Whether in film, literature, or video games, it is imperative for horror pieces to reinvent themselves and find interesting ways to present their narratives to stay relevant. Horror games, though, have something very special going for them – the player gets to experience this moment of fear first-hand. While that is already enough for most games to get their scares across – add a biofeedback monitor, which actually alters the game itself – and we’ve got a recipe for complete and utter scary.
Nevermind started out as a thesis project for USC grad student, Erin Reynolds. The development team sought to create a horror game utilizing ‘biofeedback.’ This is the technology used to detects your stress and anxiety levels. That doesn’t mean the game is not playable without it, but it is all the more scary for it. They released one working level and turned heads from several different corners of the industry. Now, Flying Mollusk and the rest of the Nevermind development team have taken it upon themselves, with the support of a Kickstarter campaign, to turn this unique idea into a full-fledged game.
You begin the game at your first day of work at Neurostalgia – an institute understood to help patients better understand their own stress, disorders, or any other issue by probing into their minds to uncover forgotten traumas. Your job as their Doctor is to dive into their subconsciousness to uncover and investigate these traumas so they can better understand the root cause of their problems, jump starting their recovery processes.
The visuals in Nevermind are quite impressive considering where the game is at in development, but still need a little more smoothing out. The different environments look great, but I am more impressed by the creativity of each of them. As you dive into the minds of others, each room or level has a completely different feel. It’s apparent that the creators took their time to really make each “patient’s mind” their own. As you dive deeper, perspective and use of light will change as you further explore.
The gameplay is really the most entertaining part of Nevermind. Even when played without the biofeedback sensor, you actually do have to solve puzzles and look deep into someone’s maze of a consciousness to figure out each level and ultimately help the patient. This is an intriguing way to play, to say the least, but I do wish there was a little more sense of disparity at hand. Hooked up to a biofeedback sensor, you will feel anxious probing through someone’s deepest, darkest memories. But the anxiety that this person could actually be hurt without you finishing the mission isn’t really there. This makes it a little hard to care about your patient’s life or even your own knowing that should you fail, it’s easy to pick back up right where you started.
Interacting with the environment can still be a little clunky in this early version. The act of picking something up and placing it somewhere else is a little slow, and there are some parts where it is actually hard to tell if you’re going the right way and progressing throughout certain levels of the mind. I found myself just moving forward to where I thought I was supposed to go, eventually finding the way. It’s hard to tell if there was rhyme or reason to my educated guesses, but there are no real red flags with the gameplay otherwise. You can explore the world quite easily so you can spend the rest of your brainpower focusing on figuring out how to identify your patient’s trauma. You’re going to need it if you want to calm down enough to get through their consciousness (given you’re hooked up to a sensor).
The soundtrack is rightfully quiet but eerie, as are the sound effects. As you travel further, the music and sounds will creepily follow you. Once you reach a certain extent of traumatic chaos, the music will reflect that, setting you up for the next few high-stress scenes. Also, while the developers say that the voice overs may be changed later on, this first run actually was not bad at all, so that is also something to look forward to.
Nevermind is a fun, exciting treat; especially with the sensor, it’s clearly a unique gaming experience that really has tons of potential to pave the way for more video games to envelope their players in their environments. The people behind Nevermind created the game with their goal being to develop new ways for people to identify and cope with their own stress and anxiety levels. The act of having to manage these levels to get through the game without it collapsing on you – promotes players to use these same strategies and techniques outside of the game.
Their mission, fascinating and noble, shines through their engrossing gameplay and devotion to the title. This is definitely something to look out for and with a little work, can be a groundbreaking experience that every single person should try at least once. Nevermind is available on Steam for PC and Mac as an Early Access Title. It is slated for a Fall 2015 release for Windows, Mac, Xbox One, and Oculus Rift.