Nightmare of Decay PC Review
Clearly taking a lot of inspiration from the early Resident Evil titles, Nightmare of Decay is a short survival horror game complete with mansion exploration, puzzle solving, and zombie blasting. As a solo-dev’s labour of love throwback to the classics, it’s not five minutes before we get an homage to the original zombie reveal but the tributes don’t stop there. Whether playing on familiar dialogue, cutscenes, or even puzzles, there are constant references to all sorts of fan favourites including the all time great ‘Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog’ from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. My personal favourite had to be the James Sunderland cameo but I don’t want to spoil too much. Unfortunately the story connecting these dots leaves a lot to be desired, essentially just having the player wake up in an open grave outside of the manor after falling asleep and having a talking cat call it the ‘Nightmare World’ or whatever. Truly no thought went into how to get the character to this location and may as well have just started with a blank text screen stating ‘You are in a bad place, good luck’. Being alone and not knowing if what’s going on is real or, as the title implies, just a nightmare means there are no stakes, which I feel really hurts the horror side of things.
Finding your comrades turned into monsters or having their mangled corpse picked at by crows are big memorable moments from the older ‘Resi’ games and I wish we could have seen some of that grim storytelling influence here as well since so much was already being taken from the franchise. One thing it does distance itself from, however, are the abhorrent tank controls mixed with fixed camera perspectives those games handicapped us with. Here we have a much more action-focused first-person perspective. Sadly this is also tainted with irritating stamina management and aim-steadying mechanics that I can only assume were added to nerf the player, stopping them from sprinting around nonchalantly blowing away baddies. After all, we’re supposed to be admiring Biohazard here, not Quake. But surely there are better ways to handle those issues because effectively destroying the players’ manoeuvrability inadvertently turns just about every instance of combat into a tedious slog.
That goes doubly so for bosses. Getting out of their range is made all the more difficult by not being able to see them coming as turning around for a peek can mean instant-death, and, on the other hand, if you run a little too much you’ll drain your puny stamina bar and end up a sitting duck. What this boils down to is needing to toy around with them, dispersing any sense of tension that may have been built up; or going all out, trying to kill them before you fall yourself. Oddly the last boss is the easiest of all and can be quickly dispatched whilst walking backwards and popping whatever ammo you have left into his face and chest. A most anti-climactic end. That’s just the forced arena fights though, running through the narrow hallways and claustrophobic rooms of the castle, deciding whether it’s worth using up precious bullets or attempting to deftly squeeze past the frantic clawing of enemies is much more exciting. But where Nightmare of Decay shines brightest is the adventure – it’s always a rush to investigate new areas and discover the next piece of the current mystery (which, of course, in turn, unlocks more areas and yet more riddles to hunt the answers to).
There’s simply nothing better than receiving a big juicy ammo-based reward for your troubles right when you need it most, especially if you really earned it by completing a kooky side-quest or being particularly perceptive. It’s a real shame that the two halves of gameplay, the action and the puzzling/exploration, differ so greatly in quality or this would be an easy recommendation to any 90s nostalgia-hunters. Instead there’s a clear divide and the fun often comes crashing to a halt, constraining the player to slowly back up and work a row of dawdling dummies with a pipe for five minutes to conserve resources. To make it worse there are actually two extra modes, a classic wave-based survival challenge with a shop between each round and a procedurally generated labyrinth, that both rely on this exact approach to play: aggro the mass of dopes and painstakingly beat them to death with a melee weapon in order to save any important armaments for the real problems. I still say it’s worth giving a shot if you’re into this style of retro horror, more so because of how exceptionally cheap it is, as long as you’re aware of the few clumsy design choices that all too often get in the way of the experience.