Dreadout, an indie horror game by Digital Happiness, revolves around a girl named Linda and a small group of students, apparently on the way back from a field trip of some kind, who end up getting lost and stumbling across a ghost town. The majority of the game and the scares within it take place once Linda, the rest of the students, and the teacher accompanying them enter an abandoned school. It is here that Linda becomes separated from everyone else, and with your help must figure out how to escape. It is also here that anything particularly compelling in terms of gameplay, setting, or tone flies out the window.
Before things get rough, you get the opening of Dreadout, which is great for two major reasons. Firstly, it almost instantly sets a creepy tone, just from the game’s music and the desolate appearance of the ghost town. Looking back, I wish the entire game had you exploring this open setting, which proved to be much more diverse than the much smaller indoor setting that makes up most of the game.
Secondly, this is the only part of the game that has any dialogue or interplay between more than one character. It seems as though the game was setting up for something much more grand in terms of plot, with seeds laid for some type of payoff tied specifically to main character Linda’s back story. When this turns out not to be the case at all, it retroactively makes what follows even more disappointing. It just seems odd that the game would go to the trouble of introducing me to five additional characters, just for them to completely disappear fifteen minutes into the game.
Once you end up locked in the school, the music ramps up the creepiness and you must depend on the flashlight on your phone to see pretty much anything. In the first moments, as you find yourself alone, with no indicator of what to do, the game really does effectively set a scary mood. But, that effect quickly dissipates. Soon you encounter your first ghost- the archetypal horror antagonist featured in Dreadout– and it is incredibly underwhelming in terms of its movement, ability to harm you, and rather unimposing appearance. I won’t go into too much detail here as not to spoil what you’re in for if you decide to play, but I found the overall design of all the ghosts in Dreadout to be rather disappointing.
Games such as Slender have certainly proven that the actual looks of monsters in games don’t have to be all that intricate for the game to be scary. Dreadout doesn’t depend on jump scares much at all, so the actual presence and visual appearance of these ghosts is one of the main forces behind whether or not the game can truly scare you. Sound design is tantamount in horror games, but it can only go so far when what you finally face isn’t worth what the sound design has hyped up. The fact that these ghosts aren’t very imposing is made worse by the fact that there simply aren’t many ghosts to encounter in the game. You will run into roughly five or six ghosts over the course of the entire playthrough, which itself will take you three, four hours at most. These ghosts don’t randomly generate, by the way. They are always in the same place or pattern, ready to be dispatched by you and your trusty camera phone, or otherwise avoided.