Reviewed on: PC.
I’d heard good things about Neverending Nightmares, even picked it up during a sale on Steam but never actually got around to giving it a go. With the release of a Playstation 4 and Vita version, however, I decided it was enough of an incentive to give it a shot. I was itching to write and needed a new horror game in my life so I figured, why not? Take the plunge, nothing ventured nothing gained, etc etc.
It was an interesting experience but not one I’ll be repeating. Generally, when I like or even love a horror game, I’m willing to play it more than once (looking at you, six playthroughs of Until Dawn), especially if it has multiple endings, which Neverending Nightmares does. I’ll explain why, despite this fact, I won’t be playing it again, but first I want to address the issue of the narrative.
The story is a bit confusing and hard to pick up without reading into things – but from what I gathered, Neverending Nightmares is about a guy named Thomas who continuously wakes up from nightmare after nightmare, dreaming vividly of some seriously disturbed things each time as he descends through creepy dream-scapes, most of them revolving around his sister (oh Thomas, how Freud would love you) and ending in some type of heinous bodily mutilation, before he wakes up. Why, you ask? Why is he dreaming of this stuff? What’s his sister got to do with it all? All good questions. The answer is… I don’t really know – the story didn’t tell me.
Between these instances of hurting yourself and waking up, however, you’re forced to wander corridor after corridor, first in a house then in an asylum, then in a house again with brief intervals in a graveyard, avoiding monsters and zombie-like creatures each time. If you get caught, you die, wake up in a room that acts as a checkpoint, then if you get caught… you die, wake up in a room that acts as a checkpoint, repeat ad nauseam.
To say it became tedious after a while would be an understatement, though I understand the purpose of the mechanic was to imitate the discombobulating sense of “have I been here before?” and “why am I going in circles?” one often experiences in their nightmares. Still, much like my dreams, I got frustrated with feeling like I wasn’t progressing, or being unsure if I was just going in circles, trying to find a point to it all.
Given that the game is a side scroller, getting lost and trying to find your way around wasn’t terribly entertaining either, especially since a lot of it is done in the dark. Spooky from a narrative perspective, irritating from a gameplay one. Making matters worse, the story was incredibly difficult to understand. The developer introduces this female character, Gabby, early on, though as the game progresses we’re unsure if this character is meant to be Thomas’ sister or his wife (maybe both?). We as an audience come to understand that he is a very mentally disturbed individual either way, and we adopt his confusion about his relationship to this Gabby character. The game throws in the same repeat environments with more blood and monsters each time Thomas wakes up and explores some more, and then suddenly… it ends without explaining anything.
Neverending Nightmares does not have a terribly satisfying conclusion, or an easily comprehensible story to start with, so as a player I was left thinking “What the fuck just happened?” by the time the credits rolled. Even trying to work out where you can branch out in the gameplay to see where you can get these different endings is hard to understand without a guide of some sort, as any decisions you think you made throughout Neverending Nightmares are not clear.
The art style was very unique and perhaps the strongest point in the game. The black and white wash does imply a sense of depression in the protagonist to the player, which was intended by the developer, as they were inspired to make the game after battling depression themselves according to their Steam page. It’s an issue I’m familiar with and sensitive to, so taking it on board, I appreciate the attempt at conveying that sense of repetitiveness someone with depression experiences and feels about their everyday lives.
In that instance, Neverending Nightmares is done very well. The deep sense of loneliness and isolation was very real and very *there*. It’s a psychological horror game, but has a lot (and I mean, *a lot*) of jump scares. Some of them cheap, and some of them admittedly well done, in part due to the art style expertly lending itself to a macabre atmosphere, instilling a sense of eeriness and discomfort.
There isn’t a lot of voice acting throughout the game so it’s difficult to rate judge it on this. Some instances were well done, and others were a bit cringe-worthy. The manifestations of Thomas’ inner demons, aka the things you’ll be trying to navigate past as the game’s puzzles, also ranged from being somewhat laughable to relatively horrifying, so it’s also hard to give a rating or consensus about the monsters you’ll be avoiding.
Overall Neverending Nightmares would’ve been better if it were free to play, or even a short movie instead of a weirdly priced retail game. It was an interesting attempt at an addition to the growing pool of indie horror games out there, and with its atmosphere and style I can’t claim it failed in delivering horror-wise, but I can’t completely recommend it either. Which is a shame because even though it’s so short, it’s obvious the developer put a lot of time and effort into it. Sadly, the finished product is tedious, ultimately unsatisfying and only really worth playing if you’re a horror buff with absolutely nothing else to play and an hour or two to kill, or if you particularly enjoy the art style.