Horror is a genre often defined by tropes. Be it the unwillingness to play into them or the ability to entirely subvert them - it's a genre more aware of its past than most. Given you have a much more visceral experience with games, it becomes painfully obvious when something is unwilling to really explore everything it takes from them. In Nightmares' biggest horror trope is its utter inability to carve anything worthwhile out of all those inspirations.
Games often try and set up a facade at the very start. With their tone, atmosphere, and sound - they try to project a fantasy onto the player. In Nightmare lost this immediately. The title screen feels like those Unity projects you start when learning about game development - there's a distinct lack of charm to menus and even many of the game's mechanics leave the whole experience feeling very basic.
The music itself is perhaps the best part of the early game experience - being competently made and fittingly spooky. It manages to grasp a childlike atmosphere whilst imbuing enough edge to not feel comforting. The music is probably the strongest part of the entire experience and that really isn't saying much.
In Nightmare places you in the tiny shoes of a young boy who has to process his own trauma, background, and family through stages in his young life. The narrative is clearly a focus here and the setup isn't awful. The chapters are managed through a hub-like system, where you explore an area in your dream, linking to all of your memories. This gives the team some liberty to mess with the formula - something that could work really well with horror.
It operates as a sort of fairground ride of little horror experiences, introducing new mechanics and threads of the story. Conceptually, this is a great idea. In practice, it is not. Taking the first level as an example, you must walk around a small facility, moving objects and reading slips of paper to figure out what is going on. All is relatively okay until you come across the first major obstacle - a large menacing woman out to get you. Most of these encounters take the form of a hide and seek game, popping in and out of wardrobes until you can make a break for the exit.
Not only do the game's own mechanics regularly falter but, when they are at their best, they are nauseatingly repetitive, easy to bypass, and only moments away from breaking. When being chased, you can regularly catch your enemy on the corners of things, making it easier to get away, you can often just run circles around them, and the sound design, while this happens, feels like it's stuck on a 3-second loop.
In Nightmare isn't a game without interesting ideas though and this somehow makes its stumbles hurt even harder. Early on, you are given Bikti, a small butterfly capable of lighting up certain areas. You can tactically use them to search ahead in levels or highlight secrets. This is a good idea that never really takes advantage of all it could be. Later in the game, its abilities grow, giving you more to do, but even this feels a little shallow.
Speaking of shallow, the story never manages to grasp anything deeper than its initial premise. Though the idea of exploring the psyche of a child certainly isn't a new concept in horror games, it's a space that could benefit from a more original angle. In Nightmare regularly taunts you with dark themes but never manages to extrapolate those into something interesting to say. Its tone and atmosphere are left feeling surface level and a little insulting by the end.
Mechanically, In Nightmare is frustratingly weak. Outside of Bikti and what I've already mentioned, it has a platforming mechanic that results in regularly falling through the floor, its movement mechanics feel rigid and general collision is constantly off. I just assumed something wouldn't work the first time by the end of In Nightmare and this led to a lot less disappointment.
Disappointment is a word that could describe a lot of the experience of playing In Nightmare. It is clearly a game that some love has gone into. The story is trying to be interesting and it is brave enough to explore other mechanics and styles but none of these are worth the effort. It touches on interesting ideas and fun locations but the base experience comes away feeling half-hearted, frustrating, and, most importantly, dull.
In Nightmare Review | Final Thoughts
In Nightmare is a poor horror experience with just enough personality and creativity to make its terrible mechanics and derivative design feel heartbreaking. This is a game I want to like but not even its best ideas can leave this feeling anything more than a shallow shell of the genre's biggest tropes.
TechRaptor reviewed In Nightmare on PlayStation 5 with a code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4.
- Plenty of ideas
- Decent Music
- Very Buggy
- Mechanics are easy to exploit
- Shallow Story
- Rigid Gameplay