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In Nightmare

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Maximum Games
Developer: Magic Fish Studios
Release Date: March 29, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'In Nightmare'

by Cody Medellin on May 4, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

In Nightmare is a narrative-driven adventure-horror that puts you in a terrifying world where dreams come to life to haunt your every move.

There are a few requirements to make a good horror game. The experience must either scare the player or put them in a constant state of unease. The story must be interesting enough to help non-horror fans drive through the experience for a big narrative payoff. It also needs to be a game that is enjoyable to play. Good horror games have all three of those elements, while some can survive with a few missing components — provided the other elements are strong enough to carry the experience. In Nightmare doesn't quite hit those marks.

You play the role of Bill, a child growing up in a broken home. One night, he finds himself in a dream world where key events from his past have returned to haunt him. Monsters that are manifestations of those moments want to keep him trapped here forever. Your task is to escape the nightmare worlds and try to figure out what's really happening with you in the real world.

The setup seems like a good start to the story, but the actual tale isn't quite so compelling due to a few design decisions. Some of the things you see, like arguing parents and some notes, depict scenarios that can be frightening to little kids. However, the memories are pantomimed instead of voiced, and scenes have minimal movements, so sometimes, the player doesn't even understand what's going on. Notes that describe what's happening in the real world are also interesting, but the problem is that all of this stuff is presented to you so early on that you have a very good chance of figuring out the plot before you get beyond the first level. For that point on, you go through the motions because there's no more suspense in the narrative.

Set up as a horror game, In Nightmare goes for an isometric viewpoint that's rarely used in games of this genre. You go through each nightmare world to find stray documents and memories that uncover more about your various predicaments. The gameplay is split into two different disciplines. The first is based on puzzle-solving, which ranges from moving boxes to finding hidden passageways; solving puzzles unearths keys and key items so you can unlock new areas to progress. The other main mechanic revolves around stealth. You can't fight the various monsters you encounter, so you need to sneak around while out of their invisible sight cones. You can knock over some objects to catch their attention, but should any of them give chase, you can duck into narrow passageways or hide in closets to (hopefully) escape. There are also moments when you can turn on some lights to stun them for a bit.

You aren't alone through all of this, as you're soon joined by a fairy named Bakiti. In addition to acting as a light source, Bakiti acts as your camera. Moving the creature around lets you see further ahead of you, but going any farther than the default radius will cost some energy that can only be refilled with elixirs scattered throughout the world. Bakiti can also act as a sonar to alert you if monsters are nearby, but the ability isn't used too often since it's hard to decipher. Another skill is revealing ghostly footprints that lead to hidden key items and secrets, like soundtracks and concept art.

Like the story, the blueprint for the gameplay mechanics suggests something exciting, but the execution is a mess. One of the problems comes from the screen brightness, which remains dark even if you set the brightness level all the way to the max. If you're playing in an almost pitch-black room, you'll be able to see things better, but play with any sort of ambient light, and you'll blindly roam around the environment. That darkness also contributes to some moments where you'll be surprised by a wall or floors that suddenly give way. Most of those moments occur during chase sequences, so the constant failure means repeating segments until you get the movements right and memorize where the dangers lie.

Getting those movements correct isn't easy because the game throws in some platforming to mess you up. With the inability to turn the camera and finicky nature in which the game decides how far you'll actually leap, expect to fall to your death often. You can run, but that consumes stamina, and without any meters or other indicators as to how much you have left before you need to stop running, you'll also have to guess how far you can go — and that's before you start getting stamina upgrades.

For a game that is dependent on stealth, one big issue comes from how inconsistent the monsters are in terms of detecting your presence. There are times when you can be in front of a monster, and it'll only see you if you stand up. There are moments when hiding in a closet will get you caught anyway, and others when the monsters can detect you despite you being a full room away and blocked by walls. It's completely inconsistent and one of the game's many sources of frustration.

All of these things contribute to an experience that will disappoint horror fans, since it fails to be frightening or place you in a genuine state of unease. The unexpected gotchas and repetition of segments means that you know exactly what scares to expect. The moments when you get caught are more frustrating than scary, and the sense of tension is undercut by the screen effects that are more of an annoyance than keeping you on your toes. Once you and the game finally get a good look at the monsters, you'll notice that you've seen their designs before, and the familiarity further lessens the shock you're supposed to feel upon seeing them. If you play just for frights, look elsewhere.

The presentation is decent at best. Take away the brightness issues, and you have something that doesn't sport much eye candy due to the camera perspective robbing one of environmental details. The animations are fine, and some of the larger items and the hub world are eye-catching, but that's about it. Whatever you do, stick with the performance mode; the 60fps is stable, but the quality mode bumps the resolution and makes the frame rate drop to something wildly unstable. As for the audio, the music delivers the right amount of creepiness, and while the lack of voices isn't that big of a deal, the lack of sound effects makes the experience quite muted, which isn't desired in this genre.

In Nightmare is an experience that will leave players more frustrated than frightened. The story is decent enough, if predictable, but it quickly loses steam since you can guess what'll happen and the pantomimed scenes are too vague. The gameplay teeters between fine to unplayable due to technical issues and an overall design that favors trial and error and memorization versus crafting a more dynamic challenge. All of those things rob the game of a scare factor; there's nothing really horrifying about what you're up against. The ideas are sound, but unless you have to play every single horror game out there, you can safely skip In Nightmare and not miss a thing.

Score: 4.5/10

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