Dread X Collection: The Hunt Review
Since the launch of the original Dread X Collection last May, Dread XP has devoted itself to bringing together PC gaming’s most promising indie horror talent and letting them run wild with short game anthologies. Dread X Collection: The Hunt is their fourth collaborative effort and, sparing no expense, they’ve even brought on DUSK’s David Szymanski to act as creative director. The result is seven short horror games all unified around a single theme: shooting things until they die. Usually from a first-person perspective.
Late 90s hunting simulators and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space collide in Uktena 64, developed by KIRA (responsible for 2018’s excellent Lost in Vivo). You’re an internet-addicted hillbilly on the trail of some mutated wildlife, and as the name suggests, this expedition most closely resembles a Nintendo 64 game. Expect only the chunkiest models and even some tasteful fogging, creating an initially cosy atmosphere that begins to crumble as the horror unfurls.
Guns have a good kick to them, while well-timed reloads (and knowing when to start backpedalling) are crucial to surviving the harder difficulties. There’s also a slightly superfluous photography element, requiring a certain number of dead critter pictures be taken before each level can be finished (like Pokémon Snap, only Pikachu’s turned inside-out and trying to eat you). You may occasionally see the odd animal getting stuck on some scenery, but Uktena 64 is among the more polished titles in The Hunt, and also the most unexpectedly disturbing.
Philip Hesselbäck’s Axis Mundi continues the hunting and photography theme, sending you into a shopping mall to track down restless spirits. Once found, a quick snap from your special camera transports you back in time to quell their suffering. In the past, you’ll take on hostile ghosts via smooth, Fatal Frame-esque camera combat, undertake a bit of light puzzle solving, and take specific environmental pictures that unlock new lore entries. It’s perhaps the shortest game in the collection, but packed full of charm and ultimately left me wanting more. Here’s hoping Hesselbäck decides to continue this spooky photo-op.
Rose of Meat
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. I shouldn’t be surprised. “Mr. Pink” is the same deviant mind behind Golden Light, and he’s brought his particular set of skills to Rose of Meat with a squishy vengeance. From what I could discern through the caustic visual filter, you’re shipwrecked on an island populated by elastic flesh babies and mountainous eyeballs, and your only hope for survival is a revolver and a talking leg. I can’t say much else without spoiling the insanity within, but expect to shoot a lot of red barrels and embark on a few very unusual fetch quests. It’s certainly an experience, albeit one that becomes overwhelming to the point where I found myself hurriedly stumbling through it in a desperate attempt to reach the ending. Fun? Eh. Unforgettable? Absolutely.
In stark contrast, the award for most ordinary game in The Hunt must go to Seraphixia, which is impressive considering just how weird this one gets. A man’s search for his missing daughter leads him to an abandoned submarine, inside of which lies another dimension inhabited by dangerous beings. It’s quite a spectacle, with developer Vidas Games serving up views of utterly alien landscapes and pitting you against bizarre-looking monsters. But beyond the otherworldly sights and sounds, this is just a competently designed and refreshingly (at least after Rose of Meat) straightforward FPS with one path to move down, a bog-standard selection of guns and some interminably spongy boss fights. Three stars!
Torple Dook presents Black Relic, the collection’s one and only third-person shooter. As a mute, crossbow-wielding monk, you must defeat the dark forces that have besieged your abbey, slaughtered your brothers and stolen the holy relic you were sworn to protect. There’s a palpable Resident Evil 4 flavour to combat; enemies are slow and go down easily, but you’re frequently outnumbered and armed with a weapon that takes roughly a week to reload between shots, leading to many tense situations. Visually, Black Relic is quite striking. Imagine the ultra-early 3D graphics of Alone in the Dark viewed through Virtual Boy goggles and you’re halfway there. It may not be easy on the eyes, but it absolutely succeeds at creating a deeply satanic atmosphere.
The Fruit is a tale of doomed love set in the late 19th century, where the community of Ravenshollow has succumbed to a mysterious affliction that’s turning townsfolk into rabid cultists. You’ve got two weapons to defend yourself: an axe and a rifle, and you’ll quickly learn to love both. As in developer Christopher Yabsley’s earlier title Pigsaw, melee combat is weighty and requires careful timing, but the payoff of successfully burying your axe in a foe’s collar bone is undeniably satisfying. The rifle, meanwhile, is a guaranteed one-hit kill but requires you to go through a manual step-by-step reload process after every shot, and bullets aren’t exactly ubiquitous.
As you explore the foggy region, you’ll find ancient runes that can be cast to unlock new areas. Though initially interesting, this proves clunky when you have to start selecting and casting runes in the middle of combat against some irritating late-game enemy types. Even so, The Fruit is a laudably ambitious stab at first-person survival horror that, similar to Axis Mundi, feels like a proof-of-concept for a much larger project. I could happily go for several more hours of this.
The House of Unrest
Never before in my life have I considered what an Exorcist movie directed by John Woo might look like, but after playing Dan McGrath’s The House of Unrest, it’s all I can think about. As a priest packing a crucifix and a Glock with unlimited ammo, it’s your job to burn away demonic flesh piles and gun down an army of skinless zombies. It’s genius. OK, in truth, there’s not a whole lot to discuss here. Enemies don’t even begin to put up a fight and the puzzles basically solve themselves. But it’s great fun, the crispy PS1 aesthetic is delightful, and it all leads to an outrageous finale. I demand at least seven sequels.
Strictly speaking, the launcher is not listed among the collection’s featured games, but it needs to be brought up since it’s where you’ll be spending most of your playtime. It’s a primarily narrative experience where you control a tracker assigned to assist the occupants of an arctic research facility. She arrives to find the place deserted, save for all the blood smears and mutilated corpses. Without giving too much away, each played game (accessed via a note board in the cafeteria) will reveal another piece of information needed to progress the overarching John Carpenter homage.
While traversing the base, your character’s sloooow movement speed and lack of sprint option is immediately apparent and becomes frankly agonising once the backtracking starts. There’s also a general feeling of instability to the launcher, like it’s only held together by hopes, dreams and congealed Easter eggs. Highlights include a previously collected item reappearing in its original spot, all music breaking completely after finishing Black Relic, certain crucial doors turning invisible, and the checkpoint system is cavalier to say the least. However, these issues could all be patched up by the time you read this, plus the story is compelling enough to keep you playing and bolstered by quality voice acting, while quieter moments are scored by some appropriately moody compositions.
The Hunt Ends
There’s a lot to love about Dread X Collection: The Hunt, most of which I’ve only been able to briefly touch on here. Yes, there’s a fair amount of jank and not every game will click with everyone, but that’s to be expected from a collaborative project of this nature. What ultimately shines through is the affection Szymanski and Co have for both FPS and horror games that’s apparent every step of the way through this anthology.
Review copy provided by the publisher.