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Game Review: Dread X Collection 5

What unease and fears come from being entertained? Is it the ease of letting something else take control or the thrill of experiencing an unfamiliar sight? Dread XP brings together a collection of games that explores the surreal and scary side of entertainment in the Dread X Collection 5. This edition brings in 12 titles that dive into the creepy and unknown that all share the common theme of being entertained. Whether it’s a puppet show, a festival, an old video game, or a board game, a leisure activity can hide something fearful beneath it.

Outpost 3000: The main hub of the game is basically a sci-fi-themed Chuck E. Cheese (So we guess Pizza Planet then?).  This outer space fun spot has different areas to explore like an arcade, movie theater, and ball pit. In Story Mode, you are there attending your birthday party and have to scour the area looking for presents. Each present allows you to unlock one of the 12 games from the collection, and also reveals more about the building. Playing one of the games for the first time also unlocks a comic page that tells another narrative about the birthday party. In Free Play mode, all the games are unlocked and available to play from the start.

Spirit Guardian –  An abandoned daycare center sits and ways for someone to enter. On a rainy night, a visitor enters the building and discovers supernatural sights. Restless spirits wander the dusky rooms and halls, trying to find some means to their end. Now the visitor travels to find the hidden truth in the daycare than has gone wrong.

There is something eerie about visiting a daycare at night, but the eerie factor gets cranked all the way up when its’ an abandoned one. This title starts off with a nameless visitor that wanders into the daycare and is greeted by a spirit. This spirit asks for help to find their friends who are lost in the building but warns of the vengeful being that stalkers in the dark. The visuals for Spirit Guardian are kind of mixed. Some environmental assets and the player models have a cool cel-shaded look that gives the presentation like a newspaper cartoon. On the other side, the main evil spirit model looks kind of out of place and a little too cartoony. There is a surprising amount of variety in the gameplay that will have the player sneak around corners, play an arcade, and do a balancing act for an egg-and-spoon race.

HUNSVOTTI –  “Finland 1888. The hardworking locals are celebrating the midsummer; Juhannus, a nightless night that is believed to have magical properties. Swept up in the superstitions, you decide to try out a ritual your father told you about: ‘Throw seven flowers into the well, and the reflection at the bottom will show your future love…’ Deemed unlovable by your peers, you start a scavenger hunt for flowers. But be warned, not everyone wants to see you succeed. They would rather brand you as… The Hunsvotti…”

This is a short game with some challenging gameplay as you have to try and collect 7 flowers from the area to complete an ancient tradition. However, everything and everyone wants to kill you. The creep factor is how the world starts all happy and charming, then slowly becomes more demonic and brutal to make you really feel like an outcast.  The gameplay is all about being fast and avoiding the enemies. It takes a few attempts to find where all 7 of the flowers are laid out in the small area, but you only have one attempt to safely collect all 7.  Each flower in the area will trigger more events in the village, adding more enemies to avoid and forcing you to zig-zag around. If you manage to complete the ritual, your reward is a pretty awesome power fantasy where you get to take your psychic revenge on everyone who’s been tormenting you.

Beyond The Curtain – During a puppet show, a young child falls asleep and wakes up alone in an old theater. Finding all the doors sealed, the child ventures backstage and discovers who is truly pulling the strings behind this new act.

The main gameplay of Beyond The Curtain is essentially navigating a maze. However, eventually twisted forms of the puppets begin to come to life and try to stab you to death.  There’s a pretty neat trick to the way the environments are laid and the perspectives that shift where you think you have to go next. Corridors that seem like a dead-end, end up showing you the next path you need to go down.  There’s not much depth to be found to beyond the exploration and avoiding enemies. This one feels limited in the experience with the material and could’ve been expanded to play up on more of the frights.

The Book of Blood – Trevor is a worker at the Pomeroy Grasslands carnival, a thankless job providing fun hours at low prices. He begins his closing duties at his booth and makes his way to lock up the front gate. However, a book was left behind and must be placed in the lost and found. Just as Trevor thought he was alone, a masked figure approaches his booth and starts a game of cat and mouse that Trevor never signed up for.

This game seems at first like it will be a sort of Five Nights at Freddy‘s loop of keeping doors locked and avoiding the scuttling demonic figure. But the key to surviving is solving the cryptic messages in the Book of the Blood. However, the power will go off at times, making the book unreadable in the dark. It’s up to the player to run and restart the various circuit breakers around the carnival and continue researching to book. The titular Book of Blood contains escape room-style ciphers, with each cipher unlocking hidden clues to figure out how to stop your creepy tormentor.  It’s a clever idea but it feels a bit obtuse and complex compared to the other games in the collection. There aren’t a lot of indications that make it easy to under the mechanics of looking for clues in the book, and the early moments of the game will be just avoiding the figure. The cat and mouse game you play with the creepy villain will get some jump scares from players, but after a while can easily be dealt with by mashing buttons, so the frights wear off a bit. The circus setting and the villain do give this entry in the collection some spooky atmosphere but the horror elements run thin by the end when you are just scrambling to get to the end.

Karao –  A night of karaoke singing and drinking turns into something more strange and sinister. A woman visits a seemingly normal karaoke bar for an exciting night, but a wrong turn from the bathroom leads her to a twisted world. Dark tunnels and shady forests are haunted by mangled figures out of that creep out of the shadows and into the path of the means of escape.

There is nothing worst than going to the bathroom in a public space and that space later becomes a nightmarish landscape. Karao starts off at what looks like a typical karaoke dive. The player can explore the bar and ask some questions, but ultimately has to find a bathroom. After a quick bathroom break, the player is somehow transported to a strange reality. Following down a dim hallway, the player ends up in a train yard with a mysterious music box. The karaoke bar is nowhere in sight and no one else seems to be around. Starting the music shows where the player has to go next, but will also summon troubles out of the dark. Karao starts out slow with a focus on the exploration at the beginning, then ramps up into an FPS once the player obtains a shotgun. The shooting mechanics are simple and rough but handle okay when it comes to simplified enemies that are just stationary. The enemies never move around and can be flanked, but they have decent aim and can be a problem in a group. Ammo and health are plentiful so most of the combat is just taking small cover to line up a shot. The game’s visuals are cool and add to the surreal experience of venturing into this strange blur of a world. Karao fits well into this collection and offers multiple levels and creepy sights to uncover.

Resver – Resver was a former nightclub in Pittsburgh, PA iu the late 80s. The club was famous for its celebrity guest lists and rampant drug use. But that all changed after a pyrotechnic fire December 24, 1992 which left hundreds injured and many dead.  But rumors spread for decades about an underground reopening. Unknown locations, secret invites, and cryptic clues were all that were known Resver for years. However, this night marks the twentieth anniversary of the accident, and your friends invite you to Resver!

Resver is half part clubbing simulator and half part an Eli Roth movie. This title has simple black and white visuals in a 3D world with 2D sprites. Until like most of the other games in the collection, Resver has no real game mechanics. You mainly walk around to explore spaces, experiencing trippy imagery and uncomfortable sights. Resver focuses more on the graphics and designs rather than showing a spooky game experience. We consider this title to be a small break in the collection that mixes up the games, but not one that needs multiple visits.

Gallerie – A humble art gallery with a collection of vintage and eclectic pieces. But reports of disappearances surround the gallery. Now as a visitor, you find notice strange oddities and disturbing whispers. However, just as you realize the gallery has changed, and now you must escape before the place claims a new victim.

Art galleries are meant to be relaxing and retrospective for people. They are calm and clean places that let the mind wander, but what if it wanders too far and something else returns instead? Gallerie has the player explore a gallery with an earpiece for a guided tour, they are also told a warning of power outages that should be ignored. As the player roams the different exhibits, there’s something strange about the art pieces and faint murmurs coming from the walls. Gallerie transforms into a cosmic horror setting in flashes, revealing the Lovecraftian monstrosity behind the art collection. The gameplay features some fetch questing to collect machine parts and solving puzzles, all while being chased by a creature that only freezes if you are looking at it. There are several puzzles that are quick-time events, where you have to input arrows and actions in a certain order. But while your attention is on the sequence, you can hear the creature make its way behind you. The other puzzles involve solving ciphers in the strange alien language. There’s a surprising amount of back story that happens in journal entries and messages left behind by previous visitors that add a decent amount of plot to the game. The game has a larger playtime than the rest of the games in the collection and is great for movie fans that enjoyed the recent Color Out of Space movie.

We Never Left: “The year is 1983. You sit at home alone on a dark and stormy night until the ring of the phone pierces your ears. Answering, you hear a voice unfamiliar to you. The mysterious caller informs you with little urgency that your recluse game developer of a cousin has gone missing. All that was found of him was a note. All that was written was your contact information and a vague message: “FINISH THE GAME”. Uncover the twisted secrets of a disturbed mind in this pixelated first-person / text adventure game. Inspired by the classic horror of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, this tale is sure to have you bracing yourself through your fingers at every sick turn. Are you prepared to finish the game?”

This is easily one of the stand-out games in this new Dread X Collection with a fantastic premise and great use of old-school text adventure gaming to build a sense of dread.  You realize what is happening fairly quickly but the only way to progress is to do the exact opposite of what you want to do and help the twisted game designer complete his masterpiece, even if it seems to be putting you directly in his path.  There’s some great voice work and atmosphere building as well.

Ludomalica – “A mysterious board game has been selected, perfect for a night when everyone is not home. The rules are simple, the lights must be off, the doors must be locked and you must be alone. On a rainy night, a nameless player takes the chance to roll the dice and find what happens in the end.”

Cursed board games are always a fan favorite and always have an ironic twist to them. Ludomalica takes place in a household that starts off normal at first. There are a few rooms to check out, doors to lock, lights to check and hallways to run down. The game has the player test their luck at Ludomalica and see where the board game will reveal. At first, the board’s layout is simple with a few empty and question-marked spaces. The empty spaces do nothing, but the questioned ones slowly summon events around the house. This will be opening doors, turning on lights, and oddly, making not making you alone in the house. After a few dice throws, you will have to run around the house to turn off the lights behind a ghostly stalker will capture you. . The ghostly stalker has a very basic AI and isn’t hard to avoid unless you absolutely lose track of its footsteps. At times, the game gets repetitive but the game doesn’t feel like it overstays its welcome. It has a simple design for an enjoyable quick horror experience.

INTERIM – It’s hard to make it big in Hollywood, but if you have the passion and means, you can make the dream work. Alfred arrived in Hollywood, hoping to be the leading man in a movie, but soon finds himself front and center in something far more surreal.

Interim starts out on a sound stage that hides more than regular movie magic. Left alone with just their thoughts, the player wanders around the stage looking for clues about what his role in this new production will be about. However, the player, later on, finds themselves in a glitchy TV world. Interim main strengths are the interesting mix of FMV and exploring the 3D spaces, but lacks the gameplay needed to keep the player’s attention. The game really forces the player to look around and piece together the vague instructions to get to the next objectives. The glitchy landscape doesn’t help ease the player into understanding what the real game wants. Our play thru had us do a lot of frustrating trial and error of picking up objects and seeing if they go in the correct spots.

Vestige – Turning on an old game from your childhood, something strange beings to happen. It’s not that time has aged the game, but reality has become altered in some way.  The unreal has become too real, and the gameplay is no longer just on-screen. Can you finish the game before it finishes you?

Vestige features a point-and-click style gameplay experience as you can rotate around the area you are in and then you click to the next room you want to move to.  After completing the introductory objective of watering all the plants in the house and opening the attic, you find your old game console and settle in for a weekend of retro gaming.  The actual game you are playing is a wacky Crazy Taxi meets Tony Hawk mashup where you control a skeleton on a motorcycle who delivers letters to people from their dead loved ones but also has to do sick tricks to build up the score.  There are a number of objectives in each level and you need to complete the levels to progress the story.  This gets more difficult soon enough when the game’s monster makes its appearance and will torment you while playing.  You cannot look at the monster for too long and it appears right alongside the TV, so you need to look away until it’s gone and then try to play more of the in-game game before it comes back.  It’s a unique hook that gives the decidedly goofy game within the game much more tension than it deserves and there’s some great disturbing imagery and gore as you progress.

Rotten Sigma – A retired policeman, Neal, returns to the cold case of the disappearance of 12 children at the Gallagher Sports Center in 2006. One of the victims was Amanda, his 8-year-old daughter. Revisiting the abandoned Gallagher Sports Center, Neal relives the worst night of his life to find answers, no matter what the cost.

Rotten Sigma’s is a take on the RE4 style horror that mixes anxiety-driven encounters with action oriental controls. The player takes the role of Neal, who has combat training and is prepared to fight whatever is lurking in the shadows of the old Sports Center. What appears to be a regular abandoned site turns out to house some mutated creatures. The visuals have a retro pixelated look from the nights, appearing to be something that would be in the 90s era of gaming like the original Silent Hill and Alone in the Dark. The game has a few puzzle selections that require looking for items or finding the correct password but standing in the way around these lumbering creatures. Luckily, there is something about them that causes Neal’s radio to ring out statics sounds, warning you of enemies approaching. Rotten Sigma pays homage to the different survival horror elements while telling a complete story that doesn’t try to over-extend itself.

Final Thought: Dread X Collections 5 has strength in its numbers for a collection that mostly gives a different flavor of horror. This one is heavy on the First-person titles, but offers some various. There are a few standouts that have solid concepts like Gallerie, We Never Left, and Vestige. The more experimental titles like Resver and Interim are visually overloading, but lack some exciting gameplay elements. Dread X Collections 5 is a great addition for gamers to see multiple projects from different studios/devs to showcase their talents to creep out the audiences. There are a lot of interesting game designs and homages that make this package the most polished yet and hopefully it inspires more.

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