Little Nightmares PC Review
Indie development has allowed the horror genre to flourish after it sadly had a bit of a flaccid period. The problem with the openness of the indie digital market, though, is that the genre is often flooded with many copycats or cheap thrill jump scares that do not always bring the best experience. Every so often, a title emerges from the flood of mediocre horror games that shines like a bright flame in a dark space, a game that is worth taking note of for its achievements. Little Nightmares is one such title by Tarsier Studios, a studio that has worked with Sony on first party titles, such as LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway Unfolded, and uses those templates to craft a game that brings horror that subdues players with its tight atmosphere and eerie presentation, rather than going for jump scares.
Not much is hinted at in the beginning of Little Nightmares, as a blurry image of a lady who turns around and stares right at you, suddenly waking up a little girl named Six, who has been taking a nap in a suitcase until she jolted back to reality after her nightmare. Now awaken, and only armed with a trusty lighter that can brighten up the dark rooms and spark up lanterns (collectibles), players take control of Six and begin exploring what appears to be a dull, stony room with metal pipes leaking water down the walls. This is The Maw, well the lower levels, an unknown place out at sea that isn’t friendly to little children, and with Six dressed in a rather bright yellow raincoat, she’s not exactly in the best choice of colour when trying to stay away from nasties that inhabit the dreary dark corners of The Maw.
What makes matters unnerving is Six has no way to defend herself, so players most use the surroundings as a base to keep her safe. She’s also tiny compared to the environment. Doors, books, tables, all tower above her while moving from room to room. At the heart of it, Little Nightmares is a side-scrolling, puzzle platformer with some little stealth elements and cat and mouse sections that keeps the player moving right through each location, solving the problems – be it moving objects to make a jump, climbing a stack of books or making a chain of sausages to swing to a vent – while avoiding the very large and fat inhabitants of The Maw that will chase our little character when spotted or investigate sounds created by Six when knocking or destroying objects around the environment.
Hiding usually involves climbing under tables, hiding in buckets, staying out of sight or keeping crouched to keep Six’s scent from being sniffed by these people. These huge, whale humans seem to want to munch on little Six, although, the size difference doesn’t exactly give much hope that she will be a satisfying snack to fill the cravings of these nasty people. Their designs are grotesque and dirty, showing an exaggerated, unclean side of human gluttony, a display to behold while avoiding contact.
There is a story to unravel, but it’s not done through dialogue, in fact, there’s no vocal interaction apart from grunts that the giants give off when chasing you through kitchens, bedrooms and restaurants. This is purely a visual tale, but it excels are delivering a sense of mystery, tension, horror and helplessness throughout the three plus hours it takes to beat it.
Suspense and dread is kept up thanks to the great visuals, powered by Unreal Engine 4, which lets the artists make The Maw an haunting place. What’s surprising is that a lot of the locations are natural areas we are used to in everyday living, yet the size difference, the use of perfectly placed shadows and light within the environment twist them into a dire and unwelcoming location, and if that did not give it away, those hanging bodies after a few rooms in sure do. Its presentation and visuals come together in a coherent package, and its lack of a UI keeps its focus on your character and the game’s gorgeous environments, even as far to let players discover the controls for themselves unless they miss something for the first time, then a helpful prompt appears and vanishes to not be seen again.
One of the first encounters is with what appears to be The Maw’s cleaner, a stubby, chubby character with cloth around his eyes and some rather elongated arms that are enough to signal warnings that something is wrong. His design is creepy, from how he looks and how he acts. He hunts down Six by sniffing out her scent and extending his arms like feelers to make up for his lack of sight. There are times where Six is locked in a corner, and these arms are out to grab you, patting around floors and grabbing the environment trying to find Six. You must move Six around them to avoid capture, backing into corners to keep him away from his mitts grabbing you and leading to an instant death (any touch by a monster does this). In a dark, dreary room, the prospect of having these nasty hands stretched out like the “Tooms” episode in X-files and grabbing Six is one such scenario that might recall child hood memories, those of hiding under the covers after watching a scary TV episode, film or being told about the bogeyman who is going to grab you in your sleep from under your bed.
Little Nightmares does wonders in presenting its horrors in a mature way. It’s world and bizarre circumstances carry on getting stranger as the game progresses. It continues to deliver on its psychological horror, never truly revealing its hand to the participants, even after the tale ends and you try to decipher its story as a whole. In that area, it’s truly a outstanding game matched with brilliant graphics and great sound design that set the tone, but coming to its controls, it drops a bit – I did occasionally have deaths that I felt were down to the game rather than my own incompetence.
The biggest complaint is the movement of Six and the camera angles given when walking along thin objects, such as the multiple scenes involving walking across steel pipes above death pits and slipping off to my death (thankfully the checkpoints are generous). Not only is the angle awkward to determine how close Six is to the edge of the platform, but there is no indication to say you’re about to fall off, no stumble or wobble animation to alert the user. The same could be said for interactive objects. Why can’t I get on top of this stool, which looks identical to the last stool I climbed in another room? There’s no consistency when it comes to what is and isn’t scalable.
Little Nightmares is a thrilling game of horror built around its twisted and fascinating location. It drops the conventional cheap scare tactics and shines with psychological fear when it is delivering its unnerving, sinister frights through the eerie atmosphere, creepy visuals and stellar sound. If it wasn’t for some of the minor control issues, Little Nightmares would be a near perfect package in what it is trying to deliver, but even with the slight tarnish on the overall experience, there’s no denying that Little Nightmares is one of the more imaginative horror titles currently available.