When you think of horror games, there are a few modern titles which naturally come to mind. Resident Evil 7, Outlast, Alien: Isolation. These are all brilliant games in their own right, regardless of the scares they may or may not offer you. One thing they have in common, though, is that they graphic realism as a fear mechanism; they make the surroundings, characters, and weapons as realistic as possible as a way of making them as frighteningly true to life as possible. It’s a technique that horror films have been using ever since the genre began: make the audience feel as though this could actually happen to them.
Little Nightmares doesn’t bow to such norms. Instead, developer Tarsier Studios goes the opposite direction, surrealism, with weird and quirky environments, unusual scare tactics, and anthropomorphic animals. It’s a decision that draws parallels with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, for which Nintendo decidedly turned Link from a grown up to a cartoon. Similarly with the Gamecube game, though, take Little Nightmares’ childish aesthetic at face value at your peril.
Little Nightmares is a 2D stealth platformer. You play as a character named Six, whose story remains unclear for some time. To begin with, it’s a game of working your way around this eerily grim house, understanding the cryptic messages and stories as you go along.
As you venture further into the deep secrets of The Maw, the game instantly becomes recognisable as stealth horror. Without giving too many details away, Six is required to move from room to room in order to escape from a kidnapper. Each is filled with its own horrors, like something out of haunted house. Evading the obstacles or the ‘things’ that inhabit the rooms is the only way out, and often just waiting in hiding is your best bet. It’s got everything most modern horrors yearn for: that sense of feeling powerless to do anything but hide. It’s Alien: Isolation played out in a miniature doll’s house.
Though Little Nightmares isn’t tempted by jump scares, it’s the sense of suspension that keeps you in. The stunning art style and the design of The Maw keep you interested, while the layout of each room and the quirky, sinister characters keep your apprehension and anxieties at maximum. You won’t be screaming aloud every 5 minutes whilst playing, but that’s the point; this is more a case of building intensity rather than letting it out in one go.
The only issue is playtime. I managed to get through Little Nightmares in just over 5 hours, which isn’t long at all. However, it’s obvious from the number of characters with things to say and the cryptic storyline that Tarsier has developed this with multiple playthroughs in mind. There’s no doubt that during your next 5 hours of Little Nightmares, you’ll speak to different, unique NPCs, learn more about The Maw and its stories, and understand Six’s story, as well.
Little Nightmares shows how much indie titles have matured over the last decade. Along with Limbo, it uses its limitations to its advantage, making for an eerie atmosphere that AAA horror games can’t achieve. It proves that sometimes it’s not the case that the most realistic horrors are the scariest ones – perhaps a lesson that the bigger developers can learn.
It’s a game that taps into more than just meaningless scares. Little Nightmares is a dark tale about childhood fears, the ones that are ingrained in your mind even in adulthood. These are the ultimate horrors in life, the ones that stick with you even as you grow up. That’s what makes it truly terrifying, and one of the scariest games on PS4.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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