I love seeing devs go wild and getting to try strange things. As such, I immediately noticed the Dread X Collection when it was announced and kept a close eye on it. Ten horror games by ten indie developers done in the style of P.T.? Yeah, that's my jam. So when it showed up I decided I needed to play each of the demos and see what the future of weird indie horror looked like. Good news: I liked a lot of what I saw in Dread X Collection.
The Pay is Nice
Have you ever wondered what goes through the head of those random people that work for an obviously evil biotech corporation? You know, the ones obviously committing all sorts of moral and ethical crimes without a second thought? The Pay is Nice wonders that too, and seems to come to that conclusion. That the pay really is just that nice.
After all, what could be better? Get paid enough money and you won't think of any sort of moral conundrum. That may sound vain, but imagine being able to live without fear of not making rent, always being able to put food on the table, especially when you have a family involved? It's a great feeling, and if you have to occasionally freeze a man's brain and then write up a BS report of how he died in a car accident? Well hey, the pay is nice.
As for gameplay, The Pay is Nice isn't too dissimilar from a classic tank-controlled fixed camera angel adventure game. It's a genre I will fully admit I never really had much love for, but the game is short enough that I never really had much of an issue. There aren't any enemies to worry about or puzzles to complete, but a couple of creepy segments manage to make the adventure well worth it. It's a solid scary game with few frills.
The Pay is Nice was developed by Oddbreeze Games, developer of Crew 167: The Grand Block Odyssey.
Don't Go Out
I love the concept behind Don't Go Out. The game is a survival card game, where you need to avoid monsters and play cards so you don't get yourself eaten. The entire time you do so, a creeping horror advances across the scene, killing any character unfortunate enough to get caught in the mass. As turns continue you'll earn cards which let you perform actions like summon more friends to the board, throw flares to see parts of the map, sacrifice friends for more actions, and more. All of this is wrapped up in particularly creepy pixel art and the joy of seeing the words "What was that!?" splattered across your screen in blood every time it's the enemy's turn.
As I said, I love the concept. The problem? I genuinely had absolutely no clue what I was supposed to be doing in Don't Go Out. A wonderful example as to why a tutorial, or even basic tooltips, is really helpful for more complicated games. I can not tell you what the end goal is supposed to be. I survived all 9 rounds only for the creeping horror to kill me anyway. There's a house to enter, but there's nothing in there except a second monster. Characters I could call forth had stats like "+1 board" and "+1 jerky" but I have no clue what that means. Sometimes I got a card that let me put a pentagram on the ground, but I couldn't do anything with it. Ultimately, I finished my time with Don't Go Out feeling little other than baffled.
Don't Go Out was developed by Secret Cow Level, developers of the upcoming Doomtrooper.
Hand of Doom
When your mage/necromancer/sorcerer/whatever finds a magic book and has to recite words from it to cast spells, there's always a nice feeling of power there. Your words have become literal power. That's always awesome. Hand of Doom seeks to capture this feeling by having you cast spells by combining syllables from an incantation book, along with the occasional blood sacrifice when needed.
Hand of Doom doesn't look too different from a classic dungeon crawler. You have a small screen where you can see the action and various big UI elements for you to click on and interact with. The most important is on the right side of the screen, where you have four syllables that you can arrange in any order, and a knife to stab yourself with. Using these five elements, you'll incant spells to light torches, see ghosts, open doors, and more.
Mostly comprised of a couple of small puzzles, it took me about 20 minutes to get through Hand of Doom. Despite that, this is a demo I could easily see being developed into a full game. The mechanics are instantly compelling, and there's a great feeling to learning and writing down new spells to help you advance. While there are no monsters to kill, I can see this sort of gameplay easily being expanded into combat as well. I'd absolutely kill to play a fully realized version.
Hand of Doom was developed by Torple Dook, developer of Earl's Day Off.
The description for Summer Night says it is an "LCD Handheld game where nothing scary happens!" and I just want everyone to know that is a damn dirty lie. If you're surprised by this, I don't know why. The idea is that you're playing one of those old 80's Game and Watch-styled LCD games where you have to collect mushrooms on each side of the screen while avoiding monkeys that throw poop at you. At first, every 20 mushrooms advance the game, but later levels change that around a bit.
As far as emulating an LCD handheld goes, Summer Night does a fantastic job of that. It reminds me of the handhelds I used to play with, and I loved getting the chance to dive back into that childhood moment. Just separate it from the horror elements for a moment, and I can see a collection of these sorts of games going pretty far. However, yes, this is a horror game. Soon a mysterious specter begins to hijack the game, attacking the player, while a centipede crawls down from the moon. This isn't even getting into hearing noises clearly outside of the game, like heavy breathing and someone knocking on the door. I don't really want to spoil the final act of the game, but it works as a pretty decent closure. I was scared.
Summer Night was developed by Airdorf, developer of Faith.
Most of the horror games that you'll find in Dread X Collection tend to be slightly weird experimental stuff. While Outsiders is no exception to this, it is certainly weird and experimental, it's also probably the most typical game you'll find in the collection. A haunted house/escape room-style puzzle game with death baked into it as a mechanic, you'll have to live, die, and live again in an attempt to escape.
At first, it may not seem like much. It's just a spooky house with a few weird features. However, before long something will kill you, be it the "monster" that occasionally appears, or some timer that counts down. Every time you die, the house changes slightly. You'll see hints written on the wall, pools of blood that you're like 80% positive probably weren't there last time, and more. The important items will randomize, but you'll have a better idea of when and where to use them. Each time you'll get a tiny bit further until you can put the whole puzzle together. It leads to some fantastic ah-ha! moments, as you tear the house apart to escape.
However, all my attempts to enjoy Outsiders were met with one single problem: the game did not run well at all. With the graphics turned up, the game stuttered at an unplayable single-digits frame per second. I could turn the graphics down without the game looking that bad, but even then some of the larger areas, such as the living room or cornfield, would still run pretty poorly. Hopefully, this isn't a problem for everyone, and future patches can fix it up.
Outsiders was developed by Mahelyk, developer of SCP: Blackout.
Mr. Bucket Told Me To
Remember the movie Castaway? The one where Tom Hanks was trapped alone on an island except for Wilson the volleyball? Okay, take that general idea but also Wilson is possibly a psychotic mass murderer. That's about what you can expect from Mr. Bucket Told Me To, a survival game where you need to take care of your needs while also making a dead angry bucket less angry. Spoiler: it is always angry.
Like many a survival game, your goal is to take care of your needs. To help you along the way is a trio of tools with faces drawn on them. Mr. Spear will help you fish, Mr. Bowl will get you clean water, and Mr. Towel will let you wipe after you poop. You need to do each of these three activities so that you end the day fed, hydrated, and clean. Of course, doing any activity costs a bit of stamina, and once you run out you go to sleep. Go to sleep with one of the three stats not being above a certain level, and you'll take a permanent hit to your stamina, meaning you can do fewer activities throughout the day. However, there's a catch. Every night Mr. Bucket comes to you, demanding you sacrifice one of your tools to start the next day. This puts a severe handicap on what you can do. For example, Mr. Towel allows you to restore to full cleanliness without using much stamina. Should you choose to sacrifice him, you instead need to use stamina to pick leaves, and they don't give you back much cleanliness.
The more you learn about the island, the less you have the proper tools to actually explore it. As you advance an easy and sometimes pleasant survival game starts to get harder and harder. More of the main characters' "friends" show up to tell him how he sucks, while fewer tools mean using more stamina, and not making those activities means starting with even less when you need to spend more. The end game becomes obvious before long, and that's what manages to make Mr. Bucket Told Me To terrify even in its most absurd moments. You know what's coming and there's just no way to stop it.
Mr. Bucket Told Me To was developed by Strange Scaffolding, developers of the upcoming An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs
Disclaimer: I volunteer to help moderate Strange Scaffolding's Discord server, which mostly consists of banning spammers. These impressions were not influenced by this in any way.
Of all the games in the collection, Rotgut is the one I went into expecting the weirdest stuff. Mostly because when I talked to the man who organized the Dread X Collection, that's what he told me. Add that it's made by the Soda Drinker Pro dev, and I knew it was a recipe for wonderful nonsense. At the start of the game you have to follow some basic instructions to find the "Circle World Party", a party that takes place inside of a subway tunnel. Once you're there, there's little more to Rotgut than walking from one end of the tunnel then back.
However, this trip certainly is a weird one. As you go through the tunnel you'll start at a hilariously goofy party which includes a man with a cube for a head. As your trip continues you'll come across bizarre things, such as a chair in the middle of the train tracks that give you weird breathing problems, a crashed car, and a shrine to a six-armed, two-headed creature known as Rotgut. You'll also suffer from visions that I'm about 80% certain are just stock photos of people smiling. It's weird as all hell. Does it mean anything? I have no clue, but I certainly will be spending more time thinking about Rotgut and that trip I took. Maybe I too will figure it out in a couple of days.
Rotgut was developed by Snowrunner Productions, the developer of Soda Drinker Pro.
The Pony Factory
If there's one feature I really remember about Doom 3, it was that you can only hold a gun or a flashlight, but never both. It caused some controversy, but The Pony Factory is more than happy to recreate this feature. Unlike many games here, the game is quite happy to give you a way to fight back against its monsters. The monsters being skinned zombie unicorns created by the devil, naturally.
Making amazing use of light and color by being in only black and white, The Pony Factory will hand you a bolt gun and send you off to find a hidden treasure inside of the factory. Your goal in every level is to find which door is unlocked and go through it to advance to the next level. Of course, you need to use your flashlight to help you see, and to find the monsters that want to stop you. Ponies will either charge out of the dark to swing at you or throw fireballs from a distance.
It's a bit slower-paced than the kind of FPS I'm used to seeing from David Szymanski, but The Pony Factory manages to capture all sorts of good vibes. From fantastic use of lighting to great gunfights, The Pony Factory is another demo that I would love to see expanded into a full game. There's something amazingly spooky about a skinned horse skeleton emerging from the darkness to kill you and having to frantically switch from your only light source to a gun, blindly firing in the hopes of hitting it. Just hold that fire button down until the galloping stops.
The Pony Factory was developed by David Szymanski, developer of Dusk.
Recently I played a game called A Place, Forbidden, that I loved thanks to its use of classic PlayStation aesthetics. Shatter goes for the same style, and it turns out these aesthetics are my drug. I don't know what it is, but something about the way it looks really manages to grab my attention. Combine this with a strange sci-fi horror story about AI gods? Hard yes, and give it to me now.
You play as one of the few people without cybernetics in a desolate future version of London. Thankfully, you won't be without them long, and a nice woman in a destroyed church hooks you up to the internet, which lets you see the world's "gods." These gods are giant pink flies that give you the task of entering an alternate dimension to save their newborn god baby from mutated man flys. It's as insane as one would hope.
For the most part all you're doing is walking around and talking for the first half, and dodging man flies while carrying a baby in the second half. It's short, but in this time Shatter manages to show so much. The world is properly crazy, and the art design leads to a lovely environment that is so worth exploring. The Ps1 aesthetic is used so well and only manages to cement this love I'm getting for the art style.
Shatter was developed by Lovely Hellplace, developers of the upcoming Dread Delusion.
Simple question here: what if Indiana Jones raided a space ship instead of temples? You could get a bad Indiana Jones movie, but if you add some horror you also get Carthanc, which combines Indiana Jones-style treasure finding and puzzle-solving with spooky space ghosts. Trust me, it's a lot better than you may expect.
The idea is simple: you're in an alien temple and you want to find and reassemble a mummy. Why would you ever want to do that? Don't worry about it. To help you out you have little more than a camera to take pictures with, and a light on a tripod that can be used to light up dark areas. Of course, it's not quite as simple as the idea makes it sound. As you reassemble the mummy, you'll awaken space ghosts that are only interested in spreading your guts from coast to coast. If you're not dodging ghosts, you are dodging rolling boulders, jumping over spike pits, stepping between swinging pendulums, solving cryptic puzzles, and more.
Carthanc manages to balance all of these ideas into one smooth package. While it may occasionally be frustrating, I had a pretty good time trying to solve the puzzles while dodging the monsters. It helps that the game has a great aesthetic, with a fantastic soundtrack that really helped keep me involved in every moment. Even if I'm totally bad at the whole action adventurer thing, and mostly only managed to be caught by spooky space ghosts or fall into spike pits.
Carthanc was developed by Scythe Dev Team, developers of Happy's Humble Burger Barn.
Dread X Collection | iN sUMMARY
That's all ten games, and it certainly tells me indie horror is in a fantastic place. When I'm up at 5am laying in bed thinking about something I played in the Dread X Collection, I know it's good. It has invaded my sleep cycle. The Dread X Collection has likely successfully murdered me and I will let it with a smile. A terrified smile.
TechRaptor played Dread X Collection on PC using a copy provided by the publisher.