Review: Neverending Nightmares (PS4/PSV/PSTV)

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Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
  • Cross-Buy Yes
  • Cross-Save Yes
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Neverending Nightmares
Format: PlayStation Network Download (PS4 418.7 MB) (PSV 276 MB)
Release Date: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Infinitap Games
Developer: Infinitap Games
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: M
Neverending Nightmares is also available on PC, Mac, Linux, and Oyua.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Neverending Nightmares is a game about the journey and not the gameplay. The experience is based on lead designer Matt Gilgenbach’s own struggle with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The player takes control of Thomas in a game designed to “convey the bleak and often hopeless feelings associated with these mental illnesses”.

Gameplay:
The game does have a few horror cliches such as creepy dolls that blink and the small rocking horse that will start rocking back and forth on its own. While Neverending Nightmares is inspired by horror games, it only contains a few jump scares.

The intensity and fear that is the cornerstone of most horror games isn’t found here. Instead, the slower pace of the game creates a dark and dreadful march throughout. This was not designed to make players scared, but to allow them to share in Thomas’ journey and understand his battle.

As the game progresses and you experience the descent into madness, it becomes darker. Although at times it feels likes the game is becoming more morbid for the sake of being morbid.

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It feels like they tried to cram some unfinished ideas together, but they just do not fit together right. The game starts off almost like a Zelda or Metroidvania game. After a bit of wandering, the player comes across an item that allows them to access a new area of the house.

That leads to another item which allows Thomas to break through a blocked entrance. Then nothing. There are more items that the player can interact with but not in the same manner.

… there was no choice …
After finishing your first playthrough, you are shown the path you took and how the story branches, leading to multiple endings. Nothing in the game gave any indication that there were branches in the story.

I went back to check the fact sheet given to reviewers and sure enough, it states “completely different endings depending on player choices.” I went back to certain branches in the game so I could play through to the other endings and there was no choice.

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I simply went left instead of right at a certain junction. I was not even sure I “made” a different choice until I ended up in an area I had never seen before. It was blind luck that I got the ending I did on my first playthrough.

Even if I ignore the beginning and end, focusing on the meat of the game, the gameplay and experience do not feel fully fleshed out. The environment and art do a great job of creating the sense of loneliness and despair. The gameplay on the other hand does little to help the player experience or understand what Thomas is going through.

… run, sneak past, or hide …
The game can basically be summed up as finding a way past enemies and wandering hallways. There are multiple locations but a hallway is a hallway. Even outside, the player is on a linear pathway with really only one route.

There is variety in the enemies too, but in each area of the game you will generally only see one or two types in that area. There is no combat, so when you encounter enemies the player’s only choices are to run, sneak past, or hide. Once you figure out a way past a certain enemy, you just repeat what you did for almost every encounter with them.

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There are pacing issues as well. Sometimes it felt like I was wandering forever. I am unsure if that is how the level is designed, to make the player feel like they are going mad, or if I got lost and turned around somehow. It was definitely too long at times. And for what? Exploring rooms and hallways just to reach the next trigger point and wander somewhere else.

… a striking difference from most video games today …
While I played mostly on the PS4, I did play an hour on the Vita. Using the Cross-Save feature is quick and easy. The simple control scheme works great on the Vita and allows the player to enjoy the game without using either touch screen.

If I had to pick only one console to play Neverending Nightmares on, it would be the PS4. But that’s only because the dark black haze seems to take up even more of the screen on the Vita.

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Visuals:
The 2D hand-drawn black and white art style is a striking difference from most video games today. The black haze over parts of the screen does help to convey loneliness and hopelessness. At times it can be annoying when it takes up half the screen.

The art style may be simple but it works. The few items do that do have color really stand out. It is mostly blood, but there are a few other items. There are a wide variety of paintings on the walls and creepy dolls, but those quickly got old after walking a hallway for the hundredth time.

The game runs like a dream. I did not notice a single frame rate issue and there is no obvious graphical difference between the PS4 and PSV.

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Audio:
There are a few different melodies that the player will hear during their time with Thomas. One in particular that stood out to me is something that sounds like creepy carnival music. I picture evil clowns with sharp knives. Unfortunately I got stuck in a level where this was playing and after a while did start to feel like I was going mad.

Besides the background melodies, most of the game is silence as Thomas explores the hallways and rooms. It is the silence that allows the few sounds effects to really pop. The fits of crazed laughter, sounds of Thomas being killed, and the crunch from the player walking over broken glass, to name a few.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

… I was never able to relate to Thomas …
Conclusion:
Neverending Nightmares is supposed to be about the experience but there just isn’t much to experience. There is no story or lore to be gleaned from really exploring each area and the gameplay quickly becomes repetitive and boring

The game feels like it’s a great demo or a collection of ideas that didn’t translate well into a full game. The disjointed ideas make me wonder if the lead designer’s OCD had the team continually redo certain parts of game, or they scraped ideas too late in development. He certainly would not be the first designer that this has happened too.

At the end of the day, I did not get much out of this experience. I was never able to relate to Thomas because there was no real story to follow. Most importantly, I am not closer to understanding the struggle people endure with mental illness.

Score:
5.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature and the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Matt Engelbart

Matt Engelbart

I love all things video games. When I am not gaming I am watching the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals, BBQing, and reading.

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