One of the hardest things to do when running a video game website is to review a game. Reviews are totally subjective and are the opinion of one individual. Here at Short Pause, things are no different. With our reviews, we pride ourselves on being honest with our readers, regardless of our professional relationships with publishers and developers. 99% of the time it’s pretty simple: we start a game, finish the game, and then try to explain to our readers what we liked, disliked, and, most importantly, if we had fun with it. The other 1% of the time a game like Neverending Nightmares comes along and flips everything we think and know about reviewing on its side. So, after giving it some thought, I’m going to explain why I personally really enjoyed this game, and why there are some people who may get a little more out of this experience than others. That’s not to say one group of gamers is going to hate it and one is going to love it; that’s hardly the case. It’s just there’s more to Neverending Nightmares than just a simple horror game.
Title: Neverending Nightmares
Release Date: May 3rd, 2016
Developer: Infinitap Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4 & PlayStation Vita (Reviewed Both)
Before we continue with the actual review, let me give you a little insight into what Neverending Nightmares is, and where it stems from. On the surface, Neverending Nightmares is a story-driven horror experience with a few “game” elements sprinkled in such as evading deadly enemies. What I mean by that is, one could easily label this a “walking sim,” a label that I think has an unjust, negative stigma surrounding it (not all “walking-simulators” are Wander). The inspiration for Neverending Nightmares is drawn from Infinitap Games’ lead designer Matt Gilgenbach’s personal struggles with OCD and depression. He has stated before that with Neverending Nightmares, he was “trying to create that feeling of bleakness and hopelessness.” Altogether, while my first experience only took me about 2 – 2.5 hours to complete, there are a total of three endings that can be reached via branching story lines, and these are dependant on which paths you take while you’re exploring the game’s nightmares. Having seen all three endings, I can tell you this right now: Neverending Nightmares is not going to win any awards for “Feel Good Game of the Year.” Make no mistake, this is a dark game from the mind of someone who was in a very dark place at one point or another.
You play as Thomas, a man who awakens in a panicked state, short of breath, and obviously suffering from a nightmare. Is he still dreaming? Is he awake? Eventually, you’ll discover that it’s the former, and that you must make your way through these nightmares if you ever hope to awake to more pleasant surroundings. Nightmares is presented in a hand-drawn, black and white aesthetic that benefits greatly from a smooth framerate on both the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita (this is also ao cross-buy title). As you make your way through different environments — ranging from an eerie house, to an asylum and a dark forest — you’ll encounter many disturbing and unsettling images that have stuck with me long after I’ve turned the game off. What is most haunting to think about, though, is that a majority of these images are based on the ones that Matt Gilgenbach would often see in his head when he was battling his illness. Complimenting the imagery and art style here — to the point of almost stealing the show — is the audio work. Regardless of if you’re playing on PlayStation 4 or PlayStation Vita, you absolutely MUST experience Neverending Nightmares with headphones on. It will wrap itself around you and keep you on edge throughout each nightmare. There are a few well-placed jump-scares throughout that startled me more so than normal because I was so transfixed by the audio. Even though those scripted scares are few and far between, there is still plenty of fear and tension that is built up along the way. Technically speaking, there’s nothing I didn’t like about Neverending Nightmares. If you’re not a fan of the movement speed in games like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture or The Witness, you’ll more than likely be put off by Neverending Nightmares, which is a shame. There is a sprint mechanic implemented, but it can only be used in short bursts. It’s not particularly fast to begin with, and I don’t think it was ever intended to be. That would defeat the purpose of what Infinitap Games is trying to accomplish here.
As I was alluding to earlier, to some people Neverending Nightmares could simply be viewed as a horror game/walking simulator, and a well done one at that. For others like myself, there is a much deeper experience to be had here. When I was 21, I suffered from depression, mainly because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and things hadn’t been going the way I expected them to. I wasn’t particularly happy with the road I was going down, to the point where once in a great while I thought about “easy way outs”. Thankfully, I sought out help and found someone to talk to, and I was able to overcome my issues. When dealing with depression, and like Matt has mentioned before, you feel hopeless and things can seem quite bleak. When you make your way through nightmare after nightmare in this game, you often feel like you’re in a maze that has no end, and when you tie that in with the disturbing images and haunting soundtrack, things begin to feel desperate. There doesn’t appear to be any sort of positive outcome the deeper you get into the story either, which represents the bleakness he spoke of. Not only did this game affect me as a fan of horror games, but it elicited deeper emotions out of me and I felt a connection with the developer. There aren’t too many games like Neverending Nightmares that feature a narrative that can reach out and hit you on a personal level. Will others who have dealt with — or are currently dealing with — depression come away just as impressed as I was? I don’t know. There are some pretty dark themes on display here, and it could possibly upset some who are trying to forget the hardships they’ve dealt with or are dealing with.
As for myself, I enjoyed Neverending Nightmares immensely, and not just as a gamer and a fan of horror, but as someone who can relate to the type of struggle that Matt Gilgenbach had to deal with. From a game standpoint, this is a haunting, psychological horror experience that successfully delivers an eerie atmosphere, disturbing imagery, and a consistent sense of dread. From a personal perspective, I think it’s a fantastic reminder that no matter how bad things can seem when dealing with depression, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Matt could’ve easily given into to his struggles, instead he overcame them, and used his experience to deliver a quality horror experience. Kudos to you Matt, you’re an example of the light at the end of the tunnel.
A review code for Neverending Nightmares was generously provided by our friends at Spoke & Wheel Strategy
- Chilling atmosphere
- Unique art style
- Deep, mature themes explored
- Well-placed jump scares
- Short, even with multiple paths/endings