John Carpenter’s “The Thing” was made into a game once. But it was not made into the right kind of game. Its premise is one that would be perfectly translated into a survival/social deception game language. We did have our chance at this, with titles like Among Us, but we never got the icy, gritty, survival version. Dread Hunger comes now to scratch that itch, throwing us in a frozen wilderness to try and survive while being wary of our mates.
There are no monsters here, kinda. Well, at least there’s no focus on monsters, and you will not see huge tentacles spawning out of chests. You most definitely will summon cannibal armies to devour your crew, though. It’s all in good fun!
You are a member of the crew of one ship that tries to cross a narrow, icy passage without dying. That’s the premise, the gist of it all. You choose a class, be it a cook, hunter, captain, engineer or whatnot, and then start off on a table, playing a game of poker. When you finish the round, two of the players (out of 8 total) are assigned the “thrall” role. Thrall, to be honest, just means annoying dude who ruins it all. Your role as a crew member is to navigate the ship, “feed” it with coal to run, gather food and resources, repair holes that can lead to sinking etc. Normal stuff, things that an explorer would do. Your role as a thrall, then, is to sabotage the expedition.
This can be done in a number of ways. For sure, you can go in the quarters guns blazing, shooting anyone you lock eyes on. You can try to kill them all. But this is not the efficient way, nor is it the fun one. You should know that Dread Hunger is a social game, so you’re meant to own a pair of headphones and a microphone to communicate with your ship mates. If you don’t, you will be assumed as a thrall, most likely, and thrown to the fish. So, your best chance as a thrall is to be patient, to blend in, to pretend you’re doing your job. You will gather food, but you’ll poison it. You will gather coal, but, when nobody’s looking, you’ll throw it in the water, and not in the machine that powers the ship. You can sabotage the expedition slowly, from the shadows, so that nobody knows you’re doing it.
Then again, you can build magical totems and summon cannibals to attack, by plunging a stone in your arm, filling it with your blood. If dark magic is your preferred way of action, you can go that way, but, understandably, you have to cast your spells when nobody’s watching.
Any way you choose to play, Dread Hunger is fun. It’s gory, dark, silly fun. If your team is made of nice people, you will have a blast. If you play with people you know, the blast will be bigger. It’s a solid premise, executed decently. There are some problems, sadly. The most obvious one is the total lack of guidance. You will complete the tutorial, but you’ll still not know anything about the game. The training stage teaches you about survival, how to craft things, how to kill animals and repair holes, but it doesn’t bother to explain what you’ll actually be doing. This leads to a confusing kick off, with you starting off in the first few rounds without understanding the meta, relying on the kindness of strangers to get information. Well, we all know how that goes, don’t we.
The crafting mechanics, too, are a bit lacking. They are not bad per se, they are working, but they don’t add much to the mix. Crafting, gathering, eating and getting warm are by now utilized in almost all games, and this is not the best iteration we’ve seen. It’s all a bit slow and clumsy. Also, Dread Hunger suffers from minor problems here and there that, when combined, can be annoying. The controls are not super tight, the graphics, while decent, can show some drops in performance here and there, the places you visit look almost identical and the repetition can be a bother.
Dread Hunger is a good game, with fun matches that can last around 30 minutes each. Sadly, your fun is depending of how competent the random people playing with you are. As it often goes, you will encounter many annoying players that just want to destroy your fun. Well, I guess it’s a fitting role too, in a way, but it’s not entertaining, to say the least. Minor problems do bring the experience down, the content gets repetitive soon, but it’s still a solid, atmospheric game with a strong premise, if a bit rough around the edges.