Well, although I’m still planning to review “Hard Reset Redux” in the future, I haven’t completed it yet. And, since I’m also still reading the next novel I plan to review (“An Argumentation Of Historians” by Jodi Taylor) and wasn’t in the mood for finding a “Doom II” level to look at, I decided to get a really intriguing-looking short indie horror game from 2014 called “Neverending Nightmares” that was on special offer on GOG when I prepared this review.
It actually took me a while to decide whether or not to buy this game and, since I looked at a few reviews and parts of “let’s play” videos whilst making my mind up, I went into it partially knowing what to expect. Although the game is still scary if you do this, I’d strongly advise avoiding as many spoilers as possible for the scariest experience with this game. But, although I’ll try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, expect a few mild SPOILERS.
However, I should probably point out that this review may contain some (unrealistic) GRUESOME/ DISTURBING IMAGES. But I’ll avoid the creepiest or most gruesome ones in the game.
So, let’s take a look at “Neverending Nightmares”:
“Neverending Nightmares” is a 2D horror game, with mild survival horror/ stealth/ puzzle elements. It is set in the late 19th/early 20th century and it follows a man called Thomas who finds himself trapped in a series of increasingly disturbing nightmares. Whilst it isn’t a perfect game, it is fairly inventive and also works fairly well as a horror game despite some gameplay and design limitations.
In terms of this game’s horror elements, there’s a fairly good mixture of gory horror, psychological horror, gothic horror, monster horror, taboo-based horror, tragic horror, body horror, suspense and jump scares. Whilst this game will certainly make you jump a few times, this thankfully isn’t the main type of horror here. Unlike a typical modern jump scare game, the game also includes lots of slow-burn Victorian-style gothic psychological horror that is reminiscent of games like “The Last Door” and “American McGee’s Alice”. In other words, it is often more likely to make you feel nervous, tense, unsettled or slightly disturbed than outright terrified.
This is also one of those wonderfully creepy games where reality itself cannot be trusted. In classic horror game fashion, the world that Thomas finds himself in is slightly wrong and it gradually becomes more and more wrong. If you’ve ever actually had a nightmare-within-a-nightmare (and I once had five layered dreams, gradually turning more nightmarish with every false awakening), then the game captures this experience fairly well – albeit in a rather stylised and gothic way. Seriously, it is so cool to see a game based around this premise.
Likewise, although this game certainly isn’t for the squeamish, some of the game’s gory horror is handled in a surprisingly creative and intelligent way. Leaving aside the areas where blood spatter has been lazily added to the walls to add extra “horror”, many of the game’s most effectively shocking gruesome moments are well-designed enough that they would still be disturbing even without all of the blood and guts. In other words, like with great horror games such as “Silent Hill 3“, these moments are disturbing thanks to things like visual storytelling, the uncanny, symbolism etc..
The game’s suspense elements are reasonably good. A fair amount of the game involves wandering through empty rooms and occasionally hiding from/sneaking past monsters. Although this will probably make you sweat and it is probably one of the creepiest elements of the game, it unfortunately isn’t anywhere near as nerve-wrackingly heart-poundingly terrifying as something like “Remothered: Tormented Fathers” due to both the game’s level design and location design.
Whilst this game does have non-linear segments where you can actually explore a bit (like in a classic survival horror game), a fair amount of this game has fallen prey to the modern trend of funnelling the player along a single linear path. Yes, the game’s story branches depending on various things but you still sometimes get the feeling that you’re playing an interactive horror movie rather than actually exploring a creepy location. Another thing that discourages exploration is the fact that there are relatively few items (often highlighted via colour) that the player can examine/interact with, which makes many of the interesting-looking locations feel a bit hollow and also makes the game’s story and characters feel a bit limited/minimalist too.
In terms of the actual gameplay, it is mechanically simple – which is both a good and a bad thing. In essence, you can walk around, interact/look at a few things and run short distances. Likewise, there is one simple inventory puzzle, one segment (in the story branch I played) involving searching for a bottle of milk and some fairly simple stealth segments that usually involve finding ways to get past creepy monsters (either by finding hiding places or by learning their behaviour patterns).
Although it is really refreshing not to see any of the convoluted inventory puzzles or ultra-difficult stealth segments that can make an enjoyable survival horror game grind to a screeching halt, this simplified gameplay reduces the player’s immersion slightly and – again – makes everything feel a bit more like an interactive horror movie than a traditional game. Still, if you want a more streamlined and forgiving survival horror-inspired game, then this might work well. Just don’t expect too much of a challenge though (eg: I got stuck for ten minutes on one stealth puzzle and also had to check a walkthrough for two mildly confusing/counter-intuitive parts of the game, but that was it).
Still, one cool thing is that – like any real computer game should – this game allows you to save anywhere 🙂 Yes, this takes the watered-down modern form of having just one quick-save slot (accessed via the “Save & Exit” feature in the game’s menu) and it will only save the room you are in (so, if you save in the middle of a long corridor, you’ll have to restart the corridor), but it is still cool to see in this age of console-centric checkpoint saving. Likewise, once you’ve completed a “chapter” of the game, you can also go back and select/replay it too 🙂
In terms of the visual design, this game is really brilliant 🙂 As an artist/cartoonist myself, this game’s art style and the detailed hand-drawn backgrounds were an absolute joy to look at 🙂 Not only do the backgrounds look like the etchings from an old Victorian “Penny Dreadful“, but the more innocent and cartoonish character design (reminiscent of something like Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” comics) also contrasts really eerily with these detailed backgrounds too 🙂 Another cool thing is that, because most of this game is in monochrome, anything in colour stands out a lot more – which is used to both highlight stuff that you can interact with and to make the copious amounts of blood etc.. stand out a bit more.
My only criticism of the game’s art is that fact that a lot of visual details, backgrounds etc… are re-used quite often. But, although this can make the game feel a little monotonous/padded out at times, I can easily imagine that everything in the game probably took longer to draw than it looks and – given that this is a low-budget game made by a small team of indie developers – I can’t really criticise the re-used artwork too much.
In terms of sound design, this game is excellent 🙂 One of the most important things that makes a horror game scary is the sound design – and this game excels here, with creepy whispering, disturbing noises, Thomas’ heavy breathing, creaking footsteps, thunderclaps, jump scare noises etc… that really help to add a lot to this game’s chillingly suspenseful and gothic atmosphere. As for the voice-acting, there isn’t that much of it and – for a low-budget indie game – it is reasonably good (or at least not glaringly bad).
As for length, this is a short game – which took me a total of about 2-3 hours to complete (and, even then, some mid-late segments of the game felt a little padded). However, the game contains several branching paths that affect the locations/story and will not only show you which ones you followed, but will actually allow you to select chapters you’ve completed in order to find new paths more easily. So, it has a bit of replay value. And, given that I bought this game when it was on special offer and when I was in the mood for a short game, I didn’t have too many problems with the length. Still, don’t expect a giant game.
All in all, whilst this isn’t a perfect game, it is still a fairly interesting one that is possibly worth taking a look at when it is on special offer. If you want a slightly more creative short modern horror game that relies on more than just jump scares, if you don’t mind slightly simplified gameplay/level design, if you like the game’s art style and if you can forgive some of the low-budget limitations, then you’ll have a wonderfully creepy couple of hours with this game.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and three-quarters.