The Dread X Collection is something that makes so much sense in the modern gaming market. Grabbing tonnes of small indie horror projects and tying them together with one central narrative – this is an idea that lends itself to explosive creativity but, after 5 collections, that well may be running a little dry.
Dread X Collection 5 is a grouping of 12 different horror stories, though there are actually 13 games if you count the main story. Almost working like a hub to every game, you play a young boy alone at night at his birthday party. You have to collect presents to get tokens to unlock the next game. Playing the game allows you to explore another section of the main map. In this sense, progress is both led on by, and trapped behind, all those games. For this reason, the games have to be strong enough to justify breaking up the story like that. Unfortunately, not all of them are.
A Strong Start
Let’s start with Hunsvotti, the very first game most will play. Set in Finland in 1888, you must partake in Juhannus (Midsummer) completing a ritual with flowers, people, and an ancient well. It is a creepy acknowledgment of the horror of passivity and plays with perspective very well. It may only take you fifteen minutes to finish but is the perfect starting game. These experiences are where the Dread Collection works at its best – a curator of experimental horror that may struggle to really find a market elsewhere.
Unfortunately, not all games are as good as this one. Interim is a game that tries to say a lot but its poor controls, countless glitches and messy pacing leave it feeling incomplete. It tries to give an interesting experience but doesn’t do enough to really hold the player. Not all games are good or bad – some fall in between.
Spirit Guardian is a game about exploring a haunted daycare, looking to help a small ghost child stuck inside. While the premise is fine, the game slows itself down in needless “hide and seek” style games, demanding you hide in lockers and find batteries for your flashlight. It takes a lot of inspiration from modern no-weapon horror games but doesn’t really have the polish to pull out the big scares. It attempts some of the more flashy horror without many batteries in the flashlight.
Resver is the type of title I would love to see more of in this kind of collection. It has a unique aesthetic and a narrative that is perhaps a little too experimental for its own good but it stuck with me – scenes repeating themself while my mind tries to pick up the pieces and understand it. This is the kind of game I could see some disliking but I would love to talk to them about it. Dread X’s watercooler titles are a wonderful addition, allowing you to really dig into it and draw your own conclusions.
This is immediately followed by Ludomalica, a game where you must play your grandfather’s old haunted board game alone. You have to make sure all lights are off, all doors are closed and you are totally alone. It then asks the question “what if you’re never really alone?” This is a premise straight out of a horror movie but the game itself doesn’t do nearly enough to justify the idea. It’s essentially a game of hide and seek while you complete tasks around a house. The AI is pretty poor and the gameplay loop never really gets more satisfying than the first time. If this were more of a truth or dare kind of game, maybe it could have sustained its length but this one bored me – not a good sign for horror.
The central game you go back to is a rather fun one though, employing some interesting puzzles and scares throughout. As well as piecing together the story through actions and puzzles, you collect pages to a comic that mirror some parts of what you do and give a creepy story about a dangerous presence, scaring the town and consuming its people without many even knowing. It plays into the horror under your nose and the birthday theme captures this perfectly.
Enthralled by the aesthetic of ’90s family entertainment centers, it plays into that uncanny valley that many feel looking back. The colliding of world news and geopolitics alongside the spacey aesthetic of a playground you can no longer access – the modern retro feel of Dread X Collection 5 works incredibly well.
More than just nostalgia
Playing into that post cold war optimism and the creepiness that lies behind those actions, it focuses a lens on the children that rose from it. Children who didn’t understand the scariness of the world at the time but saw the results of those actions. This aesthetic is ripe for horror, as many indie games have latched onto it over the last few years.
It is more than just the nostalgia bait of this idea – it is a backdrop to teleport you back to playing Resident Evil when you were just a little too young to do so. It is about picking up Silent Hill from an older cousin and not telling your parents. Dread X Collection 5 understands the horror that child brains come up with and lets your imagination run with the rest. This is honestly a great theme that is let down by some of the game’s weakest moments.
Games don’t always have to be experimental to get that tone right, they just need a clear presence in the collection. With so many games in there, four or five of them slow down the experience that its better half offers. We Never Left is another game that is worth pointing out. Getting a lost message from someone you know, you check out their house, only to find an old-school text adventure in their bedroom, ready to explore. This is accompanied by recordings of their therapy sessions, old pictures and notes left for you.
It plays around with these mechanics well and stays in the mind a long time after finishing. Even if a somewhat annoying visual filter and one bug got in the way of that experience, what it offers is worth exploring.
Dread X Collection 5 – Conclusion
In a sense, We Never Left represents my thoughts on Dread X Collection 5, as a whole. It is a little messy and unfocused and contains a few too many bugs for my liking. This being said, the experience it offers can be pretty great in its own right. The central narrative tying everything together fits – I just wish it had enough games worth telling that story.