Dreadout Act 2 – Post-Completion Thoughts
Some of you might remember I was quite positive towards towards Act 1 of Dreadout. I had already been impressed by its stand-alone demo/prologue, and paid attention to when it was coming out so I could have a look at it ASAP.
Sure it had problems, and was rough in many ways, but when it worked it really worked in my opinion, and I felt confident they would iron out most of the kinks by Act 2 and deliver a much more solid experience.
So I went into Act 2 of Dreadout with a strong heart on the day after its release. Yet I only finished it last night. Why the delay?
Well, first off my saves were no longer valid. The game still allowed me to jump straight to Act 2, but they also boasted an improved engine and all that, and they had added the demo as an Act 0 prologue, so I figured I might as well go through 0 and 1 quickly since I now knew what to do, and maybe there would be stuff that carried over, or new stuff to find.
And sure enough, I got through it quicker than the first time, but it still took several hours, and I wanted a bit of a break afterwards. To its credit the game still felt tense even though I’d been through it all before, and I even discovered things I hadn’t found before. And it did show off the updated engine, for good and ill.
I didn’t really notice any drastic changes in physics, or graphical fidelity, but that could be partly because they kept a consistent art-style. I’m sure they did little touch-ups that were ultimately hard to notice. The biggest thing I noticed was the improved lighting. Not that it had bad lighting before, but they seem to have put some thought into how to make it even better. It looks both more natural and more eerie, I’d say.
Though there were also new problems. While there were smaller issues like the character getting stuck on things I don’t remember being an issue before, or the game only giving you controller prompts if one was plugged in regardless of what you were using, the bigger issue was how the camera is now sort of borked. It works fine for most of Act 2, which has more open space, but in more confined areas like in Act 1, and especially when walking through doors, it will at times just completely change direction. As Linda’s movement depends on the camera position, that’s a problem. It’s also an issue when using the camera, especially the new one, where you’ll get completely turned around if you are taking a lot of pictures to try to catch a ghost, or just walking while looking through the camera. It’s the only way to see some ghosts, after all. If you’re paying attention it’s very sudden and jarring, but if you’re preoccupied, you will after a little while start wondering how you ended up going back the direction you came. Maybe this is another issue with having a controller plugged in while using mouse and keyboard, but that doesn’t really excuse it.
Okay, onto Act 2 in particular. Slight spoiler: Act 2 starts with you having just gotten outside the school you are in for most of Act 1. To be honest, I can’t really discuss my issues without going into a few spoilers, but I will try to keep them as light as I can.
Early on, within the first five minutes, you have your smartphone and bag stolen from you. I don’t have a problem with that. Changing things up and changing your approach for a while could be interesting.
Which unfortunately is completely wasted on what follows after. You come across one of your classmates, possessed by one of the stronger ghosts. I will compliment the game on using audio and body language to let you know something is wrong even when his back is turned to you. Then starts the chase.
He starts running after you. If he catches you, he will bodyslam you to the ground. Approximately three body slams, and you are sent to limbo to reset and try again. You can also run, but Linda’s stamina isn’t great, so you will get caught at least once, even if you know exactly where to go. I did not. I couldn’t figure out where to go. After three futile attempts at figuring out how to proceed, and just getting knocked back to limbo, I quit the game. Didn’t go back for weeks. Until yesterday, to be precise.
A couple more attempts, and I still couldn’t figure out where I was supposed to go. Ended up looking at a Youtube LP to see what they did. Turns out there’s a closed door at the back of one of the houses that you can go through and lock behind you. The game does kinda lead you there, but that was a closed door, and there was an open door on the right, so I thought “keep going for the open doors”. I guess I’m just dumb.
After a bit of quiet, and another couple of chase sequences that were more understandable, you do get away, and you find a new camera. Which comes with a mini-boss fight where all you have to do, all you can do, is take enough pictures of the thing before it reaches you. To help you use the new camera’s zoom function, I suppose, but it still felt dumb. There is nowhere to go, and you can’t get past the ghost, and it insta-limbos you if it gets to you or you try to run past it, and all you can do is keep taking pictures until it’s banished. It was somewhere between six and ten pictures, which honestly felt like too many. Between three and five would have been plenty.
That’s actually a consistent problem throughout Act 2, that ghosts just take too many shots. This applies to bosses and non-bosses alike. Unlike Fatal Frame, there’s really no way of increasing the amount of damage a shot does in Dreadout. They seem to have completely abandoned the idea from Act 1 that certain ghosts can only be hit in their weak point, as well. Though in fairness they experiment with other fight mechanics for the ghost encounters. They’re interesting, but I still feel most ghosts could have done with halving their health bars, at least. You just get that feeling of “yes, I get the point, let me move on now”.
All that said, I am still willing to forgive Dreadout its flaws, because when it works, it just works so well. When it plays to its strengths, it shows how worthy it is of being called horror. It’s hard for me to be as wordy on that subject, but I will try to do it justice.
When the game lets you go at your own speed, when it doesn’t rush you, when it just presents you with an area to explore, it can really sink its fangs into you. I found myself highly suspicious and non-trusting of everything I saw. Especially if it seemed benign. Where terror plays on your stress, horror plays on your tenseness. The feeling that anything you can do can, and probably will, cause anything to happen, but you don’t know what, or really when, or where, and you know you have to push forward, but you really don’t want to. Except you do, because you want to see what happens next.
And when the game is content to just let you advance at your own pace and under your power; when it just sits back, and waits, and lets you choose when to proceed, that is definitely when it works the best. It has a talent for making even the most normal situation seem untrustworthy. Little clues that let you know something is off, even if you can’t pinpoint exactly what.
I also absolutely love that at one point it gives you a choice to just walk away, and the game lets you do it. There’s even a dedicated ending for that, a rolling of credits, and a unique post-credit scene. It might not be the “true” ending, but it’s an ending, and you can just leave it there if you want.
I am not sure if the developers plan on making a Dreadout 2, or an Act 3 (Act 2 felt like the conclusion to this part of Linda’s story), but if I was to give them one tip going forward aside from “focus on your strengths, hint: it’s not the combat”, it would be to maybe add a little more direction to the game. Maybe have Linda (or whatever future protagonist you go for) make more notes in their journal or something, because there are times in the game where it can be really unclear what you’re supposed to do. Of course, that also runs into the problem of maybe making it too obvious, and you don’t want that either. But you guys are pretty good at subtle clues and hints, so maybe put in a few more of those.
And maybe ease up on the supposed-to-lose fights?