Monday, January 16, 2017

Nevermind Review (XONE)

In the not too distant future world of Nevermind the best way to treat psychological trauma survivors is to venture deep into their mind through the use of technology to unravel the tangled web of memories that lie at the root of the patient’s current problems.  Digging into someone’s dark past isn’t a pleasant experience, however, and oftentimes their mind will fight back against treatment in terrifying ways.  That is the fascinating concept behind this new puzzle / horror / walking sim for Xbox One.  We have all of the details here in our full Nevermind review.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Flying Mollusk 
  • Developer: Flying Mollusk
  • ESRB Rating: “M” for Mature
  • Genre: First Person Horror Puzzle
  • Pros: Great sound; very cool concept; some genuinely creepy moments
  • Cons: Not very scary; can be frustrating; not especially fun
  • MSRP: $20

I think it is important to note that Nevermind was originally released on PC and Mac as a game that relied on biofeedback to enhance the experience.  In other words, the game would change based on how calm or scared you were.  That technology isn’t available for Xbox One, and the developer (probably wisely) opted not to try to make use of Kinect as a half-assed method of replicating it.  The result is a game that is a bit flat and shallow on Xbox One and not as scary or challenging as it potentially can be on PC or Mac.  It can still be worthwhile if you are interested in the concept and subject matter, but you won’t get the best experience on Xbox One.

In Nevermind you play as a new doctor at The Neurostalgia Institute.  Your job is to enter the minds of patients suffering from psychological trauma and figure out what lies at the root of their problems.  Trauma doesn’t always manifest itself in obvious or predictable ways, though, and oftentimes the patients obscure their trauma with false memories and misinformation as a coping mechanism, so it is up to you to carefully explore their mind in order to discover the truth.  I won’t say much more about the specifics of any of the cases, however, as even general info would be a spoiler and ruin the experience. 

So, how does all of this work out in actual gameplay?  Nevermind is a first-person game where you explore a virtual representation of a patient’s traumatic memories.  These memories are represented as 3D worlds such as a childhood home, city streets, forest, or other locations and, similar to other recent horror games like The Park or Layers of Fear, the environments will shift and change around you as you explore and pick up key items.  Your objective is to find ten memories scattered around as photos and then put five of them together, in the correct order, that represent the trauma the patient suffered.  The worlds you explore start out fairly benign and normal, but the deeper you go and the closer to the truth you get, the worlds start twisting and turning into dark and evil and scary things in order to try to stop you from putting the memories together. 

For the most part you’re just exploring each level to find the pictures and there isn’t much else that is interactive, but occasionally there will also be puzzles to solve.  The puzzles include things like placing colored rocks into bird statues or using teacups to turn waterwheels, but there are also some great ones like in a music-themed level where you have to play a bunch of different musical instruments. 

When you have all ten of the memory pictures in a level it is then time to put them in order and figure out the root of the patient’s issue.  This is where the real puzzles of Nevermind come in.  As I mentioned above, not all of the memories are real or important, however.  A lot of the information that the patient gives you either in an interview when you first start, or that you discover while exploring their mind, is false or unimportant, but if you pay close attention to everything you can piece together their real memory to help them remember what really happened. 

At least, that is how it is supposed to work, but I have to admit I struggled quite a bit.  One of the cases is surprisingly straightforward and I knew exactly what the problem was going to ultimately be almost immediately, but the other three real cases (besides the tutorial) have many more twists and turns and figuring things out is much harder.  If you have trouble the game will eventually start eliminating false memories for you, but you still have to put the real ones in the right order, which isn’t always obvious.  Frustration starts creeping in and you begin to realize you’re not really having very much fun.  Games don’t have to be 100% fun 100% of the time, but when a game is as dry as Nevermind, plus it isn’t fun, it can be pretty hard to enjoy yourself.

Other problems with the game are a little easier to explain.  There are only five cases total – one tutorial level and four real cases – and you can easily finish the game in two hours or so.  The game does have some collectibles tied to achievements, but you can only pick them up when you re-play a level, not the first time, which is an annoying and artificial way of padding the game’s content.  I also have to say the game isn’t really very scary, though that likely has more to do with the lack of biofeedback support than anything.  There is some great creepy imagery and the sound design is awesome and gives the game a great atmosphere, but you’re never in any danger and nothing scary really happens.  I was hoping for more scary stuff, but considering you’re exploring the minds of normal people in Nevermind and not serial killers and psychos, I guess it was to be expected.

All in all, Nevermind is a great concept that is actually executed quite well, but in terms of a videogame that you’re going to play for enjoyment it falls short of the mark.  It isn’t especially fun nor does it showcase pretty visuals or great characters – things I usually look for in walking sims – so it is a lot harder to recommend than some other games in the genre I’ve played on Xbox One over the last year.  With that said, if you have more than just a passing interest in psychiatry and mental illness Nevermind is an interesting look at a few different types of cases and perhaps even a glimpse at the future of real treatment.  Nevermind won’t be a game for everyone, but it might still be worth a look if the concept catches your interest.    
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.