Fittingly released at the start of Mental Health Awareness Month, Neverending Nightmares is a terrifying survival horror with an individual art style and an intriguing concept. The game is inspired by the real life struggles of project lead designer Matt Gilgenbach, who suffers with OCD and depression.
You take control of Thomas, a seemingly average guy, who is haunted by a series of horrific and intrusive nightmares. After he wakes in terror, you're left to relive all of his darkest unconscious thoughts in order to delve deep into his psyche and uncover the reality of his inner demons. Neverending Nightmares doesn't spoon feed you its narrative, but instead litters clues across its branching structure of events.
As you creep through the house's many winding corridors, dolls will fix their gaze on you, lights will begin to flicker, and brawny man-sized babies will threaten to tear you apart. While stumbling around in the dark, you'll find it easy to lose your bearings due to a seemingly endless selection of doors and corridors. You'll also be struck by some pretty graphic imagery upon reaching your destination that will cause Thomas to awake in his bed uncontrollably panting. Many of the harrowing scenes featured in the game are actual intrusive thoughts suffered by lead designer Matt as a result of his OCD.
Aside from Thomas' house, the only other location you'll have a chance to explore is a creepy asylum, where reanimated patients roam halls stacked high with bodies. Although the asylum is an important location, as it possibly signifies Thomas' descent into madness, it does feel like an awfully clichéd choice for a horror game. The lack of environments throughout is one of Neverending Nightmares' greatest downfalls, as locations feel tired after a while. That being said, it's an understandable design choice, as its repetitive nature does work to help you empathise with somebody caught in a neverending loop of intruding fears.
The game's pencil-drawn art style effectively creates a bleak nightmarish world that is engulfed in darkness, standing it apart from other entries in the genre. Streaks of blood red stand out against its minimalistic palette, and objects such as candles and axes are displayed in colour to signify that they can be used, removing any otherwise annoying on-screen prompts.
Neverending Nightmares thrives in creating an ominous atmosphere that feels forever unsettling. The murky hallways that you venture through are decorated with menacing memorabilia and an eerie soundtrack is present to create a continual sense of dread and unease. There are a few jump scares throughout, but thankfully, unlike many similar titles, these aren't heavily relied on.
The story is divided into three branching paths that all lead to their own unique ending. While its branching structure does add an element of replayability, two of the endings feel a little disappointing and surprisingly abrupt. An ambiguous ending isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it would have been satisfying to receive a little more after risking a heart attack for the last few hours.
Another one of Neverending Nightmare's largest shortcomings is that there exists very little to break up the flow of gameplay. Aside from following a linear path and trying not to die of fright, the only other form of gameplay comes in stealth sections at the asylum. These stealth puzzles are frightfully tense and it's a shame that they aren't toyed with more across the game to prevent things from feeling stale.
Sketching the true horrors of mental illness, Neverending Nightmares succeeds in creating an unnerving atmosphere that will keep you forever on the edge of your seat. It's let down by a lack of environments and varied gameplay, but it still stands as a chilling experience that those with an interest in the genre should check out.