Have you ever pondered what mysteries lie beneath the deep, dark abyss that is the sea? I know I have. Sunken pirate ships sure to be full of gleaming gold and jewels just waiting to be uncovered. Skeletons of fallen shipmates still grasping their swords as they anchored down to their watery graves. I was intrigued by the idea of pointing and clicking my way into one of these treasure thieving tales with Nightmares of the Deep: The Cursed Heart, but my excitement was quickly left to drift out on the open sea.
Developed by Artifex Mundi, you play as Sarah Black, a museum curator finishing up the last parts of her pirate exhibition. All is going to plan, until the remains of Captain Henry Remington come back to life and kidnaps Sarah’s daughter. Now your job is to track her down and find her at any cost necessary. Even for someone’s daughter, the cost felt too much at times. I found the idea of playing Nightmares of the Deep scarier than the story it attempted to unravel.
First things first, I knew exactly what type of game I was jumping into. Point and click adventures may not always offer the wide depth of gameplay mechanics that other major titles do, but I know that they can carry their own brand of charm with storytelling and discovery. This game provided neither. You begin the game in the museum, where you are given a murky tutorial on how the game functions, how to use items, and the inventory screen. A hint feature is offered through a d-pad selection that I found myself hitting quite often. Progression in the game is made by entering haunted pirate locations and obtaining key items that will open the path to new areas and getting closer to finding your daughter. The locations range from ghostly ships, to dark caves, to spooky lighthouses, and really deliver on the unnerving atmosphere intended.
What shocked me most about this title is how janky the controls are. For a game with such a simple control and input layout, it just feels off. The reticle moves a bit slow and there is no option to adjust it, you just deal with it. It’s also way too oversized and makes it very tedious when choosing objects with precision. When selecting an item, the A button doesn’t always register either. Countless times I would be spamming the button right on my selected object with no result. I know this game was originally released on iOS, Android, and PC where many of these problems were not present, but this port to Xbox One seems to have received no love. I mean, words aren’t even spelled correctly within the game, come on.
On a positive note, Nightmares of the Deep does contain some pretty entertaining puzzles. The ability to craft new items with ones you obtained through discovery was a nice implementation. The story being told and the lore involved is actually decent, it’s just the way the player is expected to uncover it that sours the experience. The gameplay just isn’t fleshed out enough.
Visual presentation for Nightmares of the Deep can have its moments. The still screens you navigate through look fine, and the items are clear and somewhat easy to locate. Colors pop, and the spooky, pirate aesthetics carry over well. Things get weird when the game attempts full motion CGI. Its downright horrendous. In these instances I saw the worst drop in resolution and framerate from any game in recent memory.
Nightmares of the Deep’s saving grace could have been in the sound department. A creepy, ghostly landscape was perfect for an eerie orchestra, but instead you are given the same bland piano track looped for the game’s entirety. More appalling is the voice work. It may be the worst I have ever heard. Absolutely no range of emotion or sincerity treated to the dialogue. There are clear pauses in the middle of lines as if the voice actor were switching pages, paused, and picked up on the line on the next page.
Nightmares of the Deep: The Cursed Heart has some inviting appeal with an engrossing story, but no substance in gameplay. If you are looking for a classic point and click adventure title, this may not be the best in the genre to choose from. Too many bugs and technical shortcomings keep this nightmare deep in the sea.
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