Neverending Nightmares was a rather interesting horror title released towards the end of last year for both Steam and Ouya. Right from looking at some screenshots, you can already see it has a unique art style as well as some frightening imagery. It also has a unique premise in that it is about a mental patient who has an unending series of nightmares as he struggles to awake from them. This is also a game that relies a lot more heavily on atmosphere than on mere jumpscares and traditional scares that try to assault your senses.
There is not much of a real plot to Neverending Nightmares. You are simply thrown into the game without an explanation of anything. It is, instead, a game based around exploration and build up. Gameplay wise, about 80% of Neverending Nightmares is basically a walking simulator. There are still a few moments that exist to keep you on your toes however. Occasionally, you will have some enemies that run at you as soon as you open a door, and you need to quickly get back inside the other room before they eviscerate you. Other times, you need to take a light stealth approach by sneaking by enemies.
While the approach to getting passed enemies is effective, the key problem is that there is a significant lack of them throughout the game. A majority of the game is just walking in one direction or the other, while occasionally looking for background details. At this point, this starts to look dangerously close to the massively overrated 2013 train wreck known as Gone Home. Unlike Gone Home, however, Neverending Nightmares knows how to properly build up an ominous and compelling atmosphere.
In Gone Home, the key problem was the lack of any sort of pacing and the only plot consisting of random items strewn about the place. The game took place in what looked to be a creepy old house on a dark and stormy night, but the plot could have taken place anywhere without anything being changed. The game’s story could have been told better as a forum post than as a game, and as such, it lacked any compelling reason to play it.
Neverending Nightmares, however, is a game that draws you in due to its superb audio and visual presentation. In terms of visuals, the artstyle is very creative. The game is mostly made in a monochrome color scheme, and things are differentiated based on different shades. This is handled in a very intricate manner fog is handled through light shades of grey that still slow you to see your character but faintly. The audio design contributes heavily to the atmosphere as well. The music is very effective in terms of setting the mood, but none of the tracks themselves are particularly memorable. The sound effects however, are very effective at providing just the right sense of danger when necessary. There is also an effect where you can hear enemies more clearly as you get closer to them when wearing headphones, which gives a much greater edge to its immersion.
Unfortunately there are two problems with the game’s visuals; one minor and one major. The minor one is that there is simply too much unnecessary gore. Neverending Nightmares is not Saw level by any means, and gore does contribute to a few genuinely scary moments, but most of the time it just seems like it is just there for the sake of being there. For example, in a forest area, you will see disemboweled rat and dear corpses off to the side. There is also a doll enemy that can pull your intestines out despite there being no hint of strength or any sharp objects. Hell at one point, Thomas just stops in his tracks and digs open a large hole in his arm before waking up in the next area. Yes the game itself is already surreal, but throwing in gore without context doesn’t make it any scarier.
The major problem, however, is the fact that that the screen tends to flicker a lot during motion. This wouldn’t be too bad if it were not for the contrast between various shades used for fog. As a result, walking in these house areas ended up causing some legitimate eye strain and I had to try hard to focus on only looking at a small area. For this reason, I cannot recommend Neverending Nightmares to anyone with sensitive eyes or that may be prone to epilepsy.
When you compare Neverending Nightmares to most other indie horror games, there are a lot of things that stand out. The first of which is a significant lack of jumpscares. A large majority of indie horror games can be summed up as follows; you are walking down a dark pathway when suddenly, a scary monster jumps out at you and goes ”OGIDDY BOOOGALLLY BOOGGEDY !” As much as it sounds like a hyperbole, that is unfortunately, how these games tend to be. Five Nights at Freddy’s, for example, has all of its fear coming from the idea of being blasted with loud jumpscares. Before that, Slender basically had the same principal. Yeah one could argue that there were elements to building up paranoia, but at their core, that is pretty much their basic concept.
Neverending Nightmares, however, has very little in terms of stuff popping out at you; too little in fact. Neverending Nightmares often has too little going on in order to be really engaging or interesting. When there is stuff going on, it is great at being engaging, but there is simply not enough of it. Yes, long sections of nothing could just lower your guard for later, but it does not change the fact that there is less time spent actually being engaging.
What I will give Neverending Nightmares credit for is the way it handles the abstract nature of its plot. The events of the game are clear enough that you can tell what is going on and have a general idea of the story. At the same time though, you never have everything explained to you. One way this is handled is through the way it handles multiple endings. Unlike most games, the endings are not merely different outcomes of the events of the game. Due to the unique dream world setting, the endings actually have you awake to discover yourself in three completely different settings. They each reveal different results about who the people in your dreams were and what the dreams represent. There is simply quite a bit to be determined based on these endings, and it is something that Game Theory would have a field day with if they were actually smart.
Similarly to Five Nights at Freddy’s, I found Neverending Nightmares to be more interesting in regards to the lore and background rather than its actual gameplay. Unlike Five Nights at Freddy’s though, Neverending Nightmares lends itself better to this particular approach. The audio presentation and artstyle are both brilliant in design, and there is definitely a bit of depth to the story. However, the main problem with this game is that there is too much time spent with nothing happening and it was not really until the end of the game that I really started to appreciate it. The game really could have used a bit more spice to it, and it also could have been longer to. It took me about 6 hours to get all three endings, and it would take about maybe three to four hours for the first playthrough. Fifteen dollars is a bit of a steep price point compared to what else you can get on Steam for less, but it still may be worth picking up if on sale.
This review was originally posted to GamFAQs on May 11th of 2015, and has since been re-edited with enhanced presentation.
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