PAX West 2022 - Dissecting the Horror With DreadXP

DreadXP delivers the scares at their PAX West booth

PAX West 2022 - Dissecting the Horror With DreadXP
Source: Press Kit.

It’s that time of year again. Time for the whole spectrum of video game enthusiasts to band together in the beautiful Emerald City to indulge in all things nerd revelry - PAX West 2022. Thousands of people flocked to Seattle from all over the world to see what was on display on the floor of the Seattle Convention Center. From massive games like Splatoon 3 to single-person indie gems all the way to absurdly beautiful Dungeons & Dragons dice, PAX West 2022 had it all. It was an excellent showcase, cementing the notion that the future of the games industry remains bright.

I was lucky enough to sit down with more than a few of these incredibly talented creators to demo some of their upcoming games as well as have the pleasure to speak to some of the developers behind these awesome experiences. The amazing thing is that the majority of these titles were designed by incredibly small teams - typically one to three people. As such, I was able to sit down at the DreadXP booth on the convention floor and sample three of their current and upcoming titles. DreadXP is a studio that’s known for its spooky horror games, and boy do they deliver.

Source: Steam.

Mirror Forge

The first game I was able to try from DreadXP is the horror-themed first-person survival game Mirror Forge. The demo starts wrapped in mystery, with a confused player stumbling through a dilapidated city. Freakish mutant horrors and otherworldly growths grace the streets of this dark and dismal city. Your only defense is a flashlight and the mysterious “Seal of Nur” - an item that has the ability to stun the creatures and let you escape their grasp. As you make your way through the destruction, you come across the one thing you never want to see in a horror game - a bathroom. Once inside, the door locks behind you, and all manner of confusion and hallucinations start to happen. Shadows of entities dance around every corner, the sounds of the horrors outside creep in, and eventually, a mirror appears within a statue adorned with a strange mask. Once the mirror is activated, the player is sucked into it and transported to a different place - another time, dimension, or universe. After a few puzzles, a horrifying twisted goliath chases you through a dark corridor full of obstacles, and the demo comes to a close.

Like most of the games at the DreadXP booth, Mirror Forge was created mainly by one individual. While I was unable to talk to this developer, what they created is hugely impressive considering the circumstances. Mirror Forge is gearing up to be a solid occult-based horror game, with some truly disturbing visuals and dark concepts. The enemies move in a way that is eerie and unnatural, and the ambiance of the destroyed city feels naturally and suitably oppressive. There were a few genuine scares that startled me despite the fact that I was sitting at their crowded booth in the middle of thousands of people, and I think that speaks volumes to the quality that was achieved even in my short time with this indie horror title.

Sucker For Love

The second game I was able to sample was Sucker for Love, alongside which I had a nice conversation with creator Joseph Hunter (@akabaka). The game starts up rather concerningly for what I was led to believe was a game full of spooky scares. A bright, beautiful room shines with morning light over a beautifully rendered anime apartment. The protagonist (the player’s character) laments to himself over not being able to see the Lovecraftian creature that he had caught sight of in his dreams, explaining that he spent most of his money and time on occult paraphernalia and scam books in an attempt to contact this creature again.

A knock at the door reveals a curious delivery - a pink book, with an unearthly language scrawled across the cutesy cover. The protagonist is puzzled, having expected a garish, skin-crawling leather-bound Necronomicon he had purchased online. Thinking he was scammed yet again, he opens the book, inspecting the ornate leather-bound front, gold-plated pages and - most curiously - the stench of death emanating from the book itself. The protagonist follows the instructions, reads the incantation, and summons forth the eldritch horror seen in his dreams. She asks this mere mortal why he summoned her from the depths, what his wish is of this cosmic horror, and his response?

“I wanna smooch ya!”

Sucker For Love. Source: Rock Paper Shotgun.

The shrouded figure is revealed as what can only be described as a curvy Cthulhu waifu, complete with a full figure, bright pink hair, and tentacles for a mouth. The book the protagonist found? It isn’t a Necronomicon, it’s a survival guide for dating Ln’et, your new tentacle-faced girlfriend. Sucker for Love is a dating sim based around Lovecraftian horror, and the game leans hard into the absurdity of its concept. Multiple times through my 15-minute stint with Sucker for Love I laughed, groaned, and cringed in the best way possible. It’s a dating sim through and through, and despite the fact that I’m not a dating-sim kind of player, I’m enthralled with the goofy premise and what can be done with it.

I sat down briefly with Joseph and discussed how this strange game came to be and how our Eldritch Waifu was born into existence.

Sucker for Love came about during the DreadX Collection challenge - developers are given a premise and ten days to make an experience based around that premise. The theme for this particular DreadX Collection was the excellently clever “Lovecraft” - a game based around crafting that has to do with Lovecraftian horror. Joseph, whose background is mainly in anime dating sims, claimed he struggled with the premise until he and a few of his colleagues came up with the idea of a Cthulhu-based dating sim. According to him, he pitched the idea of a sexy eldritch horror dating sim to his manager, who did not say no, which obviously meant yes!

Ten days later, the beginnings of Sucker for Love were created. This DreadX Collection had plenty of competition, including the excellent smash hit Inscryption, so despite his nervousness, Joseph decided to play to his strengths and create a wholly unique experience. He spent two days studying everything Lovecraft, another day on a cohesive story, and the rest on art and programming. Sucker for Love caught fire, and the full game began development. It was released on July 20th, 2022 to critical success, boasting a 10/10 rating on Steam.

Joseph was kind enough to let me know of a sequel in the works, due to release sometime this winter. The sequel focuses on the lesser-known side of Lovecraftian horror - humans. The thing about other-worldly unfathomable cosmic horrors is that they inadvertently mess with the minds of those who witness them. The sequel will center more on the psychological aspect of Lovecraftian horror, and the consequences of summoning those things in the deep.

Sucker for Love is an insane, hilarious, downright good time - even if you don’t enjoy dating sims - and should be played by everyone who enjoys the silly things in life. The art is fantastic, the story is preposterous, the voice acting is spot on, and every turn the game takes is a left. What more can you ask for?

The Mortuary Assistant. Source: Dread XP.

The Mortuary Assistant

The third game I played was The Mortuary Assistant. Another first-person horror game designed by Brian Clarky, The Mortuary’s Assistant begins with a story written on the tin - you are a young woman starting her new job as the assistant at a small town mortuary. You make your way from your car into the pleasant-looking building, sign some documents, and continue back into the back of a morgue. The building itself is strikingly familiar; if anyone has been to a small town funeral home or medical office they’ll recognize the aged wood paneling, questionably colored carpets, and beige walls.

The mortuary - an older gray-haired man with a wonderful baritone voice - informs you that he was finished with the corpse sitting nonchalantly on the table in front of you. He requests you wheel the man’s body to cold storage, and retrieve the next corpse for embalming. You oblige him, wheeling the corpse to the back and retrieving the corpse of an elderly woman from the storage locker. You wheel her to the morgue, get given a clipboard of tasks, and go to work.

This is where the initial unease of the Mortuary’s Assistant really starts to set it. Everything about the morgue feels real. There is no background music, replaced instead by the quiet ticking of clocks, the sound of birds, and a breeze outside. As it turns out, things aren’t quite as they seem. You sit at the computer to start paperwork after an initial examination of the body. While inputting information, the mortuary very clearly whispers “you’re going to die here” in your ear. Upon questioning, he insists he didn’t say anything, but it was something heard by you clear as day. You put it aside and get to work.

As you begin the unenviable task of jawing this woman’s mouth shut and adding eye caps to keep the eyelids closed, the window slams shut and a few items scatter. This causes an immediate and hasty reaction from the mortuary, informing you that “old windows just never stay open.” Despite the distraction, the process for embalming this woman is uncomfortably in-depth; sew the mouth shut, put eye caps on her eyes, make an incision in her aorta, insert suction tubes and drain the blood and fluids, make an incision in her cavity and suction out the remaining fluids and fats. The process is slow, complicated, intricate, and downright eerie.

As you start moisturizing the face in order to place the makeup, a terrifying hallucination begins. Just as it reaches the apex, the mortuary tells you that you did an excellent job, and that you’re free to go. Confused, you leave, only to have him call you in the middle of the night to inform you of three bodies that need to be embalmed right away, and that you’re the only one available to do it. As soon as you arrive at the mortuary, in the dark, while it pours down rain outside, things go off the rails. I won’t ruin what exactly has happened, but needless to say, this isn’t the job you thought you were applying for and it certainly isn’t the one you wanted.

If there’s one thing The Mortuary Assistant absolutely nails, it’s ambiance, and according to Brian, this was purposeful. Three years prior to the game’s release, Brian enacted a self-imposed GameJam, allowing 14 days to create a game. He created a five-minute experience surrounding the embalming process itself, with an emphasis on the accuracy of the procedure. Hours of YouTube videos, interviews, articles, item descriptions, and tutorials revealed a detailed world of living life as a mortuary. He discovered that many mortuaries find their work to be an art as much as it is a science and that feeling certainly translates into the gameplay on offer here. Embalming is an intricate, difficult, and personal process, and that really comes across as you do each step leading up to the completion of each body.

The Mortuary Assistant was picked up by some big-name YouTubers and streamers, allowing him to get the green light on the full experience. Despite the inherent challenges turning a 5-minute experience into a full release brings, The Mortuary Assistant looks excellent, plays well, has excruciating attention to detail, along with some genuine creeps and scares. If you’re into a terrifying mystery involving lots of corpses and lots of intrigues, the Mortuary Assistant is available for purchase on Steam. Brian is continuing to work on the game, updating it with bugs, fixes, more cases, and - hopefully by Halloween 2022 - a sixth ending. Check it out!


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