It's the fifth day of my hunt, and I'm worried. I should be focused—I'm hunting!—but my mind is stuck back at the house thinking about the message written in blood on my front door. "God is coming in five days," it read. It was worrisome, but I'm on a mission. I have to keep going. I have to keep hunting these squirrels and stapling them to a decomposing corpse.
I've already bagged about five of them, but I need one more Big Squirrel to hit my quota. I start making squirrel calls to lure one out, and soon enough, a gargantuan mutated squirrel gallops toward me. As I scope into the rifle I make sure not to rustle the nearby shrubs. I've scared off way too many that way. I fire a round at the centre of the giant beast and it topples over. I add its pelt to my collection, and that should be the end of my hunting day. But something's shifted. A low growl comes from the bushes to my left, and some trees start shaking to the right. I am now the one being hunted.
I bolt toward my cabin with two Squirrel Bears on my heels. A red countdown timer pops up on my screen. "GOD IS COMING," it says. My door's locked. There's a slow crescendo of discordant sounds, and a chorus of voices: a symphony of despair. The clock hits 00:00 and the music is blaring. My door's still jammed so I rush into the forest rifle-first praying to get the drop on God. I look around, but nothing is there. As I turn around to walk back home a terrifying, incomprehensible orb bolts towards my face. The game ends.
This is Squirrel Stapler: Interactive Small Game Hunting by David Szymanski. It's a very cool, unassuming Cabela Big Game Hunting-style parody game and it's one of 12 assorted horror games that were made in 10 days for Dread X Collection 2. The other games in the Dread X Collections are just as creepy, intense, and inventive; they push the boundaries of horror in smart ways as compact games developed by small (mostly one-person) teams.
Dread X Collection originally began back in May as a game jam riff on P.T., the unnerving playable teaser for Kojima's Silent Hills that vanished into cyberspace less than a year after its launch. Publisher DreadXP details in a blog post that they wanted to push back against "billion dollar budgets" and games industry crunch, so they gathered 10 developers and said “make the P.T. for your ideal horror project in 7 days." Two more collections followed, and have different themes: Dread X Collection 2 focuses on "lovecrafting," and Dread X Collection 3 is all about "Spoopy." The independent developers involved come from all around the world and include Breogan Hackett, corpsepile, and World of Horror's Panstasz.
Over the past few weeks I've been playing Dread X Collection 2 and 3 late at night, and I've been consistently impressed with how imaginative and different each game is. The packs contain 10-12 games each, and the play time of each game ranges from around 20 minutes to over an hour. It's a sweet charcuterie board of horror. Every game is a striking, creative standalone experience, but it's also exciting to see how each developer has interpreted the collection's shared theme.
Some favourites are the Dread X Collection 3's SPOOKWARE @ The Video Store by Adam Pype & Viktor Kraus. It's a classic tale of three skeleton friends renting movies together. It's a fast-paced compilation of horror minigames (like WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames! but spooky). One minigame had me as a UFO making crop circles, another had me maneuvering away from a Kraken in a rickety pirate ship, and the next said "LOOK AWAY" and had me dodging eye contact with Medusa. All of that happened within the span of 30 seconds. SPOOKWARE @ The Video Store is a party game I am definitely pulling out whenever parties are allowed again. (Also, it's one of the few games in the collections unlikely to cause nightmares.)
In Charlotte’s Exile, a Dread X Collection 2 game by John Szymanski, you have to stop Lovecraftian beasts from being summoned while you're trapped in a library with one. It's a high stakes puzzle game that rests upon your ability to quickly memorize ancient texts while staying aware of your surroundings. I honestly deserve a medal for completing this game. I simply could not keep it together when I saw those nasty tentacles.
Another great one off of Dread X Collection 3 is Bubbo: Adventure on Geralds Island by Breogan Hackett, which is a cute, cosmic horror 3D platformer/collectathon game where you play as the titular Bubbo and help out the animals on the island. I won't spoil the story, but I will say… Watch out for Gerald. This game captures the vibe of classic N64 platformers while staying contemporary; the controls are buttery smooth on a controller and navigating the vibrant and detailed cartoon architecture is a treat.
Playing these collections is like walking through virtual horror galleries—if this is the future of games, then the future is full of creative freedom, without crunch. The Dread X Collection is an energizing collaboration between some of the most inspired independent devs, and horror buffs shouldn't sleep on it, especially during this spooky time of year.