March 3, 2020

Andreas Betsche

DreadOut 2: The Next Step for Indonesian Horror

March 3, 2020 | Andreas Betsche

What are we afraid of? This is a question every game developer has to ask himself if he wants to make a horror game. For everyone, fear and creep means something different. Popular horror games usually include the elements of terror, psychological horror, and the body horror of blood and intestines. DreadOut2 from Indonesian studio Digital Happiness serves us a splendid horror cocktail that contains all of these elements. However, one thing is decidedly different: it is a thoroughly Indonesian horror game.

The streets are bustling with vendors and reckless motorbikes.

DreadOut 2 follows up where the predecessor and its spin-off Keepers of the Dark left off: We take on the role of Linda, a student from a small Indonesian town, who is involved in mysterious events in which all her friends died. Because she is persecuted by an evil omen, she is marginalized and bullied by her classmates. Pursued by the curse, we propel ourselves in a bizarre adventure in which the boundaries between the real world and madness blur.

Everything still seems very harmless …

Unlike DreadOut, the sequel has become a much more open game. Although the story is still completely linear, this time it is possible to explore Linda’s home town (which is strongly reminiscent of the city of Bandung) relatively freely. Don’t expect an open world now, the area is still very limited, but with the detection of Urban Legends and a few optional side quests, there is much more to do and explore.

This supermarket looks strangely familiar.

This is exactly where DreadOut 2 shows its strengths: We have never seen such an authentic replica of Indonesia. The developers have reproduced a miniature version of their home country in the Unreal engine, which, in addition to the typical architecture, also features details such as street food sellers, vegetation, music, language and inside jokes. When exploring the world, initiates find a multitude of cross-references and allusions to specific Indonesian topics – for example, references to coffee culture or pun names like Samsul or Yamahmud.

A gamelan is mandatory in an Indonesian game.

For those who do not yet know Indonesia, there is a unique opportunity to dive into this fascinating world, to discover and to learn. This is how it must have felt when the developers first played games from Japan or the USA when they were kids or teenagers. The fact that the Japanese scenario in particular spread a special fascination for many gamers is well known.

Fighting ghosts and monsters with our smartphone. Or in this case, a tiger ghost.

So it doesn’t seem strange that, with with “Fatal Frame”, the developers have chosen a Japanese role model for the core gameplay. As with this classic, ghosts in DreadOut 2 are allergic to photography. The smartphone with camera and flash becomes our weapon against the supernatural! At the push of a button, we look through the “lens” and trigger the flash at the right moment to harm the ghosts or blind the monsters. In some situations, however, Linda uses conventional weapons, such as an ax or a knife.

Gore. Check.

Linda is surprisingly defensive and takes a lot. She only bites the dust after several hits. She also copes with the cruel events amazingly well. Blood, intestines and nerve-wracking tension rarely really affect our mostly silent heroine. Dreadout 2 unfortunately misses a lot of narrative potential here: Although the whole story revolves around Linda, we know very little about our protagonist, her thoughts and emotions. She remains a one-dimensional projection surface for the player. After all, we don’t really know what the game actually wants to tell us. After a rapid roller-coaster ride through the who’s who of Indonesian horror mythology, the end leaves us rather confused.

Too rarely do we learn something about Linda’s past, like in this flashback from her childhood.

Fortunately, this shortcoming is not decisive: the atmosphere is creepy enough thanks to the background noise, the music and the lighting – even if we travel a lot more in daylight than in the predecessor. In addition to the city, the surroundings also include the school, an old hotel, a hospital and the village and its surroundings. The opponents and especially the bosses are varied and creative. Here you can see how refreshing it is to step away from the usual horror standards. Each ghost is linked to a background story, and it’s fun to figure out what the developers will come up with next.

We can track ghosts and their stories in our helpful Ghospedia app. Who programmed this?!

So everything is fine? Not quite. Like its predecessor, DreadOut 2 is plagued by a variety of technical problems and bugs. Sometimes events are not triggered correctly, so that you are stuck in a dead end and have to reload the game. Sometimes mechanics – especially the fighting – do not work properly, which is particularly noticeable with the bosses, who sometimes spawn far too quickly and in walls or basically too close behind you. This made some situations frustrating. However, the low level of difficulty and general interaction restrictions helped. Sometimes it was just enough to just hit the blind. In addition, the overall positive impression is unfortunately too often clouded by inadequacies in the graphics and the facial expressions and gestures of characters, which were often animated too sparsely or simply grotesquely wrong. The list of shortcomings is long. Nevertheless, the developers have promised improvement and diligently submit bug fixes. Overall, however, DreadOut 2 is a much more accessible experience than its predecessor and could be played through encountering only a few minor glitches.

The bugs are no reason to despair!

In conclusion, we would like recommend DreadOut 2 despite all its mistakes: trying to transfer an unused scenario into a video game is too unique. When the game plays out its adventure strengths, the experience is superbly implemented. DreadOut 2 is a game made with much more passion and attention to detail than many other comparable titles and you can see that in every corner. In the end, DreadOut2’s problems are probably due to an insufficient budget. One almost wants to hope that new financing opportunities will develop for Digital Happiness, because the approaches to an exciting horror adventure with open world elements in Indonesia have been successfully implemented in almost all respects. Next time, dear developers, more exploration, less action please! And allow yourself more time for playtesting. Oh, and please bring the DreadOut movie to cinemas outside of Southeast Asia. That’s enough with our wishes already… Go ahead and play DreadOut 2!

Dreadout 2 is available for PC on Steam. This review is based on a free review copy provided by developer Digital Happiness.

Andreas Betsche

Andreas Betsche founded Virtual SEA in early 2016 after researching Cambodian mobile games for his Master’s thesis. He has a background in Southeast Asia studies and has worked and lived in Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Since he has been actively playing games since the early 90s, combing both worlds in Virtual SEA brought together both of his passions.

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