DreadOut: Keepers of the Dark
Genre: Survival Action Horror
Certain games lend themselves to a convoluted and drawn-out mythos. Taking into account some certain popular horror games, you could easily find essays about Silent Hill’s background and characters. Personally, I’ve poured through a number of analyses about Rule of Rose and the symbolism within the world drawn up over the game’s events. While a lot of that is in the eye and explanations of the analyst behind the keyboard, most franchises are not foreign to the idea of adding more to an already existing mythos to explain mysteries or flesh out their universe. It’s what endears people to their work, after all.
The original DreadOut (which I reviewed a while back here) took its inspiration from some already existing mythology, sending a group of trapped teenagers and their teacher up against some of the specters and demons in Indonesian stories. The game didn’t just rest on this, as it had its own plot and story to tell, but the combination of existing and specifically created histories made for an interesting plot to watch unfold as the horrors played out.
Keepers of the Dark is not a straight sequel to DreadOut as one might be led to believe from the title and timeline. I say this not only informationally but as a bit of a warning for the discussion to follow since there is almost no way to discuss the game without referring to elements from the original DreadOut and possibly giving some spoilers. Acting more like a “missing chapter”, according to the game’s page on Steam, it sort of takes a quick sidestep from the plot of the original and has events that relate to it. If you haven’t played the original game and don’t want it ruined for you, feel free to turn away now. No hard feelings here, I promise!
Otherwise, take a peek at what I thought of this extra chapter from the DreadOut universe and how effective it may or may not have been as a standalone piece.
Everything’s been a bit convoluted for Linda Meiling since she and a group of her school companions stumbled into an abandoned town on their class trip. Entering the strange school on the other side of the village to find help didn’t make things any better- and everything has been going downhill since. Her friends have been going missing- or worse- and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight, let alone a positive one.
The night has had bigger plans for her, though, and as she’s been investigating, she’s found herself at the whim of some powerful spirits. They seem intertwined with something much deeper than mere hauntings and mischief. Linda seems to be standing at a precipice where coincidence is all but coincidental and survival may just mean proving oneself to beings beyond mortal comprehension.
During the longest night of her life, events have led her to a strange place. She doesn’t remember how she got there. It doesn’t seem to be a place within the school or, under observation, of the physical world. As vague memories of her night and the events leading up to her current situation drift back into focus, she must struggle to survive and find a way out of this strange room- or be stuck for the rest of her days here.
Nothing changed in the slightest to my recollection between DreadOut and Keepers of the Dark, which makes sense once you’ve taken in the entire game but also doesn’t do much to improve on the original. As with the first game, you control Linda as she travels from location to location, defending herself from dangerous spirits who have been running amok. In true Fatal Frame and DreadOut fashion, Linda can raise her camera with the click of a button and, if a glitch in the screen occurs, she can pull the trigger to do damage to the spirit in her sights. In turn, this will eventually lead to the spirit being banished, unable to do any more harm to Linda or anyone else. By exploring, she can also find items to collect that have similar properties to the items in the first game, though a bit more practical, causing certain spirits to become more vulnerable if they have been collected.
The idea behind Keepers of the Dark is not as lofty as the source material. While there is a story that comes in bits and pieces as the player progresses, the meat of the game lies in its setup. Linda will set out to explore a number of “spirit realms” from the strange hub of an ornate room that resembles a hotel lobby. The realms can be tackled in any sequence, though some of them do have items that will help in other areas. Each realm contains at least a couple of major spirits who either need to be found, coaxed out, or otherwise unearthed so that they can be banished
Once again, the “limbo” mechanic is back, as well, so when Linda is out of energy, it’s just a short run toward the light to appear back where you were to regroup and mount another assault. The developers did away with the irritation from the last game where the more you “died’, the longer the run back would be. It’s more for flavor than anything this time, and as an added bonus, it also lends a way for the player to recount some of the important moments in the first game as a refresher. In a way, Linda really can’t die, which is more than just a bit ominous in the grand story of the DreadOut universe.
The Good, The Bad, And…
The great part about Keepers is that it retains a lot of what made DreadOut so good. The atmosphere is still spot on, the scares are the right ratio of jumpscares (low) to creepy effects (high), and the mechanics are still fun. It also does a great job with reminding the player about the events that connect the title to the original and how it fits in while keeping things still vague enough to read into a bit. Linda’s still not a gripping protagonist, but given how this title works, that’s actually not a huge problem since it’s a bit more action-oriented than story-driven.
While there are plenty of new spirits and mechanics to experience and learn regarding how to handle them, there is a lot that is reused from the original game’s assets, making the game genuinely feel more like DLC than its own title. This sounds like a complaint, but it’s more of a mixed bag, to be honest. Nearly all of the realms are torn right from the settings of DreadOut so things feel a little lazy at first. Keepers is good at tricking the player into feeling like everything is fresh by utilizing the new adversaries’ behaviors and changing up how some of the levels work compared to when Linda was exploring them in the first game. It’s going to feel a little half-hearted to some given the two years between this and DreadOut being released.
While the game is great fun, the similarities don’t just stop at the assets. While the general and technical design of the game has been improved since the original, there are still a few issues with how combat and model movement works. Every time Linda is hit, she gets knocked to the ground. Unfortunately, when there are multiple enemies or a really persistent pursuer, this isn’t taken into account and you can be locked in a cycle of being hit and knocked down until your dead with no ability to escape. There were a couple of times where focusing the camera on an enemy and then trying to run would somehow turn into running toward the enemy instead which felt like it was more of a problem with mouse sensitivity and reaction rather than personal skill. It didn’t happen a lot, and Linda can take a lot of damage so it’s almost negligible. These touches can still be grating during certain fights, though.
Ambient sound and subtle aural cues were important in the original game. Once again, not much has changed. In fact, the sound design of this game feels even more important. While music can be a bit scarce (and more than a couple of times mistaken for an incoming enemy), there are constantly noises of shifting, clacking, and other unnerving emanations that will keep the player quite paranoid as they travel. The even spread of eerie noises that are just for atmosphere balanced with the sounds that actually signify something dangerous around is impressive and disorienting.
Everything is still just above par in the visual department, as well. Aside from the new spirits, most of which are downright terrifying, most of the character models and environments look to be lifted from the original game. Not a bad thing by any means, as the original game looked impressive enough on its own. If you thought the original looked nice, though, you’re in for a lot of the same aged-but-smooth art here.
If you’ve ever played a game and thought “I wish that I could play more like that in the same world”, you’ll get how much wish-fulfillment can be had from Keepers of the Dark. It could easily be inserted into the original game as an epilogue or unlockable chapter and fit perfectly. It does a lot of fun things with the mechanics that have already been set in place and honestly doesn’t do a ton of work toward furthering the lore of DreadOut aside from filling in a missing gap in the narrative. The gap was negligible, though, so what this game boils down to is a fun time in an already existing universe and some scary moments to reinforce the narrative that had already been given.
Whether it’s officially a standalone game or not, Keepers of the Dark feels like DLC for the original DreadOut. A few sources do state that this was initially meant to just be an add-on to the original but it became its own game. It still feels like a DLC episode, though, so venturing into Keepers of the Dark without having played the original is not something I can recommend unless you’re just looking for a Fatal Frame-lite experience.
If you have played the game and enjoyed it, though, Keepers of the Dark is worth looking into. It has plenty of solid scares and the gameplay is just as entertaining as the original game. If you’re looking for more story or plot to unfold, you can probably pass on this. While this title skews toward the action and scares more than anything, it does so in a way that retains the grounded atmosphere of its predecessor which makes for both a welcoming surprise and an engaging game for the few hours you can spend with it.