Dread X Collection 5 Review

June 14, 2022
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I’m surprised I haven’t come across the Dread X Collection before. I love a decent horror film and the interactivity of games means that the horror genre is prime territory for scaring the bejesus out of you. However, I‘ve found that truly scary games are surprisingly hard to come by. The Resident Evil series moved from horror to psychological torture porn some years ago and for all of its efforts, I never really found Amnesia frightening. Still, this anthology promised an array of different horror experiences so I figured the chances of finding something decent among them would be high. 

Kicking things off, Hunsvotti is set in a Finnish festival where you — as the unlovable eponymous protagonist (don’t google the translation if you’re easily offended) — have to find seven flowers while other partygoers throw cowpats at you or stalk you through the fields. Succeed, and you’ll have the chance for vengeance. For a low-res game it manages a couple of decent jump scares primarily via some creepy audio. 

If art is your thing, Galerie brings together some of the world’s most famous paintings into a nightmarish museum filled with stalking sculptures and narrated by a moistly whispering audioguide. It also has a series of quick time events of varying difficulty depending on the level you choose in the options menu. However, I never managed to complete it as the game refused to load fully after a specific point, leaving me in darkness. It’s a shame; Galerie has a lot of style but a visit here warrants a one-star TripAdvisor rating.  

Huntsvotti is crudely disturbing

Book of Blood drops you into a fairground with a knock-off Necronomicon and some seriously dodgy electrics. You need to decipher symbols within the book while avoiding stabby Fawkes mask-wearing psychopaths. Each correct discovery knocks out power which is restored by a different breaker in the park, then it’s a rinse and repeat scenario until all the symbols in the book are found. After some efficient initial shocks, the horror soon dissipates when you realise your reaction time in stopping a meter with your mouse negates any danger from the enemies. The real problem is the lighting. You’re given key torches which last a ludicrously short amount of time, and when they run out navigating around the park is near impossible. A potentially scary game which turns into a frustrating mess.

Karao fares better. Despite a pixel-heavy aesthetic that makes Doom II look cutting edge, its basic FPS controls and simple puzzles prove effective when a creepy soundtrack is layered over the top. Set in a bar — at least initially, until you discover its grim underbelly — this is more of a psychological horror game, but one that feels like a complete (and satisfying) mini package.

Perhaps Phil shouldn't have had that third can of Red Bull

For Dead Space over-the-shoulder vibes, Rotten Stigma has you covered. Ex-cop Neal goes poking around an old sports centre in search of his missing daughter, armed only with a gun and a flashlight. Sure, the monsters he encounters are the same model reskinned in three different ways. And sure, the puzzles aren’t going to tax you at all. But there’s something kookily alluring about the stripped back environments. It won’t scare you and the plot doesn’t really go anywhere new, but it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Spirit Guardian starts out with good intentions: daycare centres (and children in general) are always creepy. Sadly, it falls victim to a hilariously unscary Nanny antagonist who looks like she was drawn by Viz magazine. Some reasonably clever puzzles are undone by a familiar problem with this anthology: torch batteries. It’s hard to be scared by something when you can’t see a damn thing. 

We Never Left combines an 80s text adventure with a spooky walking sim

One of the highlights of the pack is We Never Left, an unsettling combination of walking simulator and text adventure. The scares would have packed an even bigger punch if I hadn’t played something incredibly similar as part of the excellent Stories Untold. Its biggest flaw, for a child of the text adventure era, is the parser. Anyone that has played Infocom or Level 9 games in the 80s and early 90s will understand the need for clear descriptions to help navigate — and here the game drops the ball somewhat, which will leave younger players nonplussed. Even so, this is a first-rate addition with its own twist on meta-horror, and really pulls up the overall quality of the collection. 

Vestige on the other hand is just… awful. It’s another “game within a game” horror, except the  metagame here is a shit 3D collect-em-up where you play a skeleton mail courier (no, really). The controls are janky both in the outside world and on the bike, the story makes no sense and the scares never manifest.

Resver is one of the best-looking entries

Things take a trippy turn with Resver, where a visit to a nightclub turns into a Lovecraftian nightmare. This one is very style-heavy; the monochrome aesthetic and font echoing the vibe of Sin City before you’re taken into a dizzying hellscape of plunging bodies and impaling tentacles. It’s a shame that the game is so buggy — I got stuck in the bath at the very beginning, and the frame rate simply cannot handle the chaos on screen — but there are elements of fresh horror here that will keep you thinking, and there’s not a torch battery in sight.

By far the scariest game in the collection is Ludomalica, a board game where you have to follow three rules: be alone in the house, turn off all the lights, and shut the door. From this simple premise the game ramps up tension with some excellent sound design and a number of decent jump scares. The repetition of the gameplay means it would have benefitted from being ten minutes shorter, but I can’t fault the concept. Simple, yet terrifying.

If Ludomalica had been shorter, it would have been an incredible horror

Gore fans will enjoy Beyond The Curtain which blends two staples of horror: a gloomy old theatre and terrifying puppets. Nerves will be truly jangled as you walk (not run… until you need to) through a series of hazy backstage sets. There’s not much else you can do, but the payoff is lovely even if navigating the gloom is taxing at times. Headphones are recommended. 

The final game in the pack, Interim, is a complete mess. You start off in a TV studio taking orders from a poor actor who instructs you to clean up. Then you’re left to try and work out the control system (not labelled anywhere), where to go (unclear) and what to do (is it necessary to put an oversized eyeball in a trash can? Do I need to dodge silhouette cars?). The physics engine is woeful, the unskippable cutscenes pad out the short running length unbearably, and the whole experience is horrifying — but probably not in the way that the creators intended. This one’s a total dud.

Puppets: never not scary

Overall, Dread X Collection 5 is a mixed bag and understandably so given the nature of the indie market. There are three reasonably good horror games, a handful of middling titles and a couple of real clunkers. Horror fans might get a few thrills out of the highlights, but there’s not much else to recommend to anyone else aside from an intriguing look at how indie developers construct narratives in wildly varying ways. 

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A few good scares and some excellent psychological horror aren’t enough to fully raise this anthology from the dead. 
Rob Kershaw

I've been gaming since the days of the Amstrad. Huge RPG fan. Planescape: Torment tops my list, but if a game tells a good story, I'm interested. Absolutely not a fanboy of any specific console or PC - the proof is in the gaming pudding. Also, I like cake.