Ultra-Indie Spotlight: Dreader
Have you ever got one of those screamer games or videos sent to you? These may have fallen out of vogue, but there was a time where if you opened an email, it was either a scam, your grandmother sending you another chain email, or something scary. Most popular was the timeless Scary Maze Game. Designed to be easy right up until the last second, it would lull you into a deep concentration, only to (spoiler alert) hit you with a jumpscare. Dreader by developer Donitz is about finding something like that. Unlike the real thing, this game is not something you simply laugh off.
Video games are good at capturing a slice of life. We, however, are here for the scares, and who doesn’t love something normal turned weird. Immersion is important, and it’s all the more immersive if you’ve already had some kind of real-world experience with the thing that’s going on. Sorry, Dead Space, but I’ve never been on an interplanetary mining rig. Can’t relate. But I can absolutely relate to being up late and sitting at the computer, as I am current. And wouldn’t it be frightening if someone were to scream in my face right now?
Non-Wanky Game Recap:
It’s a pretty simple game. In it, you game. Dreader is a first-person game where you’re staring at a computer screen, playing a silly little maze game. Move your cursor around and don’t touch the walls. Think you can do it? Well, it’d be a lot easier if there were no distractions going on. The game should have a setting where you can disable the curses and demons (the game within the game, not Dreader itself. You know what I mean).
There’s a number of mazes to complete, probably a few dozen “levels,” with increasing complexity and strange gimmicks. Sometimes the path appears and disappears. Sometimes an evil cursor will try and stop you. Anything can happen. Dreader does not lose the novelty of the gameplay. On top of that, the further you go, the more creepy things begin to happen.
Turns out it’s hard to accurately move a cursor when you’re under stress. Unlike the Scary Maze Game, which presumably you’d play as the butt of a prank and not know it’s scary, Dreader has the player fully aware that something is off. Having the understanding that you’re about to be pranked makes that imminent scare that much more anxiety-inducing.
One thing that this game could use is a little more freedom to move around. Frequently, Dreader has stuff going on off-screen. Sometimes a shadow darts around, sometimes the maze shows you a video of your character staring at the screen from behind. These are the most interesting moments of the game, where the tension is highest. My one complaint about the game was that I didn’t like that the movement of the protagonist was automatic.
How To Fix It:
I think giving the player the ability to turn their head at least to look around the room would make things a bit more engaging. Especially if, after turning their head, whatever creepy spook-o that’s frightening you is suddenly not there anymore. Dreader is already great at creating a scare. But sometimes, it’s best to give the player enough rope to hang themselves with. Let them get antsy and turn around every two seconds.
I covered this game about a year ago. I was so blown away that scrolling through itch and seeing it listed, I felt the need to revisit it and remember why it was great. Dreader is a simple premise. A ten-minute game about solving simple mazes is hardly the most obvious way to create great horror, but it’s executed with such mastery and elegance that it seems to be in a league of its own.
You can download Dreader on itch.io by clicking here.