Thu, 04 May 2017
Title: Little Nightmares
Platforms: Xbox One, PC, PS4 (tested)
Release date: April 28, 2017
Rating: PEGI 16
Reviewed by Max Alexander
Little Nightmares is haunting. Not just in aesthetic and sound design, but in every aspect of the game.
Waking up in the hold of a ship, we assume control of a little girl in a yellow raincoat. We know absolutely nothing about her, other than that she has been having strange nightmares about a woman in Kabuki dress. From here we set off on our journey through a horror-infested ship, without as much as a button prompt or hint at the controls.
In Little Nightmares, players are encouraged to experiment and discover the game for themselves. It's this lack of handholding that truly allows the player to discover the world and its little nuisances; not only to progress through the game, but to unravel the world that is lead out before you.
It's clear from the get go that Tarsier Studios' creation takes a hell of a lot of inspiration from Play Dead's Inside and Limbo, creating a world full of clever puzzles that require you to explore and interact with your environment to delve deeper into the ship.
What really sets Little Nightmares apart from its peers are the gruesome gate keepers that block your path. Giant monsters that appear to have been pulled from the mind of Tim Burton haunt each area, each one distinct from the last, but all with the same goal; to find and eat you.
These cat-and-mouse-like trade-offs are by far the highlight of Little Nightmares. One section will see you clambering up book shelves in a library and carefully sneaking past obstacles, so as not to alert the blind creature manning the area. Another will have you frantically running across a dinner table as greedy pig-like monsters throw themselves across your path to grab you.
Very different sections in their approach, but both equally as heart pounding. I don't recall any jump scares during my time in the game, which is a plus in this reviewer's eyes. Instead you are drawn into a world that never lets you feel safe for long.
One of the ways the game keeps suspense high is through some superbly directed sound design. Little Nightmares opts for a 2.5D camera angle, meaning gamers will have to keep their ear out for incoming enemies, adding a level of uncertainty that will have you on edge through the majority of the game. Walking through a hallway and hearing a door close, or a sudden thud of something dropping, will have you scrambling for somewhere to hide before there is even anything onscreen.
The game is no slouch in the graphics department either, with the art style looking very similar to the art design of movies such as The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. Character models look waxy and doll like, and are so convincing that you feel as though you could reach out and touch them. It's an extremely refreshing looking game, and one that proves that you don't need hyper realism and graphic gore to make a good horror game.
While I did love the majority of time here, I would have loved to know more about who I was and what my purpose was in this world. There seemed to be a fixation on hunger and greed, but this seemed to offer little more than a theme for setting.
Of course, you could argue that if we were given an overly-complicated story for what exactly was happening on this ship, the game would lose some of its charm and mystery. Fear of the unknown, after all, is very much the order of the day here.
This is not the only minor gripe I had with the game, though. While the camera does lend itself well to some incredibly tense moments against off screen goings on, it doesn't do a particularly good job of helping the player navigate the levels precisely. These moments are very few and far between, but they can leave a nasty taste in your mouth, given the unforgiving checkpoints you are given.
The main culprit for this has to be the use of depth in the game. There will be moments when you think you have lined up a jump perfectly, only to sail past the platform you were aiming for without knowing you'd done anything wrong until it was already too late. These deaths can feel rather cheap and slow down the momentum of what is normally a perfectly-paced adventure.
What Little Nightmares manages to do in its two to three-hour game time is quite the accomplishment. Squeezing more personality and attention to detail in its short play time than even most triple A games manage.
Could the controls use a little polish? Yes. But that won't diminish my time surviving this wonderfully well-realised masterclass in horror. And with the game costing less than £20, I couldn't recommend it to fans of the genre more.
For fans of: Inside, Limbo