Horror is considered a dead genre. Although Resident Evil 7 proved to be a success by going back to its roots and Until Dawn is regarded as one of the best PlayStation 4 games, the video game industry doesn’t venture much into horror as it does open world shooters and RPGs. Ghosts, monsters, dark corridors and mind-bending plots aren’t as common today as they were in the first decade of the 21st Century. Despite the late Silent Hills‘ influence in many indie titles, there isn’t much that relates to old-school survival horror.
Third-person is largely considered a weak perspective for horror. In the same manner, the regular mechanic of being armed to the teeth is quickly becoming outdated, with Resident Evil 7 itself having a few moments where firearms don’t bring as much safety as they should. As virtual reality attempts to win its place under the sun, VR set owners clamor for games that will make full use of the technology, with horror being on the top of the list.
This demand can be easily associated with the fact that horror is a genre meant to trigger a stronger reaction from players. Immersing in an atmosphere where your life is as fragile as a twig is a challenging task for developers, one many fail to fully achieve. While Outlast deprived players of any means to fight back, DreadOut gave a degree of protection while building a terrifying atmosphere.
Released in 2014 to mixed reviews, DreadOut is an Indonesian survival horror game that draws a lot of inspiration from classics such as Fatal Frame (Project Zero in Europe) and Silent Hill. It does little to surpass the innovations from its source material, but it’s effective in its execution. As an indie game, DreadOut isn’t polished. Its graphics are ugly even for 2014, its gameplay is clunky, and its story is too short and unimpressive. However, it managed to garner a small cult following that understands the appeal behind it.
Much like Fatal Frame, DreadOut puts players in control of a young girl capable of fending off evil spirits with a camera. Unlike Fatal Frame, there’s nothing special about the two cameras Linda can acquire throughout her journey. She starts off with a smartphone, which provides just enough light to make out walls, windows, and doors. As the player progresses, they come to possess a more sturdy-looking camera meant to resemble the luxurious Nikon models. Through the lens, Linda can see certain types of ghosts and spot their weaknesses. Taking a photo deals damage, eventually making them disappear for a moment or effectively sending them to the afterlife.
The simple premise, dated gameplay mechanics, and unpolished graphics may turn away gamers who don’t feel nostalgic with the references to Fatal Frame or even Silent Hill. Yet it is an enjoyable experience for fans of horror who miss being scared to the bones. Despite its flaws, DreadOut‘s atmosphere is second to none. Instead of relying on building up tension and jump scares, the game focuses on Indonesian mythology and difficult puzzles to deliver a unique atmosphere. The player character isn’t defenseless or easily spooked, but the stories of the foes she defeats and the history of the abandoned town (pieced together throughout the game) add a singular flavor that sends chills down the player’s spine.
The subtle art of presenting horror through atmosphere and history is mostly lost. Resident Evil 7 loses its nostalgic magic as soon as the player realizes enemy patterns. Similarly, Outlast isn’t scary once the plot develops. Until Dawn is considered by many a masterpiece, its blend of old and new elements coming together to form something that leaves a big impression. However, it isn’t so brilliant that its simplicity sticks to the player for longer than smaller titles with a more devoted following.
We’re not saying the games mentioned aren’t good, but they’re also not pinnacles of the genre. Although DreadOut has many flaws to be considered a pinnacle of anything, it achieves what more popular releases struggled with: to present an engaging atmosphere that keeps players on their toes all the way through. DreadOut is proof that the third-person perspective isn’t strictly necessary to deliver an intense horror game. First-person might help the immersion, but it doesn’t mean it will be instantly effective regardless of how the horror elements are implemented.
DreadOut is available through Steam for Windows PC, Mac, and Linux. It counts with a standalone expansion called Keepers of the Dark, which functions as a post-game mode filled with additional challenges.