Neverending Nightmare can be a traumatizing and very human game.
The game’s first few hours are an extremely well composed dissection of the suffering caused by depression. You play as Thomas, a man who’s trapped by his anxiety; he is perpetually living out his own violent nightmares. Thomas’ dreams are horrifying.
As an exercise, try to imagine the most horrific thing you can wrap your head around. Imagine morbidity incarnate, imagine bloodshed, sadness, pain. It’s scary. It’s the stuff our minds block out, the stuff that nightmares are made of, and it is exactly the kind of imagery Neverending Nightmare uses to create a sense of fright. All of which is complemented by a delightfully creepy crosshatching visual technique.
Where Neverending Nightmare succeeds is in how well it uses this grotesque imagery to turn Thomas from a silent protagonist (or vessel), into a real character. There’s a motif of empty eyes: dolls with vacant eye sockets and walls patterned by skulls surround Thomas at every turn. We’re told that, “dreams are the enemy of the guilty” and these lifeless eyes silently watching create a sense you’re being judged by the world around you. But it doesn’t stop at the still and motionless dead; warped family memorabilia decorates the halls of Thomas’ home, and mutated babies roam its corridors. There’s a sense of past and future, and more importantly a feeling that your presence has wronged the people around you, failing the past and destroying the future. Thomas’ world is so shattered his psyche is caught between both homicidal and suicidal tendencies — either way he’s looking for finality.
Inside Thomas’ home all of these elements comes together with a surrealism that makes the dreams feel hellish but grounded. Even the small homages to The Shining (1980), Silent Hill 2 (2001), and The Birds (1964), coupled with tropes of bad dreams —for example all your teeth falling out— works well to establish the realm of the nightmare. But where the game loses its tension and starts to feel tedious is in its second area: an asylum.
Now, just to clarify, in concept the mental institution is clever. Juxtaposed against the only other major setting in the game –Thomas’ home– the psychiatric hospital symbolizes how Thomas’ house has become his asylum, representing both his sense of self and how trapped he has become by his depression. The issue with the asylum is —to be blunt— just how cliché it is in execution. Where Thomas’ house is filled with personal evidence of his shortcomings (or what he considers to be a shortcoming) the mental hospital is filled with rotting corpses, walls smeared will bloody messages, and groaning zombie-esque lunatics who patrol the halls. Not only is it a less interesting area to explore, but by losing touch with reality the game starts to feel less like a dive into a man’s tormented psyche and more like a run-of-the-mill horror game. The problem with this is that —with the except of a few stealth sequences— Neverending Nightmare’s gameplay is more or less about moving forward while the game’s world reveals itself to you. Without its dreamlike pace, or psychological investigation, the game loses a big part of its appeal.
Neverending Nightmare is a really interesting game, there’s a lot to pick at. Some of the scenes in the game are frightening as can be, and its use of colour (black and white, with a splash of red) is perfect. What I can’t escape is the feeling that the game is really engaging when its trying to tell you something, and decidedly not when it isn’t. The first half of the game is so fascinating, but by its second half I felt like I’d already exhausted the symbolic possibilities that it was ready to disclose, and after that I was waiting to watch the game’s various endings so I could hear what else it had to say.
- Losing touch with the character is a big problem for me. A the beginning I was paying attention to his eyes, by the end I wasn’t.
- I do like Thomas’ PJs barefoot look.
- The art style isn’t quite like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but I was reminded of it constantly.
- There’s a particular scene where you’re in completely darkness and then lightning strikes. I adore it. It’s so scary.
- I’m not at all sure about 2D stealth. I think Mark of the Ninja is the exception that proves the rule.
- Sometimes material objects will have aged the second time you see them — it’s very cool.
- I still think the remake of Resident Evil (2001) does the best glass breaking psych-out, but windows are really well done in Neverending Nightmare.
- Music and sound are very strong.
- The game’s wedding and commitment imagery is also particularly well done.
- Thomas has asthma — it adds a lot.
Please consider donating to Castle Couch. All of our content is handmade with real love — we couldn't do it without you.