The Dreadout franchise is the debut horror title of unassuming Indonesian developer Digital Happiness. Unfortunately, frequent glitches, terrible translation work and a comically bad plot will work in union to destroy what would have been an already clichéd horror experience.
Dreadout follows Japanese high school student Linda embarking on a school trip. After the school minivan becomes blocked by a fallen bridge the class teacher, in a mind-boggling display of educational incompetence, allows Linda and her classmates to explore an abandoned school. Night falls and (surprise) the group becomes separated, leaving Linda alone to venture into the school in search of her classmates.
After a brief prologue and cutscene you are now left to effectively freely wander around the school, solving puzzles as you go. These “puzzles” are where Dreadout’s rather “unique” design really shines through. Traditionally a game would provide you with a hint or a suggestion as to how to solve puzzles vital to progress. Dreadout, however, resolutely opts to tell you nothing. This isn’t a problem for the most part, puzzles often follow the formula “get item X use it on object X to progress”. In Dreadout most are fairly logical. For example, you come across a rope blocking your path and later you find some scissors. Logically you use the scissors to cut the rope and bam, you can progress.
Some of the puzzles are more cryptic. When Dreadout expects you to take photos of certain areas, like a specific classroom (which I might add, that looks identical to the hundred or so other classrooms you walked past just moments prior) you might find this a little unfair. When you are then expected, without any prompting, to examine the photo closely, taking note of extremely small details which hint at what to do, Dreadout’s logic becomes impossible to follow. Finding out how to solve the larger puzzles are little puzzles in themselves. Both are equally incomprehensible.
After some hours of traipsing around the school, Dreadout’s mediocrity really hits you. The puzzles become more illogical and complex as the game progresses, your boredom only occasionally broken by formulaic boss fights. After the second or third iteration of systematically spamming your phone camera in a ghost’s general direction as it slowly walks towards you, even the boss fights just become another chore. Dreadout plays like a “to do” list. Todo: Fight monster, find scissors, fight monster, use key etc…
Every good aspect of Dreadout is counterbalanced by a bad one. The music pleasant but the mixture of folk and contemporary jazz often doesn’t fit the tone and just destroys the atmosphere. The voice acting is surprisingly good. In contrast the subtitles are borderline illiterate. The indoor sections are too claustrophobic and the outdoor sections are just too empty and so on.
The entire game is also overly dark, being able to see only a few feet in front of you is never fun. Luckily, unlike other games that suffer from being too dark, you’ll never find yourself running into an area blind. This is because you are seemingly unable to run. Nothing is more immersive than a fit and healthy schoolgirl, screaming in terror, lightly jogging away from a terrifying monster as if only mildly inconvenienced.
After 2 episodes, 12 or so hours, of wandering around solving puzzles you are rewarded with an unsatisfying abrupt and unfitting ending.
In short, Dreadout is a slew of underdeveloped concepts loosely tied together by the most cliché story ever told. As the few endearing aspects of the storytelling and puzzles deteriorate over the two acts, Dreadout really does nothing to keep you engaged and isn’t worth a cursory glance by most. Perhaps some diehard horror fans will appreciate the almost old-school PS2 era feel created by Dreadout, for everyone else however, it just seems dated.