When developer Ninja Theory released Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice on the PS4, the game was lauded for its exploration of the protagonist’s mental health. Rightly so, in my opinion as the narrative and ending for that game were beautifully portrayed. With that in mind, there are other video games that explore mental health issues while skillfully drawing the player into a bleak and terrifying existence. It is time for us to explore Neverending Nightmares.
Brought to life by lead designer Matt Gilgenbach’s wish to explore depression and Obsessive Compulsion Disorder, Neverending Nightmares puts you into the role of Thomas Smith and the game begins with your character brutally stabbing his younger sister, Gabby. Despite having taken a blade to the stomach, Gabby appear frequently throughout the game as an enigmatic figure. As the narrative progresses, young Thomas finds it increasingly difficult to discern what is real and what only exists in his mind and his ties to Gabby become equally questionable.
While the game is over five years old as of this writing, it is a rather short experience so I do not wish to go into the plot too deeply. You should be able to beat the game in a couple of hours and there are three different endings to find.
As Thomas, you find yourself waking up from a nightmare only to find yourself in a progressively worse vision. His tragic destiny seems to be eternally finding himself in a nightmare every time he wakes up. This was ingeniously woven into the gameplay as everytime Thomas witnesses something truly horrific or harms himself he realizes he is still in the same nightmare or possibly a new one. This is how the game saves your progress without breaking your immersion and you will find yourself emotionally exhausted after a play session. Some of the ways Thomas manages to harm himself are still stuck in my head such as pulling out one of his own arteries.
What I really appreciate about Neverending Nightmares is the fact that the game does not rely solely on jump scares to unnerve the player. Don’t get me wrong – there are certainly jump scares to be had but the art style, narrative and the nature of Thomas’ nightmares already work very well to put players on edge and when an effective scare occurs we appreciate it all the more.
The game’s atmosphere really helps to provide an immersive experience. The mostly black-and-white visuals make the occasional red splotches of blood on the walls really pop. There is music to be heard but it often goes silent leaving you with the sounds of screams or even creepy laughter.
You will encounter enemies through your nightmares but take care in approaching them. Like we saw in Outlast, you are far better off avoiding them rather than directly fighting them. It is an interesting contrast to say, Dead Nation which throws seemingly endless waves of enemies at you. Instead, an enemy encounter in Neverending Nightmares is much more memorable because there are not nearly as many of them and Thomas is ill prepared for the confrontation.
You can play Neverending Nightmares on PS4, PlayStation Vita, PC, iOS and Android. I find the game to be more than worthy of checking out during Halloween season. Be warned, though. The game may be too much for some players. It is exhausting to make your way through such dreary worlds only to face extremely unsettling imagery.