Neverending Nightmares – What We Think
By and large a project exploring developer Matt Gilgenbach’s own experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression, Neverending Nightmares is a psychological horror adventure that focuses more on mood and theme than action or puzzles. It’s not “fun” in the conventional sense, but it makes up for that by being immersive and thought-provoking.
Black and White and Red All Over
A large part of the game’s atmosphere comes from its art, which is about one third Charles Addams and two thirds Edward Gorey. Crosshatch-bedecked monochromes convey a sense of staid Edwardian repression; mild earth tones indicate potential interactions, and spurts of scarlet blood are all the more dramatic and horrifying on such a muted background.
While Addams and Gorey have always been associated with a sort of playful morbidity, the sound design in Neverending Nightmares eliminates any doubt; this is not a cute take on horror themes, but an interactive experience meant to legitimately frighten. From the disjointed drones of the soundtrack to the breathless whimpers and occasional shocked screams of the protagonist, the audio environment of this game is effectively disturbing throughout.
The gameplay itself adds to the sense of terrified helplessness. While Thomas, the protagonist, can sprint, he can only do so for a few yards before collapsing into asthmatic wheezing; otherwise, he moves in a slow but gangly plodding motion that recreates the surreal awkwardness of trying to move in a half-remembered nightmare.
Further, while Neverending Nightmares is by no means a survival horror game in the conventional sense, it does incorporate stealth elements. When you’re barely able to run, this makes fleeing to the shadows an exceptionally difficult proposition. Several scenes, notably those set in a decaying mental hospital, are counter-intuitive enough that the stealth elements must be repeated multiple times, yet again evoking that sense of repetitive dread often accompanying real-life nightmares.
Referred to self-deprecatingly by its own developer as a “walking simulator,” Neverending Nightmares is less about gameplay than about story; it’s technically a horror game, but it’s less like Resident Evil than a Victorian Gothic novel. Even the details of the story are widely open to interpretation, though surrealistic imagery and enemies point to certain obvious themes, like the repercussions of childhood trauma (as evidenced by monstrous babies and murderous dolls) and mental illness (like the asylum scenes and its cannibalistic inhabitants).
In fact, developer Gilgenbach openly describes how this game provided an important, perhaps even life-saving catharsis in dealing with his dark feelings. His hope is that the game will – beyond “scaring the pants off of people” – help create awareness and greater understanding of mental illness with the goal of removing some of the stigma attached to it.
Neverending Nightmares is ominous and eerie and atmospheric, and it leaves you feeling unsettled for a lot longer than your typical zombie-shooter. Fans of similarly moody games like Stranded will especially enjoy (if “enjoy” is the right word) its sense of creeping existential dread.
Be sure to check out the developer’s video blog about the creation and deployment of the game over at Infinitap Games.
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Watch the trailer for Neverending Nightmares below: