Edgar Allan Poe once posed the question: “Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?” A poetic, grande philosophical question, for sure, but one that succinctly encapsulates Neverending Nightmares‘ dark, beating heart. US-based indie developer Infinitap Games has pieced together a very memorable and a very personal slice of psychological horror that explores its creator’s struggles with OCD and depression.
It’s easy to make comparisons with Actual Sunlight – another autobiographical portrayal of a human-being dealing with their own comparable inner demons – but the big difference here is how each of their struggles are contrastingly represented. Where Actual Sunlight eschews the physically dark, unreal and horrific manifestations of depression and loneliness for a more hyper-realistic depiction, Neverending Nightmares alternatively takes on a more gruesome, gothic and nightmare-esque approach – an approach where the real and the unreal collide beautifully.
You play as Thomas, a man trapped inside of his unstable, lonely mind hunted by manifestations of his inner demons. Unsurprisingly, the ultimate goal of your personal journey is to escape from these awful lucid dreams that have taken your mind prisoner and awaken into the safety of reality and discover the truth to what is really going on.
Neverending Nightmares features only a handful of characters, but their presence is often deliberately impressionistic, their actions are blurred and their identity fluid. Just like a real nightmare, the characters and the world are hard to understand and it makes the game even more eerie and even more haunting because of it. The blurring of the narrative lines and the obfuscation of the character’s motives often echo horror roots from further afield, such as Adrian Lyne’s psychological horror Jacob’s Ladder, a film which focuses on another unreliable protagonist recovering from the mental duress sustained during the Vietnam war, who is also haunted by horrific hallucinations. There is a moment within Neverending Nighmares which feels lifted straight out of Jacob’s Ladder. Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but either way, it’s really rather cleverly executed.
The gameplay of Neverending Nightmares is more akin to Jasper Byrne’s indie horror-hit Lone Survivor, than it is to something like the aforementioned visual-novella Actual Sunlight. Exploration is a core component to the gameplay, but instead of Lone Survivor‘s moments of action levity, Neverending Nightmares is instead punctuated with horrific abominations that need to be beaten with your mind, rather that your pistol. Essentially, each monster the game throws at you acts as a sort’ve puzzle that needs to be bested like a miniature horror Rubik’s cube. Each of the enemy’s designs are grotesque and horrifying and really get under your skin – these monstrosities wouldn’t look out of place in an old-school Silent Hill game, which is high praise indeed (Silent Hill 2 is one of my favourite games of all time). It should also be noted that the sound design is on point to really help evoke a tense, macabre atmosphere: discordant organ drones and dark ambient soundscapes fittingly frame these nightmare-ish dream worlds and really help heighten the drip-fed scares that the game builds up so effectively.
Further accentuating its macabre, creepy atmosphere is Neverending Nightmares’ jaw-dropping, monochrome artwork which expertly employs a sort’ve semi-pointillism crosshatch art-style to further mystify the game’s impressionistic nightmare-scapes. With its sparing use of colour, Neverending Nightmares remains a mostly black, white and occasionally red affair (there’s a fair bit of blood in Thomas’ nightmares). The game also intelligently uses colour as a means of player feedback, communicating with the player which items or objects the player can interact with.
Neverending Nightmares is an utterly compelling and haunting horror experience that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. Like a lot of horror games, this will definitely not be a game for everyone, however, I’ll make no qualms about it: Neverending Nightmares is one of the best horror experiences I’ve had for a while. Its poetic take on the nature of reality has sneaked its way into my head and has managed to seep into my own dreams, keeping me awake tossing and turning in the process. It totally nails that awful feeling of being trapped inside of a nightmare, forever in limbo, struggling desperately to awaken, and because of this it’s easy to recommend to horror fans, particularly if you like your horror with a side of poetic and visual artistry and flair. Those looking for a short, compact horror experience, look no further than Neverending Nightmares.
I’m also pretty sure Edgar Allan Poe would dig it. Which is nice.
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