If I was to categorize Nightmare with one word it would probably be Lovecraftian
. Both the game’s premises and the execution of it both adhere to a number of fundamental Lovecraft ideologies, from the lack of characterization to the powerlessness of the protagonist against the only real enemy, The Shadow, who relentlessly attempts to impede our journey.
The game begins with our protagonist, of whom we never get acquianted with his name, waking up in a what looks to be a prison cell and the only sounds coming from the lantern and his own bewilderment. This, in itself, isn’t a new concept to this type of horror story. It can be compared with how most Silent Hill games start off: an unfamiliar location with no idea what is going on. Also like Silent Hill, the atmosphere is tense and dark with very little lighting or visibility to show the way. The sound effects too are eerily reminiscent to these games and adds to the increasing build up of tension and fear that both the protagonist and the player are feeling. To complete the comparison, we are also subjected to what can be described as nightmare scenes in which the protagonist enters areas that would not normally be there and that often serves to progress the story.
The storyline itself isn’t really that original. However, an original story wasn’t the intention here, but rather the concept of dreams and reality merging into one. Like a good mystery, we are given snippets of the events that have occurred that put the protagonist in the position he is in. We slowly put together the truth and are then able to face and come to terms with whole story. It’s this journey that, whilst not new, makes the story solid and enjoyable. The writing behind the elements that put this story together are extremely well written and give just the right amount of information that we need. From written articles to conversation with characters both by the protagonist and between others there is no shortage of material to provide us with clues as to what the story is all about.
There are a few puzzles to solve, in addition to the story, though most are more focussed on finding items and taking them to the correct locations. Some of the puzzles, however, require a little more thought and breaks up the repetition of moving from point A to point B. Solving puzzles usually lets you find more items like keys that unlock additional areas to explore or are simply obstacles that must be overcome.
Talking about exploration, there are a good number of rooms that you can check out that contain either key items for progression or story elements like the aforementioned articles. Some rooms also contain some very clever, though very familiar if you’ve played other psychological horror games, use of scare mechanics like shattering objects and doors that slam themselves shut.
Whilst exploring there is a good chance that you will start to hear the sound of heartbeats that get louder as The Shadow, an enemy character whose name explains almost everything, looms closer (much like the effect given off by the radio in the Silent Hill games); touching this shadow will result in instant death. The game is quite sympathetic, however, in that it returns you back to a recent location to try again. As such, there is no actual death but rather a slight setback that is quick to get you back to the game. Paired with the ability to save the game at any moment, there is no reason not to explore and find all the information that you possible can.
For casual players, this is likely an acceptable solution. However, for those of us who like the feeling of fear, this does start to reduce the overall effect due to the lack of required apprehension in moving around an unknown location. Coupled with the fact that The Shadow has predifined starting locations, what starts off as a feeling of fear and foreboding soon becomes little more than an annoyance. Also, once you learn The Shadow’s movement mechanics, it is extremely easy to avoid the death and thus bypass any real sense of tension from this common, and only, enemy.
Overall, the game is solid and enjoyable and definitely worth playing. It delivers what it promises very effectively, despite the enemy being predictable as well as the heavy similarity to Silent Hill. Many times you will find yourself jumping, and possibly gasping, from the clever use of fast graphical changes and sudden sound effects. The music too is well chosen and fits every situation that you find yourself in to create and add to the already high level of tension. Considering that we are not used to 2D games being scary anymore, this one has earned its 1st place award in the Game In A Week 9 contest.
If you haven’t played it yet, then get right to downloading it here
. It only takes between 1 to 2 hours, depending on your puzzle solving skills and the desire to explore. It also has two endings, adding a little extra replayability should you enjoy the first time around.Scores
Please note that these contain game spoilers and, with the exception of the scores themselves, have been hidden with spoiler tags.
Spoiler for Original Version Scores[/spoiler:
For the most part the game played very well. The simplistic menu stripped out all of the unnecessary crap you find in a number of RM games (often because it seems cool and required I think) and made it easy and quick to check what items I had to help figure out what path to take.
The addition of the map was nice, but it really would have been nice to have had even a simple position marker as well as marks on key locations. It can easily become a task to remember what you are doing and where you are going with no additional information outside of figuring out where you were.
The item based puzzles were simple and didn’t really require much thought. This was fine, though, because they aren’t designed to be difficult.
The riddle regarding the twelve spirits had me stumped for a fair while; I had to ask Pacman since he was further along what the answer was. Even after knowing it (and being told there was another clue somewhere) I have no idea how it correlates to the riddle itself. Also, the silhouette puzzle took me a few attempts because I couldn’t quite decide what I was looking for – appendages, things touching the floor etc.
My biggest gripe, in terms of puzzles, has to be with the box puzzle. It’s a lot of running back and forth trying to get the boxes in the right position. For a very easy puzzle, it took more time just to get to the otherside of the box that to actually figure out what to do and where to move them to.
I had expected a lot more from The Shadow in terms of adding to the fear, but this was soon extinguinshed when I realised it spawns in the exact same location each time, with the exception of it seeming to teleport in the large hallway area on the 1st floor. And because I could save anywhere, it became a distraction more than a fear factor. Had this been a lot more random (and without being able to save all the time) this would have been almost perfect in my opinion.
Finally, there was way too many locked doors. It annoyed me in Silent Hill, and it started to annoy me in this game too. I sometimes even kept trying the same doors, either because I forgot it was locked or I was hoping something might have changed. I understand that a lot of the rooms aren’t exactly too important, but they could still have been used to some other effect.
31 / 40Average:
7.75 / 10