). DreadOut has added to this where you don’t just have to snap, but some of the tougher spirits actually have specific weak spots for you to find. I do love this style of gameplay, but I found the ghosts to be a little less scary than the ambiance of the place, and a bit more annoying. It seemed like it took too many shots just to get rid of one simple ghost, so once the initial scare wore off, defeating them was more of a chore. The slightly cramped spaces also made for tricky fights sometimes, becoming particularly annoying during boss fights, making it hard to find their weak spots. At least in Fatal frame when they rushed at you, you had a last-chance shot that made more damage than the others, and a bit more time to run around and find a comfortable spot to snap from. Not so much in DreadOut, where there’s no last-chance shot and less space to run around before the ghost charges at you again. This might work for a more hardcore gamer, for me it didn’t work quite so well.
I feel like the potential in these type of camera-only games isn’t on the fights themselves, and thus they should be easy enough the get past without infuriating you, which doesn’t mean they can’t require some kind of tactics. This, more than anything, is what made it less enjoyable for me than I had anticipated.
I will say, however, that every fight was different from the last, so the originality put on it was really nice to see. When you die in DreadOut you don’t fail. It’s not game over and start over… when you die you enter “limbo”; a dark area with a light ahead of you. You run towards the light, and start back at the spot you were at. Usually with the ghost right besides you, and barely enough time to get your bearings between the animation and lifting the camera before it charges. This is both a cool concept and kind of annoying, as every time you die the length you have to run to reach the light is longer. You can make the length you have to run fixed in settings, though, which I took advantage of.
The puzzles are rather difficult. Sometimes it takes a lot of random snapping of photos and pondering to figure out what to do… which is actually rather good, except when there’s ghosts around making you nervous. Sometimes they were a little too puzzling though, where I would find the blue vignette and walk around and snap shots at everything in the hopes something would yield a result, and couldn’t find what it wanted me to do at all.
If there was one big thing I didn’t like about this game, I would have to say it was the lack of a save-when-you-want feature. The game auto-saves at several parts and does so as well when you exit, which is wonderful and useful for the average gamer, but -and while I appreciate such things- I would also have liked to save at a point I decide without having to leave my game to do so. I also found the save on exit not working all the time, as twice I had to re-do a (short, but still annoying) section when I went back to my game.
There were a few minor bugs through my play-through; the game would sometimes lag a bit (at random times, not because it was particularly loading anything) and the camera would sometimes “snap” back at a weird angle (I feel it might have been because of the lag, but it seemed like it did it at random times too), but none of them were game-breaking bugs.
And speaking of loading, the loading times could certainly be improved on, as they get a bit too long.
The game has a few items to collect through your play and several documents (besides every ghost encounter filling your ghost lore book with interesting tidbits and stories), as well as some Easter eggs; you can also unlock some outfits to wear during replays. There’s also two endings to this hidden gem, which was quite nice.
All things considered, you can tell that despite the dated graphics, the developers have put a lot of thought and care into the game, and you really have to appreciate that. I think this is a solid horror game that does the horror part very good, but falls just a little bit short at the gameplay aspect – at least for my personal taste.
Overall I’d highly recommend it, particularly if you’re a fan of Fatal Frame or similar styled games, or if you like horror games but are tired of jump scares.