This Time, It’s Weirdly Personal: 10 Dead Doves Does Survival Horror its Own Way
Much like anyone reading this, I’ve played a fair few horror games in my time, and in times like these, where there’s a veritable glut of them in all shapes and sizes, it can become a bit much without even realizing it. As with any horror medium, the more exposure you have to it, the number you feel towards the things it does. It truly takes something wild, weird, or just plain spectacular, to remind you that actually, yes, horror can still surprise you.
What is unsurprising, if you’ve read my articles here before, is that I find those moments happening in the indie space now. Yes, digital stores are filled to bursting point with clones, copycats, and wannabe successors, but that’s a natural part of the process. In fact, without it, there wouldn’t be experiences like the one I had with a brief demo for Duonix Studios’ upcoming narrative horror 10 Dead Doves.
From a distance, 10 Dead Doves, which features on the recent Haunted PS1 Demo Disc: Spectral Mall, is just another throwback survival horror game, out to curry favor with your nostalgia glands by offering fixed camera angles, low-poly visuals, and unique item descriptions. Yet in the half an hour I spent with it, several aspects of this game immediately stood out to me that were more than just honeydewed memories. Chief among them was that 10 Dead Doves is very much its own thing from the off.
No, I’m not saying it does anything revelatory in terms of mechanics or that it distances itself from familiar tropes. It’s down to the fact it tells its story in a personal way that’s not about emotional manipulation, just a story that begins to play out as if it were just two pals interacting like the player doesn’t exist and stubbornly refuses to let them in on the joke.
Friends Marcus and Sean (voiced by developers Mark Byram II and Sean-Micheal Millard) are on the way to a hiking trip in the Appalachian Mountains. Marcus keeps having strange visions of a monochrome world where a bird-masked man spouts cryptic warnings. What that has to do with the boys’ trip remains largely a mystery at this point, but you can bet your keys on the weird shit that follows is connected to it somehow. It certainly helped to throw me off the scent of what 10 Dead Doves actually is, that’s for sure.
Much of the demo focuses on the road trip conversations of Marcus and Sean, and it was these interactions more than anything that left me smitten with it. It’s full of dialogue that is intentionally awful to listen to, and there are many unexplained in-jokes between the two, but you know what? That felt like a game less interested in being a playable movie, and more like an unabashed, personal take on a horror story. One where the eventual reveal of something sinister in the Appalachian woods carries more weight as a result.
The banter between the duo remains the same throughout the demo, but the context of the ever-changing situation switches the tone. So as the pair become on edge after their car breaks down, they distract themselves from the thought of being stranded up in the mountains by bickering about inconsequential bullshit rather than spout reams of expositionary text. There’s obviously still a bit of that to it as well, otherwise, the story would go nowhere, but the demo leaves you asking plenty of questions thanks to its loose style.
This makes the big horror moment in the demo all the more effective. The unearthly roar a pursuing beast makes and the gibbering terror in the voices of Marcus and Sean jolts you out of the oddball squabbling for a moment as the pair flee their unseen pursuer. You know the demo has been building up to something, and overexposure to the genre can make that wait a chore if care and attention are not paid to how that moment is structured. Thankfully, Duonix Studios gets that, and the scene is a nice early payoff without giving away too much.
Something else that helps in making that work is the production values of 10 Dead Doves. Its origins may be in PS1 horror, but it looks and feels like an evolution of that. The fixed camera is largely used to impressive effect, and the sparse wilderness is detailed in all the right ways, drawing your eye to everything relevant. When the guys are walking along the side of a road with the mountain forests sprawling out into the distance, it was like the game gave me an adrenaline shot of Autumn as I see it.
There’s something about a game making the most of a restrictive toolset to create a memorable scene that feels exactly the right kind of nostalgia. I enjoy the slightly weirder, naffer aspects of 10 Dead Doves so far, it’s the fact it’s used in conjunction with a real understanding of scene-setting that makes me so excited to see the rest of the game.
I have no idea if Duonix Studios can keep this up for an entire game or if it will stick the landing. I just know I really want to find out.