Distraint: Pocket Pixel Horror

   DISTRAINT: Pocket Pixel Horror- screenshot

Distraint is a pixel 2D sidescrolling horror game by Jesse Makkonen. It’s quite an achievement of a game to have been made in just 3 months, and it’s also rather trippy in parts – which in this case works in its favor.

Before I get on to the actual review, I should specify: I played Distraint on mobile, but I know it’s also available on Steam. Not having the steam version, I’m not sure if there are any big differences between the two except for the free android version having ads. The ads were unobtrusive enough, but they were unskippable little videos, so they were a bit annoying in that sense. I only encountered them when reloading the game, though, so it wasn’t a big issue.

If there are any other differences, well, just keep in mind I’ll be reviewing the android version.

With that out of the way, let’s start: Distraint is a pretty minimalist looking horror game. The interface is kept nice and simple on the android version. Two arrows and three comfortable buttons (one for action, one for inventory and one for the menu) are located at the bottom. Since it’s a side-scroller, that was a very comfortable way of handling moving about the map.

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I first went into it. The visual of the game, to me personally, was both appealing and unappealing; I wasn’t overly fond of the sprite design, however, their quirky looks gave a new level of creepiness to the story that I didn’t expect. The backgrounds and settings, were beautifully done and most eerie to travel through, making the experience a pleasure.

The story revolves around Price, who guided by greed, seizes various properties from some people in order to gain partnership on the company he works for, a company led already by three very creepy, very shady guys. Along the way guilt and remorse eat away at him and he begins tripping all throughout. Or so it would seem. The game has very weird, very out of the blue moments, but unlike other horror games of the type I’ve reviewed, in this one it actually works in its favor. The very few jump scares (more like startle-scares) were mostly predictable, but not obnoxiously in your face, and also lend themselves to an eerier gameplay rather than just being there for a cheap scare.

Cover art

Which leads me to the sound, as some of these scares were things like a ringing phone. The sound, music and ambiance wise, was wonderful. The creepy music played throughout was perfect for the game, for the weirdness of it, there were, however, a few sounds that looped annoyingly or that were too loud for my taste compared to others.

But looks, story and sound all formed the perfect little creepy vibe to keep you on your toes the entire time, while still touching on your emotions, and truly making you care for at least the main character and the first two people he evicted. The third one… not so much. Even the very few “timed” events that were around were perfectly easy to complete without ripping your hair out… which leads me to the puzzles. The puzzles were simple but fantastic – perfect for a casual player, but perhaps it won’t cut it in that aspect for people who want a bit more difficulty. There is, however, a decent amount of backtracking and the damn character will not run. That is usually one of my major complaints on horror games that involve puzzles that send you backtracking through maps and maps: a lack of the ability to RUN.

You make me sad, developers. You make me sad.

Other than that, the game is fantastic. A true horror game indeed, which relies not only on the cheap scares but on some actual psychological aspects and on a great ambient. The ending is heart-touching, and I completely loved my play-through of it.

Definitely recommended if you’re into horror!

4.5/5

Hide and Seek: Story of Dorothy

   HideAndSeek[Story of Dorothy]- screenshot

Hide and Seek: Story of Dorothy by TabomSoft is a little horror puzzle/RPG for android. Except for the obvious backtracking required in it (like in most puzzle games, really), the game is fairly short (10 to 15 minutes per floor if you know what to do, with 5 floors and then some extra backtracking), which is not bad considering that it’s currently free (if you play it with ads).

You play Dorothy, a little girl who fell asleep in the closet while playing Hide and Seek, and now seems to have forgotten why she was there to begin with. A weird premise to be sure, but it’s a quick horror game for mobile, so I decided I’d try not to be as judge-y of it.

I, of course, promptly failed.

Despite its two endings, a lot of things don’t make sense in the story to me. Yeah, yeah, I hear those of you who liked it: “You like to be spoon fed the story.” Nope, I like stories to be clear. I guess you can interpret things a couple ways, if you’re into that; to me most of those ‘open’ stories (if it’s what it was intended to be) seem more like just writer laziness.

All the same, the story is not bad in the terms of horror games, even if it does get a bit challenged by the poor translation at certain parts throughout it.

But let’s forget about the story for now, we’re here to be scared, right?

The game has that pixel-RPG vibe of RPG Maker games. I’m not familiar enough with the horror assets of it, but I did quite like the art, sprites and the tiles used throughout. Dorothy was pretty adorable. Ambiance wise, the game took you from normal to eerie to black and white badness as you progress through the floors, and it did gave it all a bit of a gloomy, eerie feeling, so thumbs up for that.

Moving through the game is easy-peasy; you have the four movement buttons to the left and two buttons to the right (action and inventory). You interact with objects by walking up to them and pressing action, making text choices, and using items from your inventory.

The puzzles weren’t horribly difficult, but again, one or two included reading and you needed to do some slight extra job figuring out what the translation had meant. It wasn’t the worst translated game I’ve encountered, however, so it was still mostly understandable. There are more than a few timed scenes (chase scenes) which, if you know me and timed events, you will know I didn’t like them at all. Not only were they cheap tricks to get your heart pumping without using actual horror, but the monsters looked ridiculous.

   HideAndSeek[Story of Dorothy]- screenshot

The game has a gimmicky mobile item: hearts, which you lose every time you die, and you unfortunately lose hearts often because it has even some traps throughout. You replentish times every so many minutes of gameplay though, so no big deal. There are also clocks, I assume they grant you more time during chase scenes, but I didn’t try them, so I wouldn’t know.

You save on grandfather clocks which are placed rather generously through the game, a much appreciated feature considering it’s, as I mentioned, scattered with traps. I couldn’t decide if I liked these or not. They were quite interesting, though frustrating, and once you knew they existed they were rather easy to spot if you were paying attention. But the first couple felt like just cheap tricks to piss you off, so I was a bit torn.

There are various characters through the game, however, except for three of them (and then “mom” and “dad”) they didn’t bother to name any, and they are all called A, B and C. It was kind of a lazy move.

There were some problems with it though, with the save games disappearing, so save often and in more than one spot, just in case.

As for the ads, they were rather bothersome. I had some at the top which I was able to easily ignore after some playing, but the ones popping up when you lose or try to hit to go back are just cumbersome, so watch out for them.

All in all, I rather liked the game for the looks of it, but the unclear story and the gimmicky chases and silly monsters knocked a few stars out of it for me.

Is it scary? Meh. Skulls are scary… right? No?

Would I recommend it? I think you’d have fun if you’re into quick horror games, but if you like a horror game with substance, look elsewhere.

2.5/5

SIM – Sara is Missing

   SIM - Sara Is Missing- screenshot

Sara is Missing (SIM) is a horror sim game for android (which can also be played in PC and Mac). I have to give the developers kudos for their originality: the entirety of the game is played through a phone interface, making you able to get a bit more into the story. Advisable to play it at night, of course, to be fully into it. Sadly it happened to be daytime when I played it, so it wasn’t –quite- as horrific and immersive.

The premise of the story is simple: You’ve found Sara’s phone, and the AI in it requests you help find and return the phone to her. To achieve this you must go through her phone – photos, emails, texts, videos, etc – and make various choices along the way, as well as interact with people she knows (and those she doesn’t, too).

The game’s graphical interface is pretty good: the graphics are well designed and truly make you feel like you’re in a phone OS, the use of your own phone back button makes it easier for you to feel like you’re really on her phone and not yours, the videos and images and sounds are pretty spot on and make it seem like a phone from a real person as well. What I’m not so happy about is the AI, though I suppose you need someone guiding you through.

At set times through the game you will be allowed to interact with people. Sometimes ‘real’ people, sometimes just the AI, and you can choose from 2-4 choices throughout. Unfortunately, as with most choice type games, I found the choices way too limiting. Sometimes your choices would just be three different ways to ask what was going on, instead of saying something different, and that’s not really much of a choice unless you’re also adding a personality engine to your game.

These limited options were just there to guide you in the one single direction, and the only real divergence was whether you accepted something or not (and sometimes not accepting wasn’t a choice if you expected to continue with the game), and the fates of a few and ending you got from a few poor choices.

There was another part I didn’t much enjoy, I don’t want to spoil much, but you are asked to make a choice between two people (it’s a fairly typical horror after all), however, because at first it phrases it one way, and then rather than offer you the actual option it goes on babbling and phrases it another way, if you fail to read through the inane babbling after when you just want to make the darn choice already, you might end up making the wrong choice. As I did. Which just pissed me off.

SIM is original and immersive in the technical aspects, but the story was rather lame. I could not really find the curiosity or desire to help find Sara with the limited content (or just because some AI asked me to, instead of maybe say… her mother texting me, or friend, or someone actually invested in her well-being), and I certainly didn’t care to pick for many of the choices that came after since I hardly got to interact with any of the people she knew, so I had no attachment to their well-being. Which in turn made the whole game a bit pointless since you’re probably supposed to want to find and help people…

The inability to interact with whomever I wanted whenever I wanted was kind of annoying too, having to wait for prompts to interact with others was boring, and this is why I end up giving this one such a low rating despite its originality.

2.5/5

Merendam: Escape from Seram Isle Review

 Merendam horror adventure room- screenshot

Developer Erocona brings us Merendam: Escape from Seram Isle, a small horror game that from the looks vaguely reminded me of Fatal Frame, which is one of my favorite games ever. So of course I had to give it a try. This game is available for android (which is the version I’m reviewing) and PC (the PC version is free). It’s also been on steam Greenlight since forever, so if you happen to like it, help the developer out and give it a vote.

You take the role of a young girl who appears to be asleep as she is being driven… somewhere by a not creepy at all old man who is saying some not totally creepy stuff along the way. Thankfully for you, some evil spirit attacks your car and you end up stranded in the middle of some old abandoned place, because it wouldn’t be a horror game otherwise. Well, if you can call abandoned a place fully inhabited by evil spirits that will attack you at random times. I still think she dodged a bullet there.

The game has 3 modes: hard, normal and no ghosts. Obviously, the latter has no ghosts popping up and lets you focus on the wonderful puzzles. Let’s talk about them for a bit, because they’re a big part of the gameplay.

Like all horror games you’re to find your way out of that place and back to civilization intact, and you do so by completing (i)logical puzzles with plenty of backtracking, because backtracking is fun! All the puzzles seem to be randomized, which means that while you might have found out how to do things or where codes and keys are, you won’t use the same code twice in different playthroughs. The puzzles were rather illogical to me (a bit of a hit and miss in logic, really, and you’re never explained why you need something or the other, even if you know it’s for the end goal), and there was no clear way of knowing when you would need an item for a puzzle and when you could safely drop it. Why is this an issue? Well…

You can only hold 2 items at any given time. No more than that. You want a third item? You have to drop it and pick the other item up (which requires a few more steps), because there is no swapping them either. Which means that if you carry with you the wrong items you are in for a world of backtracking (you probably are anyway). Thankfully there are only two main parts to the map each with their respective sub-sections, but you’ll know them quite well by the end of the game.

 Merendam horror adventure room- screenshot

Other than those weird puzzles, the game isn’t too hard. The ghosts will truly pop up anywhere and at any time, but they are easy-peasy to defeat in normal mode. You have two ways to fight them in mobile: two buttons will appear on the screen and you will have to smash them not to be cursed, or, some blue and red arrows will appear on the screen and you will have to swipe the finger of the correct side of the screen in the direction of the arrow (blue is for the left hand, red for the right). This latter one is a bit trickier until you get a hold on what you are supposed to do, but then it’s not too difficult. There seems to be no penalty for making the wrong move anyway (at least in normal mode) and you have plenty of time to correct your mistake if you don’t panic.

The ghosts jump up at you for cheap thrills and jump scares, and after the first few you just get used to them and don’t even jump anymore. I don’t much like when horror games go by jump scares alone, but this one gets a pass because the entirety of the game is pretty eerie on its own without the ghosts anyway. The closer you get to the end the more often ghosts seem to appear, but that might have just been me.

There are two savepoints located at each main section of the maps, they’re useful, but the menu they pop up is a bit full.

Story-wise there’s unfortunately nothing to say. The girl has to get out of there, there’s nothing new to it. Nothing else seems to happen, stuff isn’t explained. The ending was… a little puzzling.

It’s a short game, it clocks in at under an hour if you know what to do, but might take longer if you have to do a lot of backtracking.

So, let’s get a bit more technical here.

The interface isn’t exactly minimalist, there are plenty of buttons and things going on and changing colors and symbols at the same time. It’s a bit bothersome, but at the same time I liked it, even if it was a bit too bothersome to have it displayed all the time. For performing most actions you have to hold your touch, and although I found this a tad bothersome at first, I grew to really like it because in most actions it makes a slow, creepy camera pan as you do (although it was pointless to have this when picking things up). When this lines up with a ghost jumping out at you for a scare, you’re in for a bit of a heart-pounding fright.

Although the graphics are 3D, it really is a side-scroller game, barely 2.5D. The character designs are far too anime-cutesy, which is not in itself bad; it doesn’t lend itself much to horror, but it fit strangely well in a cutes-y horror kind of way. The animations were very nice, not the smoothest I’ve seen, but pretty darn good compared to the average “cheap”, and the settings and atmosphere, with their darkness and perpetual rain, were gloomy and scary enough that it did put you on the edge of your seat for most of it.

The sound effects were on point, but the music nonexistent, which I barely noticed at all anyway, mostly because I usually mute it anyway in most games.

The English translation is not the best, but it’s quite passable compared to others I’ve reviewed lately.

I honestly think this game is full of potential and a fun little play, but it’s short and has a few shortcomings in terms of story and puzzles, which bumps down the rating quite a bit for me. Still worth a try, though!

3.5/5

Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly

Welcome to PS2 Review Week! Each day of this week I’ll be reviewing an old PS2 game I love and still play, focusing on the slightly lesser known or lesser played games and franchises (so no, even though I loved Final Fantasy, you won’t find reviews of it here).

For day 2 we have Fatal Frame 2 (also known as Zero ~Crimson Butterfly~)!

Following into the steps of Fatal Frame, this second installment of the series also focuses on a story of siblings. This time it’s twin sisters Mio and Mayu. Mayu sees and follows a crimson butterfly deep into the forest. Worried, Mio follows after, but loses sight of her sister when they reach a lost, abandoned village. As you can imagine, the village is cursed and in it dwell plenty a ghost, again created by dark rituals once performed there, this time (surprise, surprise) involving twins.

While searching for her sister, Mio comes across the Camera Obscura, which will be her only weapon against the ghastly apparitions…

During the game you mostly follow Mio, though there are a few scenes where you play Mayu.

Much improved upon the first installment, not only are the controls and the twin’s pace much better, but the saving points seem closer in between as well. There are some puzzles, and the camera has been improved upon plenty, making it easier to handle and better and faster to work with.

Like before, the game has a few difficulty settings and with each comes a different ending, adding variety and making you want to replay it with a harder challenge. And of course, there are costume unlockables, camera upgrades, and story bits to find throughout it all, as well as ghost pictures to collect in a beautiful album… that sadly just about takes up the entirety of your card’s memory… so you better have a large one prepared for it!

Much like the first installment of the series, all the sounds, voices, effects and music are perfect to get you into the mood of the frightening, eerie village. While Fatal Frame 1’s events happened only within the one mansion, here you have an entire village to explore and get lost in, which can sometimes prove fatal… The ghosts are once again frightening, even a bit more so than the ones on the previous game, and the typical Japanese village’s run-down, eerie looks and story are done superbly, transporting you into this world once more with a little too much ease.

I highly recommend everyone plays Fatal Frame at least once in their lives, and out of the first 3 installments, Crimson Butterfly is definitely my favorite.

 

5/5

Fatal Frame (Project Zero)

Welcome to PS2 Review Week! Each day of this week I’ll be reviewing an old PS2 game I love and still play, focusing on the slightly lesser known or lesser played games and franchises (so no, even though I loved Final Fantasy, you won’t find reviews of it here).

For day one we have Fatal Frame!

“Fatal Frame, also known as Project Zero in some countries, is one of the best, most innovative (for the time) survival horror games”

Turned into a Franchise so far 5 titles long, this series by Tecmo was one of the first I played on the PS2, and one of my favorites too.

“Set in 1980’s Japan, the story follows Miku and Mafuyu Hinakasi and she journeys into one of the best horror stories to grace the PS2”

Armed with a mysterious camera that has the power to expose the supernatural, Mafuyu goes investigate a haunted mansion where many a grossly murder has been committed with the hopes of finding out more about it – and perhaps even finding a renown lost folklorist in the process – shortly after disappearing himself. This prompts his sister Miku to go in search of him. Within the mansion Miku finds his brother’s camera and, armed with it, sets off in search of him, in the process unveiling dark rituals and fighting the spirits it has created.

“The original gameplay mode was centered around the camera itself, the only weapon you have against the ghostly encounters (your only other option being running from them)”

Taking pictures of ghosts with this camera saps their energy and eventually kills them. The more accurate the picture, and the more upgrades you make to the film and camera, the faster you dispose of them. Not all ghostly encounters are a fight, many are simply part of the story, showing you more of what went on, and, if you manage to snap a picture of them in time, become collectibles.

“Like any good horror from Japan, it focuses a little bit less into jump scares (though there are some, of course) and more into the eerie atmosphere and story – a very dark story that is very, very interesting, and apparently based in a couple urban legends from Japan”

There are ancient rituals and powers at play here, trapping the spirits in the realm and lurking at every corner as you explore deeper and deeper into the mansion.

“Everything in Fatal Frame, from the music, the sounds, to the dark visual of the rundown, ancient Japanese mansion, help immerse you into the world of Fatal Frame”

The ghosts are frightening without resorting to making them look like monsters, and it certainly manages to keep you on the edge of your seat wondering if the next apparition you’ll come across will be just an echo, or one that might hurt you. This is definitely a game best played in the dark and with headphones on to get the complete feel of it.

Of course, the game has plenty of unlockables: mostly costumes, a few camera functions, and an extra “battle” mode in which you forego the story to instead simply fight certain ghosts in order to earn points to unlock things. In addition, if you end the game in the “Nightmare” difficulty, you get a different ending.

Seeing as it was the first in the franchise, the controls leave a little to be desired though, such as Miku’s slow, slow pace. The only thing I really disliked however was the lack of a free save, having to resort to save points instead, sometimes a bit far in between, or making you backtrack since you had no idea when the next one would be.

All in all, though, the game is definitely worth a play if you’re into survival horror. It’s different, it’s scary, it’s creepy, and it’s wonderful!

 

Space Incident

Space Incident is a very, very short adventure/management game with various possible endings. Free on Kongregate, but paid on Steam, this little game by Vogd3 has a lot of potential packed in a rather disappointing package.

I read the introduction and it sounded promising: You play as the AI of a ship stranded from Mars to Earth and have to help the crew figure why you’ve suddenly stopped and get back on track to return to earth with hopefully no casualties. I was expecting something pretty big, so I was a bit disappointing in finding that playing through it once takes less than an hour in whole. In fact, once you’ve played through it once and read the options, any consecutive plays to unlock the various endings end up being pointless and taking less than ten minutes. I wasn’t motivated enough to run it more than twice.

Now, the art of the game has that typical retro pixel style. I have a love-hate relationship with pixel games: I know how hard it is to do pixel art and how much time it takes, yet at the same time it seems people do it less out of a “retro” look and more out of a simple “too lazy or poor to hire a proper designer” reasoning. The pixel art works quite well for this little game, though, and I’m really fond of the detailed ship backgrounds, but I’m not into the way the characters look, at all.

The music is pretty basic, sort of background sound effects, and though it’s not bad, after a while I just muted it because it annoyed me. The menu, btw, is pretty simple, having only a few options, and at the end you’re shown all possible endings, which include various combinations of who survives and what happens to the ship.

Interaction with the characters isn’t of your own choice. The characters, each which have various levels of needs such as hunger, psychological state, tiredness, etc, must want to talk to you in order for you to interact, and are otherwise autonomous, making their needs almost pointless unless you send someone who is starving into space and they have no time to come back. The only need that truly comes into play is when they start panicking, because if you don’t deal with it the right way they go into a temporary full-panic suicidal mode… but it’s not like you can actually do anything about that after you’ve botched calming them down, so…

The options offered in dialogue are poor and pretty obvious on which way they will lead you with the person- if it’ll help or not. The characters themselves all kind of blend in with eachother, at least two out of the three do (and the third is just annoying), and the story in a whole is, although not entirely bad, also not at all imaginative. In fact, it kind of leaves the only interesting thing (the reason behind why they were stuck in the first place) without a proper answer.

And finally, the english text… ah… it seems alright for parts of it, but suddenly the punctuation will be off by a bit, or the translation in whole, grammar and spelling alike, were outright bad.

At the price tag of a whooping $7 (on sale at the time of writing this), there is no way I could recommend it as worth it. But as a free casual game it’s actually not all that bad.

2.5/5

Fatal Frame III: The Tormented

I’ve talked before about Fatal Frame I and Fatal Frame II. The third installment on the franchise, Fatal Frame III barely makes the cut of my favorite PS2 horror games.

The story follows Rei Kurosawa, a photographer who has recently lost her fiancé in a car accident. During one of her jobs she believes she sees her dead lover, and afterwards she begins having nightmares of an old Japanese manor, and a mysterious tattooed ghost woman.

In the style of the previous two, the entire gameplay is based on you taking pictures of the ghosts in order to defeat them. The whole old Japanese setting is still as eerie as ever and serves to give you goosbumps all through the game, as does the modern one, for that matter.  As you advance in the story both Miku and Mio (from Fatal Frames 1 and 2) make appearances – a very nice way to tie up all the stories.

So what is different from the first two?

Well, not much, if I’m honest. The camera controls are fairly similar to Fatal Frame 2, not having any notable improvement, unlike the changes made from 1 to 2 which greatly improved gameplay.

The most notable difference then is on the split timing of wake/dream. Unlike the other two, you’re not physically going into the house and getting lost, but dreaming about it. During the times Rei is awake and at her own home it’s spooky and has creepy sounds and happenings, but can be considered the “safe” time, while the times she dreams about being in the manor are most certainly not safe.  Later in the story the lines of reality and dream get blurred, but the idea of having a safe time to explore and investigate was something I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, you never see much outside Rei’s home so it felt kind of boring in the end, and didn’t give as much freedom as it seemed to offer. For that matter, you never see much outside the (admittedly very large) manor, except for what’s considered it’s underground and surrounding areas. I do wish there had been plenty more to investigate during the time Rei is awake, and more proactive actions to take.

Another change to the game play was the addition of a gimmick; namely, candles. On the one hand, the idea was nice. On the other, I thoroughly hated it because it added a sense of rush that was not necessary on a game that to me should be slow, spooky exploration (as the first two were). This gimmick only comes into play after a certain point in the game, however, and it involves finding certain candles to prevent quite dangerous ghosts to appear around you at every turn. Should the candle run out these ghosts will appear to make your life impossible, until you find the next candle… or die in the process.

There are two endings to the game, which as usual is nice to have. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

All things considered Fatal Frame III is a beautiful third installment to the series, but I would highly recommend the second one over it.

4/5

DreadOut

This review was originally written for WalaWala Games.
A free copy of the game has been provided in exchange for an honest review.

Title DreadOut
Platform: PC
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.

 

Overall Rating: 8 /10

Survivalist

 

Data
Break Up
Game: Survivalist
Genre: Action, Adventure, Indie, RPG, Simulation,Strategy
Developer: Bob the Game Development Bot
Publisher: Ginormocorp Holdings Ltd
Release Date: Jan 30, 2015
Platform: PC / Windows 7
Overall rating:  5/10
Graphics: 6/10
Controls: 2/10
Level/Puzzle Design: 7/10
Sound: 7/10
Story: 5/10
Replay Value: 6/10
Community: N/A

 

Review

First of all I want to say… this game was just not for me, and so to people who know my likes well and have similar tastes, I would not recommend it. However, I can appreciate that although it may not be for me, it is actually a fairly good game and people who don’t have the same miffs with it that I do might really enjoy it (and actually have).

That said, let’s get on with the review.

Joe Wheeler, a self-centered businessman, leaves the safety of his bunker in search for food just about a year after the zombie apocalypse. The game is actually pretty run-of-the-mill post apocalyptic survival game, you have to scavenge, avoid looters, kill/escape zombies, build your own place in the world and overall just survive.

The graphics are pretty good, not 3D masterpieces but I rather like the look of them; the game runs perfectly on older computers and the sounds and music are pretty alright as well.

The Good:

The game has lots of potential, and for being a one-man job, it’s really an amazing accomplishment on the developer’s part.

The world seems to be quite large, the quests, although rather typical, are alright; the quest givers do remember your actions and any misstep will have consequences. You can go to war with factions, recruit people to your side, etc. You can use diplomacy, buy, sell, trade…

The characters do seem to have some form of distinct personalities, and they are flawed in them. I really loved the touch of one of them having diabetes, it brought realism to the story. That there is a limited supply of insulin you must find/trade for also made it more realistic. But it also has the downside of making you feel truly rushed…

You can split your party and give everyone commands. You can build things and plant crops.

It has a fatigue system so you can’t just run forever, and I rather like that they added a needed sleep schedule to the hunger/thirst part of surviving.

People can actually leave your party/settlement/faction when they don’t like you anymore.

You can save at any time during the game, something that always wins my heart.

The Bad:

The default controls are super uncomfortable to me. Having to click F1 for the inventory is a stretch, using the middle button (mouse wheel button) to skip text is super uncomfortable. Entering a building is done through clicking with the mouse, but so is talking, and the menu for talking pops up as soon as someone is next to you, so sometimes the characters would stand right next to me when I was trying to enter a building which ended up in me talking to them when I didn’t want to.
Overall it was a pain to do half the things I had to do.

The characters who didn’t have a high shooting skill couldn’t shoot straight worth a damn. I get it this was probably going for realism, even Joe outright admits that he’s a bad shot. But there’s a bad shot, and there’s I-can’t-hit-a-target-even-when-it’s-on-me. The zombies were just way too fast and the aiming did not work quite as well when you had to be moving around all the time to avoid them jumping you from far too far. I found 0 melee weapons on the time I played (I honestly don’t know if there’s any), which admittedly wasn’t much. It was disturbing. I’d expect you’d find a baseball bat to smash a zombie’s head with before you’d find a gun…Then again I suppose since it’s a year later most people would be carrying guns… all the same, a backup melee weapon would have been nice to find.

The game’s inventory is handled by a weight system, which is alright. However, it feels like you can’t really accomplish anything because everything you find to carry weighs too much and you end up having to make some very tough choices. This could be fine if you like a hard challenge, I’d rather get a bit more time to enjoy the game while surviving…

Resource hunting is mind numbingly boring. Just getting the things to start building a fence took forever. Even with a backpack, because of the weight issue, the character can only bring one or two pieces of wood at a time. While realistic, this was also terribly frustrating – It takes longer to bring a piece of wood back to the shelter than it takes my characters to start getting hungry and sleepy and thirsty.

The need for food/sleep/water/insulin seems too pressing. Again, good if you’re playing say, hard mode, but it doesn’t let you (or at least, wasn’t letting me) enjoy the game. I wasn’t even done figuring out a quest, and already they were starving. (Ok, not starving-starving, but already quite hungry).

The AI seemed clunky when you left your guys alone. I left one doing the supply runs for wood so I could start building up something, he was attacked and bitten because I wasn’t there to press space when he got jumped. Had to restart because I was unable to get the needed antigen and I was fairly sure I couldn’t lose my only builder so far.

All in all, while I loved the general premise and style of Survivalist, I couldn’t bring myself to fully enjoy the game as I felt rushed to get through it, and annoyed with the controls; yet I can see lots of potential in it. I was pretty split on recommending this game or not. In the end I’m going with a tentative “no” because tome the cons are a bit more annoying than the pros. Still, I can admit it’s not a bad game.

So, if you like a challenge in your survival games, then I would definitely recommend Survivalist to you. For the price it can be a great game. If you were expecting something a little more relaxed, I wouldn’t recommend it.

There is word that there might be a multiplayer mode added, and I’m looking forward to see if it makes it any easier on the players by teaming up.