Dread Hunger Review: Enthralling Deception

Dread Hunger is a social deception / survival game, pitting eight players on a single ship against the brutal conditions of the Arctic. With two of your crewmates secretly being thralls, as well as an iceberg blocking your escape, things seem dire indeed.

Dread Hunger Review Cover

In Dread Hunger, as if the blisteringly cold and unforgiving Arctic was not difficult enough to survive as is…what happens when you throw two deceiving and dark-power wielding thralls into the mix? Turns out, a lot of fun.

With so many different social deduction games on the market, Dread Hunger sets to distinguish itself from the pack with its unique premise and enthralling gameplay. Whether you’re an innocent member just trying to make it out alive or a thrall set on killing (and eating) the rest of the crew, the game does a great job of making both sides a joy to play. In fact, I might even prefer to be the innocent one for a change. Either way, you’ll have your work set out for you—and the dreadful Arctic does not pick sides.

Dread Hunger is available on Steam (PC) for $29.99.

Dread Hunger - Launch Trailer

Looking for more deception games like Dread Hunger?

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Story — Setting up the gameplay

Truth be told, not much can be found here. And that’s perfectly fine since that is not at all Dread Hunger‘s focus. You’re a member of an eight person explorer crew, pathing their ship through the Arctic. There are a few caveats, however. Namely: coal is in short supply; there’s a blizzard on the way; and two of your crewmates are dark-magic wielding traitors who want nothing more than to see your mission fail.

While this does tie perfectly into the gameplay, I believe that the true story of Dread Hunger is formed during your time playing. By the events (and inevitable backstabbing) that will occur while playing. Friendships will be broken. Limbs will be eaten. And you will quickly come to understand the sheer force behind a polar bear’s swipes.

Exploring one of Dread Hunger's caves, illuminated by a lantern

Exploring one of Dread Hunger’s caves, illuminated by a lantern

Gameplay 

Survival — Putting the Hunger in Dread Hunger

General

If the game had not much more to it than social deception, it would not really contest with other things on the market. That, however, is where the survival aspect comes into play. You are not only pitted against the other faction, but also against the freezing Arctic, its inhabitants…and even your own stomach.

The Arctic is vast, and your ship is only so large. With but a small amount of coal to start with to move the ship forward, soon enough everyone will be out exploring every nook and cranny of the map for loot. This can range from the much-needed coal or food, to tool parts, gun parts and a lot more too. Since you cannot know who to trust, you only truly have yourself to rely on.

The Bitter Cold

With a day-night clock and a set amount of days to complete the expedition in, time is of the essence in Dread Hunger. And while the freezing cold is mostly manageable during the first few days before the coming blizzard, night is a different story entirely. Your temperature will drop a lot faster at night. If you don’t want to end up as one of the corpses you’ve been scavenging, you’ll want to seek warmth wherever possible. A dip into water is also not advisable, unless there’s a cozy fire waiting for you.

The Ever-Gnawing Hunger

Food is another big concern—one that is rarely solved for long. While there are plenty of food sources around (some more socially acceptable than others), you will not always be in a position to cook them, nor in a position to choose your cut of meat. Hunger always seems to drop faster than you’d expect and before you know it your stomach might just be complaining again.

For thralls in Dread Hunger, cannibalism is the name of the game: with those types of meat restoring a ton of warmth and food for you (even uncooked). Just be careful not to let anyone catch you sneaking a bite. For crewmates, however, it’s a little different. You will want to steer clear of cannibalism at all costs, but sometimes it just can’t be helped and you gotta do what you gotta do. But be warned, you just might get addicted and suddenly other foods don’t seem too appetizing anymore.

Bon appetit

Bon appetit

Inhabitants of The Arctic

Another aspect would be the natural wildlife. While the seals are friendly and don’t bite back, do not expect wolves or polar bears to behave similarly. They do bite back. And hard. Wolves travel in packs but are manageable unless their numbers are large. Polar bears are not to be taken lightly. They will end your life without a moment of hesitation and you will need to make sure that you are doubly prepared before even thinking of taking one on. Guns are always a good option, as bullets tend to hit harder than planks. And while they can hardly be considered as ‘natural wildlife’, there are also animalistic wild cannibals spread across the map that will attack anyone on sight. I guess they do have to eat too.

Crafting — Simple But Effective

There is not a lot to Dread Hunger‘s crafting, but it does the job and it does it well. You open up a workbench and whatever is currently craft-able will not be greyed out. This looks at your personal inventory, as well as what is currently lying in the workbench inventory. You click the item you want and it takes a few seconds to make. Voila, you’re done. The system is not intricate, but it is necessary to your survival—as you will want to create new tools, weapons, or anything to help you out in whatever it is that you want to accomplish.

The thralls do have a few more options in this regard, namely: bombs and poison. Both of which are highly effective if used correctly. The poison can keep the crew busy for a good while or even straight-up kill someone if they do not have the materials to make an antidote. The explosive barrel does a number on the ship if it’s not defused in time and will have everyone scuttering about trying to patch up the leaks.

Crafting menu from a workbench

Crafting menu from a workbench

Crewmate — Actually surprisingly fun

Have you ever felt that sting of annoyance at not getting to be the bad guy in a deception game? I have, but not in Dread Hunger. The game does a great job of keeping both roles fun and engaging. I might even prefer the less-coveted role of crew. Sure, it’s not as exhilarating as being the baddie, but there is a certain charm in trying to escape.

Your goal is not only to find the hidden thralls. In fact, that is not even your main goal. This reason is what I believe sets Dread Hunger apart from a lot of the games out there. Your victory is not achieved when the thralls are dead. Instead, it is when you reach open seas and escape the imminent blizzard. To further this goal, you will need to feed heaps of coal to the ever-hungry ship so that it can be steered closer and closer to the end. Though it would seem that your party was quite unprepared and coal is in high demand. You and your friends will need to scour the vast Arctic in search for more.

However, if you thought that getting to the end was good enough…think again! There is an enormous iceberg blocking your only way out. Good thing there happens to be a supply of nitroglycerin crates not too far away from it just waiting to be used. And lucky for you it’s only guarded by a measly polar bear who can—and will—demonstrate to you the Arctic Space Program by sending you to the moon. If you do manage to carry the nitroglycerin to the iceberg and blow it up, you need only sail away. Manage this, and it’s all but game over for the thralls.

The dreaded polar bear in its natural habitat

The dreaded polar bear in its natural habitat

Thrall — Murder has never been more creative

General

While I prefer crew, that does not take away from the fact that thralls are a ton of fun. The sheer amount of options at your disposal in Dread Hunger will ensure that every game plays out differently. You do not have a singular “Kill” button on your screen just waiting for you to press it. No, no, you will have to work for those sweet deaths—and they’re not always quick and painless. But that is exactly wherein the fun lies.

Your entire purpose is to stop the crew from escaping, and you will do everything in your dark power to keep that from happening. To that end, it might be worthwhile to explain some of the various ways in which you can make the crewmates’ lives hell. Aside from your…cannibalistic traits…you also have some thrall magic up your sleeve to pull out when you deem it appropriate. Or rather, you will be pulling a bone knife out of your sleeve to cast these magics with. Just remember to be secretive about it, the crewmates don’t appreciate seeing it too much.

Abilities

Bone knife in hand, you could choose to sick a pack of cannibals onto anyone not on the ship. Under the right circumstances, this is very much lethal unless they’re well prepared or in a group. Aside from that you can also cause a complete white-out, disrupting everyone’s vision completely and making it near impossible for anyone to see where they’re going. Good luck steering a ship during this and not hitting everything. Another option is performing a “Ghost Walk”: going invisible and running at a very high speed. This one is particularly useful if you disregarded my previous comment on crewmates not appreciating your bone knife. There are also two new spell additions, namely: “Doppelganger” and “Hush”. The former allows you to take the shape of a different crewmate, while the latter lets you completely remove all sound for a while.

With a few to choose from and three to take into the game, you can cater them to your playstyle. But spells are far from the only way to get the job done. A good old backstabbing works just as well, so don’t be afraid to get your hands (and blades) dirty.

Whipping out the good ol' bone knife gives you the choice between your three abilities

Whipping out the good ol’ bone knife gives you the choice between your three abilities

Graphics & Sound — Fittingly Stylized

Graphics

Dread Hunger does not try to be overly realistic, nor should it in my opinion. It has a unique aesthetic that perfectly conveys the atmosphere of the game. The characters all look amazing and nothing about them or the environments feel out place. The lighting is great, especially in dim-lit caves with natural light piercing through the ceiling. I feel the best way to describe the graphics, is that it immerses you into their world.

A lovely shot of the arctic, with a not-so-inconspicuous bone totem

A lovely shot of the arctic, with a not-so-inconspicuous bone totem

Sound

But what of the sound? Picture this: you’re lost at night, shivering and hungry. It’s foggy and you can’t see a thing. But then, off in the distance you hear a bell ringing—the bell sat atop your ship! With the sound to guide you, you make your way back just in time to not freeze. And this, all thanks to Dread Hunger‘s enveloping sound design. With built-in voice chat, your voice will echo out through a cave if you talk within it, which just sounds sick. You can hear sound cues throughout the maps as well, most of which will chill you to the bone if you’re exploring alone. For instance, when a member dies, or when a cannibal attack is called. It all just fits well and while the sounds regarding animals and cannibals are lackluster, I feel that the rest more than makes up for it.

Dread Hunger was reviewed on Steam (PC)

Summary
Dread Hunger is a fantastic Social deduction game, putting a lot more emphasis on survival, which makes its gameplay more interesting. With nobody feeling left out of the fun, the hours can fly by without you even noticing. It's by no means perfect and has quite some bugs, but its premise is executed flawlessly.
Good
  • Fun on both teams
  • Interesting premise
  • Good gameplay loop
  • Rewarding victories
  • Meaningful Crafting
  • Atmosphere
Bad
  • A bit buggy
  • Wacky physics at times
  • Animal sounds
  • Does not work well with less than 8 people
7.5
Good