DreadOut 2 – Undercooked but fun – Review

Gare – Thursday, February 27, 2020 4:24 PM
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The original DreadOut, released back in 2014, didn’t leave a particularly strong impression on me – sure, it mimicked the Fatal Frame series’ ghost-hunting camera mechanic with a moderate level of success, but I still can’t say I was wowed by what its brief campaign ended up offering. Developer Digital Happiness probably felt that they’d have to change up their formula a bit to keep things fresh in the sequel, and that’s more or less what they did – DreadOut 2 doesn’t go the exact same route as its predecessor, and instead tries to forge an identity of its own. Unfortunately, this otherwise promising second entry shipped with an entire boatload of issues and questionable design decisions that prevent it from reaching its true potential.

Narrative stumbles

Much like the first installment, DreadOut 2 stars Indonesian teen Linda Melinda, a girl with a special affinity for the supernatural – and if you don’t remember what happened to her in the original game, don’t worry, the sequel has a special “The Story So Far”-type video to get you up to speed. Then again, DreadOut 2’s narrative isn’t exactly its strongest suit, to say the least; while the plot is serviceable enough in the sense that it gives Linda a reason to go from Place A to Place B to face off against various boogeymen, I’d be lying if I said I was on the edge of my seat during most of the adventure. What also doesn’t help matters is the subpar quality of the game’s English writing – whether you’re reading character dialogue or a piece of descriptive text for an item in your inventory, almost everything in DreadOut 2 is riddled with jarring grammatical errors and poorly-worded sentences, effectively robbing the story and characters of any potential charm they could’ve had. The storyline, by the way, also ends with one of the most abrupt and comically anti-climactic scenes I’ve ever seen in a video game, so if you’re looking for catharsis, you certainly won’t find it here.

Snappin’ and slashin’

Thankfully, DreadOut 2 manages to counterbalance its run-of-the-mill storyline and poorly written dialogue sequences with an enjoyable mix of action and adventure. Generally speaking, you’ll encounter two types of “missions” throughout the game: ones where you have to rely on your smartphone to banish ghosts by snapping pictures of them, and ones where you’re required to fight actual, physical entities – zombies, for lack of a better word – with a melee weapon, usually an axe. When the time comes to face a monstrosity up-close, your smartphone still very much serves a purpose, though, as its flashlight function can be used to blind and thus temporarily stun enemies, giving Linda a brief window of opportunity to either flee or perform flashy finisher moves. I honestly quite enjoyed these bits; despite their gory simplicity, and Linda’s somewhat sluggish animations with the axe, I actually found myself having tons of fun chopping hapless zombies into mincemeat. However, this also means that DreadOut 2, despite its honest and admirable attempts at being a spooky horror game, isn’t actually all that scary most of the time – there are a few notably atmospheric exceptions here and there (such as the Bloody Love Story side quest or the entire Prologue), but I frankly can’t recall any parts in the campaign that genuinely had my heart racing or palms sweating. If anything, it’s the zombies that should be afraid of Linda – I mean, have you seen the way this girl wields an axe?

DreadOut 2’s combat-related problems rise to the surface whenever you run into a boss fight that requires the use of your smartphone. Simply put, these segments can be outright infuriating. Ghosts move surprisingly fast and have the advantage of being able to enter walls and then reappear almost anywhere around you, regardless of where you’d last seen them. If that alone wasn’t enough, they charge at you fast enough that you’re only given a split-second to react; if you’re not lucky, be prepared to get mercilessly stun-locked until you die and have to try again and again and again. Attempting to vanquish these bosses with a gamepad is also a fool’s errand – the quick 180-turns required to home in on ghosts are far easier to perform with a mouse, and even then, sheer luck remains an important deciding factor.

Sightseeing 101

Between your ghost/zombie-hunting exploits, you’ll occasionally be allowed to freely roam the city before deciding to move on to a new location, and this is where DreadOut 2’s level design manages to truly shine. In terms of graphical fidelity, the game is thoroughly pleasant to look at: from lively, shop-laden city streets to sleepy little villages surrounded by misty mountains, DreadOut 2 pulls out all the stops when it comes to environmental design – it’s quite clear that Digital Happiness poured an endless amount of care into creating the game’s numerous locales, all of which are lovingly crafted and rich in both detail and variety. Some of the campaign’s dungeon-like areas – such as the abandoned hotel or the mansion cellar in the finale – do admittedly devolve into a series of linear corridors with not much going on in terms of creative level design, but in the end, this isn’t enough to put a damper on DreadOut 2’s rock-solid atmosphere and presentation. As a side note, exploring the city’s hub areas is also worth doing if you’re a bit of a completionist, as the game does feature some minor collectibles and a couple of optional quests to tackle.

Another bug hunt

By far the most disappointing aspect of DreadOut 2 is the abundance of critical bugs it launched with. The game essentially feels like an unpolished Early Access title: a blatantly unfinished product that just barely manages to work. I was hindered by locked doors that should’ve been open. I saw NPCs inexplicably pop up in areas where they had no business being, which essentially broke one of the game’s side quests and made it impossible for me to finish it until I restarted the whole game from the beginning. This other time, the camera froze up during a cutscene and rendered me unable to continue. I even encountered a game-breaking bug that permanently prevented me from progressing with the storyline, and forced me to wait for the developers to put out a patch. The worst part about all this is that the game uses a checkpoint system; there are no manual saves, meaning that if you run into a potentially campaign-ending bug like I did, you’re likely stuck with it – sometimes, reloading your checkpoint solves the problem, at other times, it simply doesn’t. I honestly cannot stress enough how utterly broken DreadOut 2 was when I played it, and how much frustration its myriad issues caused me – and it’s such a colossal shame, too, because buried under this mountain-sized avalanche of technical problems, there’s a legitimately fun game to be found. You just have to dig very deep to find it.

Final thoughts

If it weren’t for its staggering amount of bugs and issues, I could’ve given DreadOut 2 a more confident recommendation. It’s a charming and generally enjoyable action-adventure romp with ghosts, monsters, atmospheric locations and different types of gameplay mechanics that add up to a satisfying overall package. I had fun playing it – when it actually worked as intended and I wasn’t tearing my hair out over some of the more frustrating boss fights. Can I recommend it right now, though? Well… I sort of can, albeit only with a million caveats, and only to people willing to put up with the fact that the game, in its current state, is a bit of a technical mess. Everyone else should probably adopt a wait-and-see approach – perhaps in a few weeks or months, once its multitude of bugs are ironed out, DreadOut 2 can finally become the game it was meant to be from the get-go.

Note: This review was based on my experiences with the 1.0 and 1.0.1 versions of the game

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