Fear the new blood.
It is once again time for a cavalcade of indie horror. This time it’s directed by David Szymanski of New Blood and Dusk fame! With double the dev time, a focused prompt of shooters-only, and a smaller elite team of indie video game dev commandos, I was more hyped for this than I’ve been for an indie horror joint in some time.
I’ll be covering this in a slightly different manner than my previous Dread X reviews. Rather than talking about the games in the order I played them I’ll actually be organizing them for a change! First the hub, then the games themselves in order of my least to most favorite. Did they achieve quality over quantity with this new approach? Let’s get started!
Since Dread X 2 we’ve had a hub to explore while unlocking games. This one works a little bit differently; after a bit of plot advancement you get full access to the 7 titles featured in this pack. No unlocks, no collectables spent to access games, go nuts. Of course the hub isn’t all it appears and it will open up for exploration as you play through the titles, but this flexibility and pseudo-freeplay-ness is an interesting change. I have slightly mixed feelings on it – earning keys to unlock tapes in DX2 was a personal highlight – but this structure works perfectly well.
Do you like The Thing? The devs sure do, and you can tell. The arctic facility is the largest hub area we’ve had in a Dread X title so far and it’s gorgeous. The sound design in particular is worthy of note, with excellent use of subtle sound effects and musical stingers that keep you on your toes everywhere you go. I won’t elaborate much on how the hub opens up as you progress through the games, but expect to see a lot more of it from game 3 and on.
As an actual “game” in its own right this hub is not quite as involved as Dread X 2’s puzzlefest but has more to it than DX3’s object hunting. I started calling the player character’s rifle “the emotional support gun” due to the lack of use. Did I want to have constant battles here? No, but I wouldn’t have complained about a little more to chew on. While the play was light and the wrapup was predictably open ended (in a similar vein as the previous games’ stories) I still enjoyed the bulk of what the hub had to offer. The voice acting in particular was top notch. Almost every line with the exception of object inspections is voiced and I was surprised at just how emotive the delivery was throughout. It massively elevated the experience, lending it a human element that could have otherwise been missing. Overall this entry’s hub provides a solid framing device with enough gaminess to make exploration interesting, but not so much that you can’t easily play what you came here for.
And now, for your reading pleasure, the 7 horror shooters included in this pack from worst to best.
On a conceptual level the story of Seraphixial is a fascinating one. A father receives a letter from his daughter who ran off to join a commune, only to end up in another world accessed via a submarine in need of rescue. It’s wonderfully bizarre and full of potential. Unfortunately in practice you walk forward and play whack-a-mole with unsatisfying guns.
Over the course of this game’s 10-15 minute runtime you’ll shoot dozens of critters in various locations, but never in an interesting way. Despite their varied looks enemies are exclusively melee and slow-moving, with their HP being the only differentiator. Each area ends seemingly at random once you’ve walked far enough. One section is just there to spook you, no enemies included. The rest are the same: you walk, you plink, you move on until credits roll.
It’s not that Seraphixial isn’t a functional FPS, it’s that it isn’t anything more than just that and only just. If there was more than effectively one enemy type or the weapons were a bit more unique than the vanilla melee/pistol/rifle/shotgun options found in most games I would be more forgiving, but as it stands this is the only game in the pack I found outright disappointing.
6: Rose of Meat
Mr. Pink’s Golden Light was a heartbreaker for me, a game I wanted to love but found myself unable to. Despite being wonderfully written and having some genuinely unique style it was more frustrating than fun to play. Rose of Meat is in many ways Golden Light Lite, and as such it carries some of the same strengths and weaknesses.
Rose of Meat‘s core mechanism is spawning people with your magical meat leg, most of whom come equipped with exploding red barrels, the only thing your “garbage revolver” can actually shoot and damage. Rose of Meat‘s gimmick, then, is solving problems via spawning dudes and/or blowing them up. It’s a fine one in theory and mostly works in practice, but it feels like it’s never taken to its fullest potential.
Your purple pal Dyk serves as a dangling font of knowledge and provides necessary context for progressing in RoM, but not everything he says actually comes to pass. You never need to climb your creations, for example, despite his insistence that it’s a useful thing to do. At first I thought this was an odd omission, but the controls (in particular the wonky jump) are such that I’m glad it was never required. Couple that with your summons taking shapes seemingly at random, or that sometimes they spawn without the aforementioned necessary red barrels embedded in their flesh, and you’ve got an experience in which its rules are more soft (fleshy) guidelines than hard truths.
This makes your interaction with the game a pretty simple affair. You walk, you look at meat, you talk to people to get objectives, repeat. Anything you need to shoot is handled via the aforementioned leg/revolver process and it’s functional, albeit not especially interesting after the initial reveal. If you’re especially affected by body/meat horror this may hit hard for you. I like the subgenre myself but it ran a bit thin here. Meat quantity alone is not an indicator of quality; if it were, Arby’s would be a 4 star restaurant.
All of that said I don’t hate RoM. Quite the contrary, I actually found this sort of linear storytelling to be an excellent vehicle for Mr. Pink’s dialogue. It’s a story of love, pining, and free will told in the manner that only Mr. Pink seems able to pull off, with surreal characters that have bizarre tics and mannerisms. Much like Golden Light (I apologize for all these comparisons but it is incredibly similar) you feel like an outsider dropped into a world that has existed long before you and will likely continue to well after you are dead and gone. The way it inserts you into their drama makes you feel like you don’t belong because, well, you don’t. I continue to enjoy Mr. Pink’s mastery of mood and tone, always keeping the player unsettled and on edge if not outright afraid. Would I have liked to see a game from him in a different style? Sure, but if this is his “thing” then I’m glad he’s improving at it.
5. The House of Unrest
From here on out we’re talking about good games, and THoU is bookended by two amazing moments. The introduction of your character as a battle-ready exorcist, followed by an actual exorcism and things going from bad to worse, is phenomenal. And this game’s ending (which I will not spoil) was so great that it elicited cheers. Then there’s the middle 90%, which while certainly not poor by any means, does not stand out as much.
Considering that you emerge from your car with a pistol in one hand and a laser-emitting cross in the other, you’d be forgiven for not guessing that THoU is essentially a point and click adventure game with occasional breaks for shooting demonic fleshmen. Your goal is to find some useful items that will aid you in your exorcist duties. And it’s perfectly serviceable in that, with relatively straightforward item chains requiring you to find and use a few things in the environment in order to get what you actually want. Yet at many points it felt like the game wanted to be more, to do more, especially with the cross and its ability to vaporize demonic corruption but not actually kill. Instead it’s relegated to cleaning duty like a Faith-y version of Viscera Cleanup Detail.
This feels like somewhat of an unfair criticism on my part because it’s clear that this game is intentionally designed to be what it is, and here I am saying I wish it was more like its start and end. It would likely have taken a lot more time and resources to make a full-on double fisted exorcism action game, so I understand the lighter touch. THoU is not my favorite game in the pack to replay but there’s nothing really wrong with it either, and by god that ending does a lot to elevate it.
4. Axis Mundi
The only game in this compilation that features no weapons whatsoever, Axis Mundi instead has you exorcising ghosts with the help of a camera loaded with special film. Take a shot of a spooky entity and you’ll send it away, presumably to its rest. It’s with this premise and the seemingly simple task of being asked to clear ghosts from a mid-construction mall that the game begins to twist and turn in directions I did not expect.
Discussing the flow of events in this would get spoiler-y fast so I’m not going to do so, but I can talk play experience. AM is a moody thing, often placing you in seemingly peaceful locations while always keeping you on your toes because, y’know, the haunting. And the ghosts you encounter aren’t slouches. There aren’t an especially wide variety of them but that’s to be expected with a game this short, and their varied behaviors and attacks make for engaging combat encounters. Your role in fights is to snap a carefully placed shot then dodge long enough for your camera to recharge. It’s simple but never boring, and on higher difficulties some of the fights present genuine challenges.
One of my favorite elements is the book you get fairly early on which contains photos paired with blank enemy bios and info pages. To read these notes you need to recreate the photos by taking pictures in the game’s areas, which requires careful attention to your surroundings and very particular framing. I love this method of delivering notes to the player, earning them rather than stumbling upon them in the environment and breaking up flow. Lore as a reward is not a wholly new concept but the way it’s done here does a uniquely excellent job of letting your camera pull double duty as both a photography tool and a ghost hunting superweapon.
AM held my attention from start to finish and did so with ease. It’s exactly as long as it needs to be given its relatively simple set of mechanics and it uses every part of its design to what feels like the fullest extent. Combine that with some lovely visuals and very effective audio, and you have a Dread X winner.
3. Black Relic
Torple Dook simply does not miss. I came into this game with high expectations as a fan of his prior Dread X entries and he once again delivered a fantastic experience that was completely distinct from his others. I have no idea how one man has this much versatility but I love it.
This time he’s created a third person shooter with a visual style so pixelated and crunchy you can practically taste it, but what stood out to me even more was the lighting. BR features a lot of shadows and darkness and isn’t afraid to plop you into sheer black as needed, relying on ambient effects and your lantern to get around. This makes switching between your lantern and crossbow a constant until you learn to work in the dark, to aim just south of the glowing eyes of your enemies as they move in the darkness, to hunt your hunters. Am I overselling it? Maybe, but it felt really fucking cool.
As a shooter it’s not exactly white-knuckle. You’ve got a crossbow with a long reload and that’s it. But this is a little more Resident Evil-paced than the other games in this pack, with slower enemies in greater numbers that require a slower, measured approach. This is all about atmosphere, tone, suspense. Can you reload and line up a shot in time? What if you miss? Do you need to retreat, and is there an enemy in that direction? And again, this is all compounded by the darkness.
BR is a great time from start to finish. It starts out slow and suspenseful and never stops turning up the tension until the credits roll. Torple is 4/4 in Dread X entries and I look forward, as always, to his next project.
2. The Fruit
Here’s a game I knew nothing about that absolutely blew my socks off. I’m not joking when I say that this is one of the best Dread X games. Like of the whole entire series. Honestly it was a tossup between this and the remaining game for 1st place, it’s that good. Let me elaborate.
The Fruit tells the story of a man attempting to catch up to his partner after receiving a strange letter. You head to his village in the country only to walk into something far darker than an awkward relationship conversation. This, of course, does not go smoothly. Something rotten has taken root and it’s already made significant progress in devouring the village from the inside out. There are more mad hostiles wandering the dark country roads than sane townspeople at this point, and short of getting a little help from the remaining locals at the start you’ll be handling that on your own. Violently, of course. With a bigass rifle.
There are other games that have attempted the slow, meticulous reload and have been worse off for it, but this is emphatically not the case for The Fruit. Your character is unfamiliar with firearms and working with a trapdoor rifle, so manually performing each step of the reloading process is thematically grounded. But crucially it’s also immensely satisfying because the gun is fantastic. It looks great, it sounds great (the ping when you eject a spent round!), and it obliterates enemies you point it at. Finding a bullet or two to keep the thing loaded feels worthy of celebration, just as missing a shot in a high-pressure situation feels like you’ve wasted a crucial resource. And because of the reload being so involved you likely aren’t getting another attempt mid-fight, so make ‘em count and learn how to swing that axe.
Learning the local language is the core of The Fruit and it’s executed wonderfully. Finding runes, scrawling them into your book, and making use of them in varied ways is satisfying in ways that finding keys and matching doors typically isn’t. There’s more to the grimoire than just that, but I’ll leave its best uses a mystery.
I just can’t say enough good things about this game. The narrative is structurally simple but told perfectly, with written notes and dialogue that feel human and anchored in their setting thanks to strong writing. There isn’t a ton of voice acting but what’s there is incredibly expressive. It’s a top tier Dread X game both in this pack and the series as a whole, one I’ve already played multiple times just to stream and share with friends, and it impresses every single time. Excellent.
1. Uktena 64
This is it, my favorite game in the set. As I mentioned before I adore The Fruit, but Uktena 64 appeals so directly to my personal tastes it’s ridiculous. To give it an elevator pitch: it’s Squirrel Stapler meets Turok with a splash of Cabelas, all combined with Kira’s masterful grasp of horror-comedy that does not skimp on the horror. Have you ever been afraid of a game where the main character says “poggers” out loud before? Would you like to?
Uktena 64 is a game about hunting and photography. Unfortunately the local wildlife is suffering from some peculiar maladies that make them considerably more hazardous than usual, as well as pissing them off something fierce. Get near any of them and they’ll aggro on the spot, leaving you to do your best Serious Sam impression as you backpedal or, if you’re a clever sort, circle strafe and hop to dodge their attacks. When you finally down your prey you need to snap a photo to catalog it. Meet your quota for the level, head back to the truck, bingo bango next level.
Don’t let the above summary fool you into thinking that’s all you’ll be doing, though. Kira takes this relatively simple framework and proceeds to twist it in all sorts of conniving, brilliant ways. Each level features unique targets that need to be approached differently, secrets galore, and twists I guarantee you won’t see coming. It’s a story told almost entirely in gameplay that I was completely gripped by, scouring the beautiful maps for as much information as I could get. There isn’t a single element here that isn’t masterfully handled. Visuals? Varied and lovely. Sound? Equal parts haunting and useful from a gameplay perspective. Controls? Tight tight tight, with excellent feedback on each shot. I did my normal playthrough on controller for authenticity’s sake as well as a keyboard/mouse run on the hardest difficulty and both were smooth as butter.
But talking about Uktena in such a technical manner does it a disservice. I’m making this sound too clinical. Playing this game for the first time is a masterclass of building tension. On lower difficulties you have the added benefit of a minimap on your HUD to minimize the chance of ambushes, but raise it and that goes away. You just don’t know what each map is going to throw at you beyond the animal type it names at the start, and often even that doesn’t adequately prepare you. These animals are not normal and you shouldn’t expect them to be. The last level in particular is a stunner, a fantastic crescendo both for its horror and action, and an ending on par with horror movie classics. And replays on higher difficulties are rewarding for different reasons – now you know what’s coming, but can you take on a pack of hardy mutant wolves with nothing but a rifle?
Despite Uktena being perfectly realized as-is I would gladly purchase a bigger version with more levels, guns, monsters, and cheats to unlock. Every moment of this is a blast; straight up one of the best modern retro-ish shooters there is. I love this game and am going to end up replaying Lost In Vivo just to get another Kira fix. It’s exactly the kind of game I play indie horror for and I’m so glad it exists.
Can you tell I like this one even more than usual? This is a top notch Dread X entry, potentially the best if you jive with shooters in particular. Don’t let the smaller number of games and the slight price bump scare you off from trying this whether you’re an established Dread X fan or looking for an entry point. There may be fewer games in this pack than prior Dread X entries but the bar of quality is considerably high for a collab of this nature. I’ve already replayed almost all of these in the interest of thoroughness for this review and I still fully intend to revisit favorites both on my own and to entertain friends because they are just that good. Szymanski and co. have outdone themselves on this one and I highly recommend giving The Hunt a shot.
Review code provided by publisher.