Dreadhalls is an example of just how immersive Virtual Reality gaming has the potential to be, and with its bevy of jump scares and combination of atmospheric visuals and sound effects, there is a lot to like, especially at first. However, at its heart Dreadhalls is actually a shallow experience that likely will fail to encourage gamers to come back after besting its challenges once.
The story behind the game is as simple as the overall gameplay. You wake up in a solitary room within a dungeon with no information about how you got here and with the goal of escaping. The creepy dungeon creates a dingy, claustrophobic setting that helps to set the stage. As soon as the deep, dreary music started and the first room revealed itself to me, I knew what the overall experience was aiming to deliver.
Now first and foremost, I want to point out that on the Oculus Store, Dreadhalls has a comfort listing of intense, and that is no joke. The setting itself is a creepy one, and it did a fantastic job of instilling a sense of dread in me - but I love horror video games, movies and books. No, unfortunately while the setting itself is creepy, this is one of those titles where VR sickness is a real thing. I have had an opportunity to play a large number of VR games over the last few weeks, and so far Dreadhalls has proven to be one of the most physically taxing.
The controls are mapped out akin to a first person shooter, with movement on the left stick and your head / vision mapped to the right. Interactions are a simple button press, but it is the movement that can be tough to stomach at times. Obviously mileage varies from one person to the next as to how their system will react to a game, but I will say that my youngest daughter found it hard to play more than about fifteen minutes. My son, who lives on first-person shooters managed about thirty. I logged about an hour in my first go, but all three of us said we felt the effects of the visuals more heavily than anything else we had played to that point. Like many games, the line of sight is also mapped to turning your head, and while that offers a smoother experience, it is very slow. Thankfully there are some options in the game's menu that lets you reduce movement speed of the stick controls and even a 'snapping' feature that is like what a dancer does while spinning - where they focus their eyes on a point. Here it jumps to a point and creates a less immersive experience, but one that was easier on my senses and allowed me to continue playing for long stretches of time.
With that advisory out of the way, I will say that the overall atmosphere is fantastic. The lighting is dark, creepy with an otherworldly feeling that permeates throughout the experience. Dreadhalls makes a solid first impression with its visuals. It is not until you have spent some time with the game that you start to understand just how repetitive the environment actually is. Also kudos to the sound design team with a variety of nearby footsteps, eerie scraping sounds and strange, whispered words that often feel just on the edge of your senses. A quality horror game or movie is just as depending on the things you can't quite see and hear as those you can. You need those jump scares that anchor that sense of dread, but oftentimes it is what is just out of sight that teases the imagination and makes the experience that much scarier.
The different creatures encountered lack variety, and the rules of the game are not immediately clear as in one room I heard strange sounds and did not realize that I was standing exactly where a shadowy figure was rising up from the floor. Its dark shape and piercing white eyes were the last thing I saw before it delivered a one hit kill, and from there I learned to avoid them. Looking away is not enough, these creatures will pursue you at times. Other moments of fright include statues that move when you look away, a strange woman performing some sort of vague ceremony and spending coins you find along the way to get small bits of lore out of the statue heads found at various intervals along the way.
The gameplay itself consists of little more than wandering, picking the occasional lock, finding oil to keep your lantern lit and figuring out the simple puzzles that usually amount to finding an item and placing it in a specific place that opens up the next passage. You cannot fight off the aforementioned monsters - you simply have to avoid them, which is fine. There are a good number of horror games that rely on this gameplay mechanic. There are a few rough edges around some of the controls however. Sometimes it was hard to pick up an item, as though I was just a little out of alignment with it, or a half-step too far back. Also, I love the idea of the map that your character carries around, but I did not care for how you go about looking at it. Tilting your head down triggers the map, which can make the map obscure your vision if you are trying to look around. It would have probably worked better were the map bound to a face button by default as it would stay out of the way then.
To its credit, once you get past the movement issues that can lead to VR sickness, the overall atmosphere delivers a sizeable dose of creepy. The biggest issue is, if I am being honest, is that the overall game is very light on material. You wander, you read things, you relight your lantern, you pick up eyeballs and you avoid things. The game is short, and while there are procedurally generated dungeons that can help make the experience unique from one playthrough to the next, the fact of the matter is the reused tiled environments and shallow gameplay mechanics make for a very repetitive experience. Dreadhalls is worth a look at its price tag for those who like a creepy experience, but the overall experience has some pretty rough edges on it as well.
White Door Games
White Door Games
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Article by Nick