There’s an unsophistication about the DreadOut universe that’s at once both endearing and disappointing.
Like its predecessor, DreadOut: Act 2 is an unapologetic love letter to a now bygone era of survival horror, a time of clunky controls and claustrophobic camera angles. It’s likely it’s no coincidence that playing the latest chapter in the DreadOut series evokes memories of those stellar games of yesterday; Fatal Frame/Project Zero, Deadly Premonition, Silent Hill… they’re all echoed here, some more successfully than others.
The story picks up on the heels of the opening Act, and once again we fall into the dainty feet of the silent (and unnervingly unemotional) protagonist Linda, an Indonesian schoolgirl who falls unwittingly into a school-field-trip-gone-wrong trope.
Though the first Act 1 was a strangely solitary affair, in Act 2 we’re united – albeit briefly – with our erstwhile colleagues, which helps pack a little flesh on the otherwise bare bones of a storyline. For though predecessor Act 1 was less than successful in delivering a tangible narrative, Act 2’s tale is little more detailed, unfurling a storyline that’s cliched but intriguing nonetheless.
Again, the scant clues you collect during your exploration shed a little light on the mystery, and though the game deploys a number of horror game cliches and cheap jump scares, the design of your enemies – from their appearance to their backstory – is delightfully detailed, complemented further by competent sound design that packs more punch than the visuals alone could hope to deliver.
But whilst the detailed ghost graphics offer insight into developer Digital Happiness’ design competency, the subtle palette of blues, greys and blacks and Scooby-Doo-esque backdrops are instantly forgettable, which is a shame, given how much scope there was to expand on exposition through environment.
That said, the handful of interactive, puzzle-y touches – using reflective surfaces and props to catch incognito ghosts, or a twist to the perceived safety of your purgatory status for instance – were expertly crafted, again intimating that this indie studio may be capable of more than its currently delivering.
Whilst the combat mechanic remains chiefly unchanged from the previous chapter – again, like Miku’s Camera Obscura from Fatal Frame, you must use your cell phone or clunky SLR to capture and banish the spirits – I did enjoy the variation. Each enemy-type boasts its own unique weakness, which means much like Zelda dungeons of old, you’ll need to suss out each one’s achilles heel, revising your combat strategy on the fly and carefully surveying your environment for tools and clues.
Oh, and don’t forget your ghostpedia: despite it’s horrifying generic name, its a valuable resource, and may provide tips and hints on how to defeat your folklore foes.
The trouble is, like the opening instalment, DreadOut Act 2 is just a tad too shallow an experience.
Satisfying stories can save glitchy graphics, and beautiful backdrops can sometimes detract from a shallow story, but in this case, we’re cursed with neither scenario. It’s not awful, but it’s not all that good, either. Though steeped in Indonesian folklore, there’s little here that sets it apart from older – and, in many cases, better – games that came before, and the rich lore is barely explored, let alone fully exposed.
Linda’s nonno-syllabic nature means we rarely know how she feels, and as such you play with a peculiar detachment which alienates you from your protagonist. Unflinching in her observation of the horrors around her – and seemingly unaffected by the fates of her friends – Linda’s stoicism is unfitting at best and uncomfortable at worse. For how can you be expected to care about her when she fails to care about anyone else herself?
The WTF moments – say, the mysterious 30 foot high woman floating in air, and some of the latest encounters with the our friend the Woman in Red – are the few things that save the game from what would otherwise be a very lacklustre offering indeed.
If DreadOut: Act 2 had captured some of the intrinsic intrigue of the heyday of survival horror, had told a retro story in a new, challenging way or even stuffed its world with plentiful narrative clues that rewarded off-the-beaten-path exploration, I’d be more forgiving. As it stands, the game offers good value for money (if you’ve bought Act 1, Act 2 is available at no extra charge) and is short enough that you’ll probably complete before feeling bored.
Yup. I’m using the game’s shortened playtime as a positive here.
If you’re a fan of Fatal Frame et al, I’d be surprised if you didn’t enjoy a few hours of exploration with Linda. But just don’t come in expecting any contemporary twist here. It plays, looks and feels just like a fifteen-year-old PS2 horror title, but with little in the way of the puzzles or combat that so defined the genre. It lacks complexity and depth in both story and approach, leaving me straddling a no-man’s land of neither love or loathing.
Final Word: Play it or don’t play it – I don’t think your life will be drastically affected one way or the other, I’m afraid.