In the spirit of All Hallows Eve, the developers Infinitap Games bring us an insight into a damaged psyche through their newest offering which is aptly named; Neverending Nightmares.
Neverending Nightmares is a 2D psychological horror game which was literally and figuratively kickstarted by its lead designer, Matt Gilgenbach’s real-life struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.
Knowing this little tit bit provides an interesting context to the nature of the game as Neverending Nightmares not only provides a constant sense of fear and dread but also gives a glimpse into what people with such mental illness feel on a daily basis.
The depression is conveyed in the main character’s dreary walk, his lack of energy, the nature of the environment as well as the gory imagery peppered throughout game.
It is also amazing how the game captures the OCD aspect through repetitious act of waking up on a bed and constant recurring themes without ever getting dull and monotonous.
While this aspect of the game is certainly thought provoking, the game is never preachy or overbearing, the game is a horror game first and foremost, and the real-life implications are just there for anyone apprised with its development background to appreciate.
Pacing of the game is kept deliberately slow, where the main character is asthmatically short breathed and vulnerable to anything remotely dark, disturbing or spry enough to catch him.
The game never resorts to jump scares as a method of delivering horror, instead it relies on building sensation of creepiness, frustration and paranoia to build up restlessness and keep the player on the edge.
Its core mechanic, the wakening, is treated in a very clever and unique manner where it is at the same time indication of a fail state as well as a progression device.
Players of psychological horror genre as well as adventure and point and click games often suffer from frustration due to their lack of ability to determine which of the plethora of background objects is interactable and which is just part of the environment.
Game avoids this hurdle by identifying intractable objects with color while keeping rest of the environment black and white.
However Neverending Nightmare takes a Mad World approach to violence and gore where the somber black and white aesthetic is aggressively contrasted by the brightly colored blood.
What really elevates the visuals of the games is that simple visuals and monochrome color scheme is perfectly complemented by its sketch pad line-drawing art style.
Everything from the background detail to the foreground shading contains the infinite lines reminiscent of a ball pen sketch which makes the games imagery feel unique.
However it is the way every character smoothly animates that truly elevates the visuals from a budgeted Indy feel to a proper immersive experience.
From creaking furniture and ambient music to incoherent whispers and sounds of shattering glass every sound in Neverending Noghtmares seems deliberate and builds towards that unsettling feeling of something sinister happening just at the edge of your line of sight.
Through its use of binaural audio, the game creates a faux three dimensional audial experience that is best experienced via headphones.
Where the game eventually falters is in the length of its campaign. Neverending Nightmares can be competed in mere two hours.
As is the case with most scripted horror game, replaying Neverending Nightmares can seem monotonous when one is aware of all the scares.
The game could have benefited a lot from new game plus mode which offers significant difference to enable the feeling of uncertainty that is so abundant in the first playthrough.
What was once a deliberately paced tense trek through an unknown environment can turn into a slow prod along the sparsely populated stage on the second and third playthrough.
Though that may be a proof of the developers cleverly designing the length for game campaign to avoid overstaying its welcome, it also brings a concern of whether a 2 hour experience is worth a $15 asking price.
For what it’s worth, Neverending Nightmares offers an exceptional experience that simultaneously arrests the audience with its unique art style and provides a slow burn brand of horror devoid of the clichés that are mainstays of the genre.
While the simplistic and deliberate pace 2D plane navigation is suitable for the genre and the long stretches of “nothing” build the tense and creepy atmosphere in the first play through, the same elements prove to be a detracting factor in enjoying the game on subsequent tries.
Though there isn’t anything particularly ground breaking about Neverending Nightmares’ visual presentation, the game does a marvelous job by populating the environment with its sketch pad aesthetics, smooth animation of characters and restrained use of colors.
With its use of binaural audio, ambient music and restrained sound effects, the game perfectly complements its visuals in evoking feelings of dread, nervousness and shock.
Taking a minimalist approach to menu screens and hints, Neverending nightmare expertly weaves its deliberate gameplay, distinctive visuals and unnerving sound design into an experience that emphasizes the fact that the game has character.
Even with its remarkable pacing and aesthetics the game cannot hide the short length of its campaign. Although it offers three possible endings, $15 still seems like a lot to ask for a game that only takes 2 hours to complete.
Neverending Nightmares is a unique experience. The game masterfully plays with the concept of dread, obsessiveness and repetition through a mixture of simplistic yet effective gameplay mechanics, somber presentation and haunting sound design.
While the game’s asking price might be too steep for some people, the atypical nature of the game warrants a look that might lead to an experience that would be difficult to forget.