Social deception games have to be one of the more interesting studies in human psychology. Dread Hunger puts eight players at the helm of a 19th century expedition to the Arctic. If everyone cooperates, everyone has a better chance at living to club baby seals another day. All day, every day, everyone has a job. Cook, hunter, doctor, engineer, royal marine, chaplain, navigator, and of course, Captain are all available jobs, but there are more dangerous things in the Arctic than the cold.
The ship in Dread Hunger is huge and needs a whole team to operate. It has an insatiable hunger for coal, and pretty quickly you’ll find yourself out of provisions requiring periodic stops to forage. As the team disembarks everyone is immediately in danger in many ways. Freezing will kill you, falling in the water will do it faster, and that doesn’t even take into account the wolves, starving, and generally not knowing a damned thing about survival. What to craft, where to find the materials, and how to put it all together is the gameplay loop, or it is as long as people cooperate.
Stepping out onto the unstable ice, you’ll find materials scattered about. Coal, rocks, wood, and more will help you stay alive — you’ll pick the bones of those who tried before as you make your own expedition. Hauling coal back to the boiler will fuel the boiler, and beating down critters like seals and rabbits will provide you meat. Breaking down old wood structures, shipwrecked boats, and the like will get you enough fuel to create a small fire. You can do this…you can make this work, right? Well, you probably could…if not for what happens later.
The further out you push the more strange things you’ll find out on the ice. It’s clear that the occult has taken hold of some expeditions, and that dark magic was more of a danger to their doomed cause than any cold or hunger. You begin to notice things with your own crew. Didn’t we put more coal in the burner? I thought we had more food than this. It’s sad we lost the chaplain, but we didn’t see how — we just found the body. Could there be more than the cold at play here?
Dread Hunger has eight players setting out on an expedition, but I never said they all had the same goals. It turns out, six of you are very interested in survival…but two of you are Thralls. These Thralls have one purpose — to sabotage the crew and their mission.
Now, it’s easy to be a blunt instrument and simply find a pistol to start offing the other crew members, but that’s hardly subtle and you might get outed pretty quickly. No…sabotage is more subtle than that. Maybe half the coal ends up overboard and on its way to the frozen bottom. Perhaps the food is “spoiled” (read: I poisoned it) and makes somebody die a slow and painful death. Or perhaps you wait till everyone is distracted elsewhere and use your blood magic and materials to build horrible totems to your dark god, raising an army of the dead to finish your evil deeds. You can also summon a blizzard to help keep people suppressed and unable to effectively gather materials, or see what you are up to. Similarly, Spirit Walk lets you disappear from sight and use super speed to escape from any threats.
If you suspect someone of nefarious purpose, you can shove them in the brig. Their communication is limited to “Yes, No, Attack, Run, Help, Come Here, and “Blend In for responses, though the built-in VOIP is your likely communication method of choice. This is where the real game begins.
It’s one thing to look like you are doing your job, and then slip gunpowder into the boiler for a bit of “fun”, it’s another to do it while convincing others that somebody else was the culprit. Not unlike games like Among Us, this game is all about your carefully crafted lie. “Oh, I was shooting at the wolves!” or “I shot you because you summoned cannibals on me!” seems to work pretty well, as does “No I didn’t, but that’s something somebody suspicious would say”. How you choose to craft your lie, and how well you can convince or deceive is paramount to your success. As a would-be survivor, seeing through the lies and helping to deprogram your duped friends will see you through. The game has hunger in the title, but I promise you that hunger is the least likely way you’ll die.
The newest update for Early Access is called The Great Hunt. It adds the Hunter class who can use the bow more effectively than any others, a new map called The Summit, and a brand new threat — the 1000 lbs Polar Bear. If you thought wolves were tough, you’ve not faced one of these hulking behemoths. Looking at the roadmap, these sorts of updates will be fairly frequent ahead of the fall 2021 launch.
I enjoyed my time with Dread Hunger, and I can see a world of potential. There are currently entirely too many griefers out and about, so I do encourage you to play with friends. It makes it more fun, and it’s also more likely that your deception attempts will be more successful. Just like playing cards — you don’t play your hand, you play the person in front of you. Only this time you can chop them into tiny bits and feed them to your cannibals.
Dread Hunger is in Early Access and available on Steam. Stay tuned for our review this fall.