I just got done playing a few matches of Dead Realm, and I’m shaking.
Admittedly, it could be the fact that I’ve consumed waaaay too much coffee in the past couple hours, but the multiplayer horror game’s tension definitely got to me. Currently in Steam’s top ten best sellers, Dead Realm is basically hide and seek, except with evil wolves, weird-ass babies, and sound design that makes you feel like there’s always Something Right Behind Youuuuuu. There’s no combat. Just hiding, fleeing, and—if you’re the ghost—hunting.
Here’s how it breaks down: at the start of a match, one player is the ghost, and the rest are humans. Depending on the mode (there are only two right now; the game is in Early Access), the human team’s goal is to either survive until the end of a round or find a bunch of pocket watches.
In either case, the ghost wants to suck out their spirits and turn them into spectral slaves. In the pocket-watch-collecting Bounty mode, dead humans—now on the ghost’s team—can only interact with the environment. In the more straightforward Seek and Reap mode, they get full-on ghost powers and can, in turn, transform other humans into ghosts.
There is something distinctly terrifying about crouching in a corner, watching (and hearing) your allies get picked off by a growing ghost army, a swelling ghost tide. This goes double when one of your allies who was using voice chat to calmly call out ghost locations switches to shouting, “NONONONONO,” as a ghost’s wet footsteps close in on his confined hiding place. As a human, I quickly came to rely on my ability to hack security cameras and get a general idea of ghosts’ location, but that didn’t help a whole lot when I was the last one standing. I mean, it bought me a few extra seconds to write my will, but it wasn’t a very good will.
And then suddenly this, all up in my face:
That is not what you want to see ever, but especially not when you’re hunkered down in a coffee shop and risk devastating embarrassment every time you jolt upright in fear. Admittedly, it’s jump scares 101, but the fact that ghosts are human controlled adds an element of unpredictability.
So far, other players have made the game for me. In fact, I think I’d have a significantly worse impression of Dead Realm if not for how often my friends and foes pulled out all the stops. For every match where the ghost was totally clueless—searching blindly, evidently unaware that right click gives you a rough idea of where every human is—someone else would play mind games. One time I went up against a ghost who started chasing me, stopped after I’d tired myself out, gave me just enough time for my heart to stop pounding like it was trying to break my sternum, and then REAPPEARED AND ATE MY FACE. You earned my sincere applause, you sadistic motherfucker.
Another time, I was a ghost, and crafty players managed to scale a wall and hide so high up that not even my spooooooky double jump from beeeeyond the veeeeil could reach them. I jumped at various parts of the wall while my would-be undead family taunted me from afar. With one minute left on the clock, I figured it out and began scaling a wall around the corner so I could reach their impregnable perch. As soon as I rounded the corner, I broke into a feral sprint. “OH SHIT RUN,” shouted one of the humans as their little herd scattered. I got one of them, but the other two escaped, and they ended up winning the match. Still, what a moment.
Oh, and then there was that one guy who—as the last human—decided to taunt all the ghosts with his location. “Come and find me in the main hall, hee-hee. Commmme and fiiiiiiiind me,” he chuckled, practically singing. It was like he’d lost his mind. It seriously gave me the creeps. Way to turn the tables, creeper man.
Realistically, I doubt Dead Realm will keep me entertained for long—at least, not in its current state. It only has two modes and a handful of levels. There’s no progression to speak of, and it doesn’t exactly feel good to play (movement, jumping, and abilities all need significant polish). It’s still managed to surprise me, but it feels insubstantial and not quite as novel or interesting as play-as-the-monster multiplayer horror compatriot Damned.
Should you get it now? That’s a tough question. It’s new and pretty popular at the moment, meaning you won’t have trouble finding a populated server to play on. However, as I said earlier, there’s not a whole lot of skin on its spooky scary skele-bones. If the idea of hide and seek with weird babies appeals to you on some deep, almost subconscious level (and you don’t know any weird babies in real life), I say go for it. If you’re looking for a new long-term gaming obsession, though, you might want to look elsewhere.
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