PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

'Neverending Nightmares' Is More Tedious Than Terrifying

While it looks quite amazing, the problem with Neverending Nightmares is that there is a real lack of a bigger picture, either strategically or narratively, to motivate the play itself.


Neverending Nightmares

Publisher: Infinitap Games
Format: PC
Price: $14.99
Players: 1
ESRB Rating: Mature
Developer: Infinitap Games
Release Date: 2014-09-26
URL

Neverending Nightmares looks amazing, which is what drew me to it in the first place. Set in a dreamscape that resembles an Edward Gorey storybook, Neverending Nightmares is all stark black and white with just a touch of color to indicate that which can be interacted with. Oh, yeah, and much of the game is tinged with red, due to the presence of lots and lots of blood, which seems to stain much of the nightmares of the game's protagonist Thomas.

All this is all well and good, I suppose. This is a horror game, and it is loaded up with gore and all kinds of unsettling grotesqueries intended to haunt one's dreams. It also takes its setting quite seriously by mimicking the quality of dream. The first time that Thomas “awakens” in his bed at the game's opening, you will lead him through one of two doorways that will lead to either a bathroom or a hallway. As you explore hallways and corridors in Thomas's home, they will look similar, giving the impression of a kind of endlessness, and when you “awaken” again in the same bedroom after some amount of exploring, you will find that where the bathroom formerly was is now a hallway. The door that formerly led to the hallway is now the door to the bathroom. This constant shifting of the geography of familiar spaces gives the game a definite dreamlike quality, where reality seems almost sensible until, of course, it isn't.

Moments of this sort make the game feel very clever by placing the player very much in the shoes of a character that is experiencing a nightmare that he cannot awaken from over and over again. The gameplay itself likewise has some cleverness to it, as the game is essentially a series of stealth puzzles in which you must flee from various terrors by following slightly different rules each time. One creature might chase you down on sight, so you need to find places to hide from him until he passes. Another might be blind, so getting past him is a matter of pausing when he stops to listen. Another monster will simply barrel down a hallway at you wielding an axe. Since Thomas can only sprint very short distances, the trick becomes figuring out when to begin sprinting so you can reach a door to escape it.

All of these elements amount to a very minimalistic approach to game mechanics. Thomas can move left and right, sprint briefly, and interact with objects that are colored in the world. The game keeps it simple, which in and of itself isn't a problem. Many of the best games ever made are simple in terms of their control schemes. Mastery of Tetris and Ms. Pac-Man is a matter of practicing and refining very basic movements, allowing you to think about the grander strategy of clearing many lines or completing a maze. The problem with Neverending Nightmares, though, is that there is a real lack of a bigger picture, either strategically or narratively, to motivate the play itself.

While the repetitive nature of the level design seems clever at first, creating a strong correlation between the experience of playing Neverending Nightmares and experiencing a nightmare, the redundancy of images and the actions needed to get past obstacles wears thin fairly quickly. Quite simply put, after you die a few times trying to figure out the exact timing to get past a monster in one of the rooms, the horrors of the game become more tedious than terrifying. Doing everything over and over and over and over again and seeing the same objects and decor (albeit rendered in a very cool art style) in Thomas's house, in an insane asylum, in the woods, etc. over and over and over and over again, makes the game dull, not scary.

Apparently the game was inspired by game designer Matt Gilgenbach's own struggles with OCD and depression, so the idea of patterning and repetition being agonizing and horrific makes sense. The game certainly captures such agony in its gameplay, but it doesn't really offer any insight into it that I can understand based on what is presented here. I did read a post by Gilgenbach on the Steam forums for the game in which he claimed that he wanted to leave the game open to interpretation by the viewer and that he had left its plotline “vague” in order to do so. Unfortunately, this “vagueness” equates to not really communicating much of anything in its story about a man haunted by the image of his sister's death.

The game offers three different paths to completion and three different endings, none of which amount to much in the way of revelation about who Thomas is or how his fears and struggles with the nightmares of his own mental health are resolved or managed or make ultimately for a battle that he can't win. There is lots of provocative imagery here, but, again, with no context given for most of that imagery, the game doesn't really justify any interpretation. It just seems arbitrary.

I would really like to champion this game because its aesthetic is so compelling to me and there are clearly some clever ideas that are part of the design, but I just have to say that I'm glad that this nightmare does end in just a few short hours because the experience of playing it simply does not live up to the promise of its appearance.

3

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.