Developed by Mannequin Games LLC.
Available for PC on Steam
Suitable for ages 12+
It dawned on me recently that microbudget trash-tier indie horror games take up an unscrupulous amount of my time. My personal reaction to cheap scare-cam streamers and Let’s Players is somewhere between bemused disbelief and blind rage depending on their view counts, so to spend what at this point must at least be an equitable amount of time entertaining the idea that these sins against decency dressed as video games deserve the respectful treatment of a full review seems ironic at best and hypocritical at worst. For though I do not make fake horrified faces nor adopt the persona of a screaming man child, I do write dick jokes about video games for a living, which must at least be 70% as bad. Plus, it’s getting hard for me to justify to my editor reviewing shit like Rake over my still absent treatment of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (as yet unfixed bugs prevent me from completing certain quests, and I’ll be damned if I don’t 100% that fucker).
Still, my journalistic integrity and morbid fascination with shit prohibits me from completely disregarding this bovine flatulence, both unpleasant and destroying the horror gaming ecosystem. As someone well versed in the genre, it’s impossible to ignore the pillaging hordes of Slender-clones stealing our women and poisoning our wells in favor of appreciating the occasional friendly The Evil Within who buys everyone a round and compliments the local wenches with nary a thought of favor in return. I’m also tired of the constantly spewed argument that just because it is cheap, it is acceptable, gurgled forth like the vile murmurings of an eldritch cultist as they attempt to enslave me with their brainworms. People steal 90% of the media they consume now anyways, and “at least I didn’t have to steal this” doesn’t make me ignore that you are eagerly grinning over your lawful $5 acquisition of a freshly shit turd.
So I want to be able to talk about “The Plague”, but I don’t want to be mistaken for giving it positive coverage. Why, managing that would take the intellect and prowess of a Murrowsian Journalism God! Well, my humble readers, look no further, for Ted has found a solution. I will still review these games, but review them on a NEGATIVE scale, rather than a positive one! Ha HA, take THAT, impoverished indie developers with no formal training!
To appropriately kick off such an exercise in dead-horse-beating, let’s look at All Is Dust, a completely free indie title with a unique setting. Taking place in the Dust Bowl era Midwest America, the story follows a car accident survivor/accidental satanist Thomas Joad, whose name I defy you to remember without looking it up after playing. Thomas must complete a series of nonsensical tasks to save/deal with the memory of sacrificing his daughter (Jennifer?). I’d like to remember her exact name, but that would require me playing the game again.
Oh, I’m sorry, did I forget to mention that this series doesn’t give a fuck about spoiler alerts? Don’t worry, if the plot were exceptional, it wouldn’t be a part of this column.
The game consists of “four” “chapters,” which come together to tell the “plot.” Thomas, a “proud farmer and father” must “unravel the mysterious and horrific events that are plaguing his once beautiful land.” Realistically, you play as an arm carrying a lantern that must run from point A to point B several times without getting tickled in the bum by too many sun-dried tomato monsters. In the first “level,” you must run to two locations. In “level” two, you must run to THREE locations! In “level” three, you must run to one, but really fast. Sometimes, you press F to do stuff.
Starting the game, you spend a minute or so locked in a car listening to a radio broadcast about the Dust Bowl relief failures. While you can look around, you can’t steer, so it’s essentially a cutscene. It isn’t a bad way to start the game, even though it ends with the cliché tire screech crash. Looking at the interior of the house and out into the corn fields, the game really didn’t look that bad. I mean, the textures were blocky and everything bare-bones, but it wasn’t comically bad. I felt actually kind of impressed watching the lightning strike in the distance and corn bound off seemingly endlessly. It gave the impression of a sprawling explorable space, filled with detail. Then, I saw the first monster. Here it is:
Oh hey buddy, did you get lost on your way to the SCP-reject meeting? Did your sponsor from “Bad Creepypasta Anonymous” not answer the phone and now you’re on a shitty jump-scare bender? Did a feverish screenplay writer have to pitch you to a roomful of studio executives, only to feebly doubt himself and splurt out that you have no legs and freeze when looked at?
The monster is shit. As an alpha linguistics nerd, I always choose my words very carefully. The monster doesn’t just look like shit, doesn’t just act like shit, doesn’t just perform like shit. It is shit. When I first saw it perched up like a scarecrow above the first objective, I in truth thought, “this is some shitty looking distraction monster. The real thing is much more terrifying, and this is just a red herring to make our feeble minds buzz.”
This terrifying beast of the nether turns to dust when you touch it. You hear it clomping up behind you with a poorly looped horse gallop sound effect, it goes “rawr”, and your screen goes a bit red before it disappears. If you look at it, as pictured above, it just looks at you like a dog caught rummaging through garbage. All embarrassed, it waits patiently for you to come up and whap it on the nose and tell him he was a very naughty boy. It then excuses itself from existence by puffing into a ball of red dust. Oooooooo, spooky! Nothing is more terrifying than symbolism!
It isn’t immediately apparent that the foes are all playing Freeze Tag, so it is a bit scary at first. The tension is quickly dispelled in the second level, where they actually force you to run into one and learn that this is in fact their obsidian dagger to the heart. Their method for ramping up the tension is making each level progressively more on fire and enemies more numerous, so by the third level you are more of playing demonic Red Light/Green Light. The final level is such a swarm, that you just run the bases to the four objectives in a Relay Race of spamming the F key. Expect the DLC to include such horrors as Satanic Red Rover or Never Have I Ever of the Elder Gods.
For a totally free title, it is bizarre how much this feels like a low effort cash grab. The team is a mind boggling 16 people large, though to be fair the three producers could easily be the same guy in different stages of hair growth and eyebrow excitement. How 16 people got together, made this whole thing, and released it as a final product must be in some arcane tome heralding the breaking of one of the seven seals.
The quality is just so absurdly low throughout this project. The story clues are literally childrens’ drawings. You cannot actually get cheaper than the labor of a child who does not grasp the concept of money. When you can write off your art budget with “100 tickles and infinity bundles of love,” you aren’t a real company.
Just listen to the opening cutscene, narrated by your local high school theatrical rendition of The Grapes of Wrath. Footage Courtesy of MrKraven, whose genuine reaction and capacity to actually stay quiet during the cutscene deserves praise:
I recently did some interviews at E3 2015. As a bit of insider info, I forgot to bring a microphone to capture audio. I ordered a 7 dollar mic off of Amazon. It showed up in a bundle of three. The first broke as I took it out of the packaging to test. I ran it through a Nikon photography camera with video capture capabilities. In the middle of a busy convention center and running over to push the record button myself, I still managed to capture better audio quality than this game.
I joked before that the character was some kind of Satanist/car accident victim, but that really is the plot. A proud farmer with a daughter and no other family to speak of is caught in the dust bowl and doesn’t want to leave his land. Some mysterious figures come and tell him to read an ominous book and it will save his land. As soon as he is done, they steal his kid. Then he gets the kid. Then it cuts to a car accident, and he is dead. It’s like the “bad” ending of Silent Hill written by a teen being forced to practice creative writing in detention.
For me, the final straw for All is Dust was found in the game description. On the official website, it describes the game as taking place in 1928, with “authentic 1930’s music and SFX.” Come the fuck on guys, it’s 11 lines down! I don’t even have to scroll my screen to see the error. You didn’t even have to make the music fit the era (as I am sure they put boundless research into making it authentic). You just have to pretend like it matches up, and you couldn’t even do that right.
At this point, the argument that it is free must once again sail, but find itself beached, for the sea of fucks in the ocean of Ted has long since run dry. Honestly, there are great free games out there. Even if they are “freemium” games like Smite, the amount of quality entertainment you can get out of it is well worth not spending your time on garbage like this. In a time long past, crap like this would be relegated to the free distribution websites or maybe Desura. Now, shit like this can find its way onto Steam, wasting our time and competing for valuable new release slots. Of course quality is objective, and we shouldn’t boot every game off of Steam just because it doesn’t fit my particular tastes. Hard working devs are right to worry that their game might be witch hunted off of Steam for pissing off the wrong overly vocal social group. Nevertheless, there should still be a standard of quality that is set for something to make its way onto the library shelves. Did Day One: Garry’s Incident teach us nothing?
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