"When you hear fapping, run." This is the extent of the advice I receive from a fellow player in my first round of Dead Realm, a multiplayer game that entered Early Access on Thursday and quickly became a hit on Twitch and a Steam top seller. I eventually figure out what this advice means: in Dead Realm, players run through a spooky mansion evading another player who controls a creepy ghost baby, whose wet, slapping footsteps are described in the expected internet parlance.
As a ghost baby (you can also play as a ghost werewolf, but the baby is far more fun and gross), you run through the mansion hunting down the rest of the players (similar to the game Damned), who inhabit various human bodies. You can taunt them as you hunt them, which makes the baby say horror-movie phrases in a creepy baby voice. Ghosts are visible by default, but you can turn invisible for a short period of time, the better to sneak up on or ambush your prey. You can also trigger your enhanced ghost senses, that allow you to spot the location of the hiding humans from a distance.
Get up close to a human and you can reap their souls, which turns them into ghosts. Now they're on your team, and join in the hunt for the remaining humans.
Humans have a few defenses. They can activate a shield, which plops a giant ghost-repellent bubble around them, good for blocking doors and hallways for a short period of time. They can also use their cellphones to peer through security cameras and detect when ghosts are near, and they can place human-shaped decoys to briefly fool the pursuing ghosts. The mansion is sprawling and filled with secret doors and hatches, rotating bookcases, ledges to perch on, and plenty of nooks and crannies to hide in. The goal is to make it until the end of the round without being harvested.
It's hard to call this horror: Dead Realm is a very silly experience, and the jump scares make you laugh in surprise more than scream in terror. Still, it is a jolt when the disgusting, dirty ghost baby appears in front of you and harvests your soul, and when you're one of the last humans left it can be tense, knowing the rest of the players are creeping around looking for you. There are also incidental moments that can startle, such as when I decided to use a cupboard as a hiding place, opened the door, and found two players already hiding inside it. On the plus side, I scared them as well.
It's easy to see why Dead Realm became popular on Twitch so quickly: it's fun and goofy, with plenty of opportunities for big reactions. Sometimes too many: in one of the rounds I played there were two different people streaming it and doing everything they could to make it entertaining for their audience, which meant a lot of extra-loud shrieking, but in another round I played everyone was just having a good time. Rounds are usually short, five or six minutes, and players who have a bit of experience know the best ledges to climb and best spots to hide.
There are only a few maps at the moment, and two modes (in the other, the humans must search for and collect scattered pocket watches to win the round), so I'm not sure how long Dead Realm's popularity will last unless they add some new content. In the meantime, it makes for an enjoyable couple hours of spooking friends and strangers.
Dead Realm is available on Steam Early Access.