Scaring myself silly with the Dreadout demo
C. Custer | On October 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm
Halloween is almost upon us, and traditionally this is the time of year that I dive headfirst into the latest and creepiest horror games and movies, and then abruptly wish I hadn’t. This year I thought I’d start with Dreadout, the Indonesian indie horror game that has got fans of video-game horror drooling and waiting for its release. We wrote about Dreadout last spring, and the game has had a demo out for a while now, but I decided there’s no better time than now to dive into Dreadout and see if its demo really delivers the scares.
To ensure the best possible atmosphere for scaring the crap out of myself, I played the game alone, with all the lights off, and with ear-covering headphones on to maximize the immersion. Within a few minutes, I was regretting it.
The demo drops you into a building somewhere (Indonesia, presumably) as a young woman you control in the third person. It makes no attempt to explain what’s going on, instead quickly guiding you to a mobile phone and teaching you (via a quick scare) that some things can only be seen through the lens. Then you’re on your own, left to wander through an indoor complex and eventually a flooded graveyard, alone and scared and not entirely sure what’s going on.
The biggest scare for me came early in the game, when I spotted a ghost who appeared to be stationary in a place I couldn’t get to. Figuring she was just set dressing, I ignored her and went on my way. Bad decision. A minute later, creeping down a narrow corridor, I got the feeling that something was behind me. I turned around and lifted the camera and immediately the twisted visage of a very angry ghost filled my screen. I screamed, and died.
My mistake, as it turns out, was not keeping a closer eye on her and photographing her. Dreadout follows the Fatal Frame theory of ghosts, apparently, wherein they can be eliminated if you take enough good photos of them. Once I realized this, the game got a little less scary because I didn’t feel quite so defenseless, but it was still very eerie and I remained on edge throughout what turned out to be a pretty short demo.
Dreadout steers you by vignetting the screen; red when there’s a ghost around, blue when there’s a clue. I found a few of the puzzles to be a little unintuitive, and I think they may need to make things a bit more obvious for a mainstream audience, but I found my way through in the end.
It must be said that the game’s visuals are very muddy, especially when the lights are out (which they are for most of the demo). Dreadout is an indie game, after all, and if you’re looking for completely immersive graphics you’re going to be disappointed, but for me the visuals were fine. Certainly, the ghosts were rendered well enough to be damn creepy, and that’s what matters in a game like this.
The sound, on the other hand, is excellent. The folks at Digital Happiness, the studio behind Dreadout, have clearly (and rightly) figured out that evocative sound is even more important than scary visuals in a game like this, and every second of the demo’s soundtrack will have your skin crawling. Everything from what sounds like bamboo wind chimes to maniacal laughter are used unnerve you, and the English voice acting is surprisingly good for an unfinished indie game. If all of Dreadout sounds like this, it’ll be worth playing for the sound alone.
There was one thing that knocked me out of my immersion a few times, and that was the main character’s running animation. She runs quite slowly, and her gait suggests a woman who is trying to keep her skirt from getting wrinkled, not someone who has just been scared out of their mind by a twisty-faced ghoul. The game does a good job of making you feel it as she gets scared by ramping up the sound of her heartbeat, but her calm (and relatively slow) run still stands out.
All in all, though, the Dreadout demo was a damn creepy experience that gave me one good scare and some pretty decent fodder for my nightmares this week. For an indie horror demo, that’s about as much as you can ask. If you’re a fan of horror games at all, Dreadout should absolutely be on your radar. Supposedly the game will be out by the end of this year, and I for one can’t wait to get my hands on more of this Indonesian frightfest.