Adventure Gamers Awards
When the developers of Nevermind set out to create their psychological indie thriller, they decided to up the ante by designing the game around biofeedback functionality. In short, this means that the game can sense when you, the player, get nervous or scared, and it takes full advantage by then adapting to your emotional state. Nevermind is, quite literally, the kind of game where you’ll want to keep your cool. Of course, the biofeedback aspect only applies if you have the right hardware to enable it. Apart from this unique feature, its individual pieces still work fine in making you feel ill at ease on their own, but they never add up to a cohesive or, more importantly, complete package.
The idea behind Nevermind is a natural fit for this genre. You take on the role of a doctor, an expert in your field, having been freshly hired by the Neurostalgia Institute to treat their patients in a process known as neuroprobing. As you’ll soon find out, the Institute’s patients all suffer from some form of repressed mental trauma, locked away in their subconscious, which keeps them from leading a healthy, normal life. In order to help them resolve their issues, your job is to literally jack into their memories using the latest technology available to you. Once there, you’ll navigate their innermost recollections in search of buried memories that will let you cure their trauma. As you advance through each patient’s psyche and draw nearer to your goal, things around you will change in sometimes subtle, often hostile and unnerving ways as their mind literally tries to frighten you off rather than lower its defenses.
It quickly becomes clear that in neuroprobing someone’s painful recollections, there’s no telling what can happen. Nevermind shines in its constant disregard for logic or common sense, continually placing you in a nerve-wracking state of adrenaline-fueled hyper-awareness. As forest paths give way to twisted, corkscrew hallways; as deserted city streets become populated by faceless, aggressive mannequins whose eyeless heads turn to follow your every move, it’s not quite fear that settles in, but a palpable sense of dread of what might be around the next corner.
There is no real sense of peril, however. Though you’ll get hurt if you come into contact with certain objects in the environment, the game just sends you back to the last checkpoint to try again if that happens. At first these objects are intuitive, like sharp spikes spearing out of the floor in a gingerbread house during the tutorial. But another time I was surprised to be damaged by simply standing too close to a mannequin. In any case, avoiding the danger is simply a matter of moving past and out of its way, since you have no weapons and you won’t be pursued. So while Nevermind succeeds in creating a nightmarish atmosphere that will put you on edge, never finding yourself in actual jeopardy effectively eliminates any chance of becoming truly scared.
The most unsettling thing for me personally, once I’d figured out what traumatic event was at the center of each patient’s problem, was knowing what was coming, what it was building up to, yet being powerless to stop it; I couldn’t change the past, and facing these fears lies at the heart of neuroprobing rehabilitation. The game is designed around these slow-burn scenes, rather than relying on jump scares or threat of death to supply fear.
As you delve into the deepest recesses of each patient’s subconscious, you must find ten forgotten memories that take the form of photographs of key events in the person’s life. Once all ten have been collected, you’ll have to choose five of them to recreate the traumatic event that has been causing the patient so much anguish. Based on each photo’s caption, you’ll need to decide which ones are just window dressing relating to the subject’s life and which five describe the psychologically scarring experience, then arrange them in their correct chronological order. If you get the selections or sequence wrong, the photos re-scramble themselves for you to try again until you get it right. By forcing the patient to remember and face this forgotten memory, balance is restored and they can begin the long road to a full recovery.
My mind was already awash in anticipation of a deep and rewarding narrative, using the neuroprobing of individual patients as a common thread running through the story, when I got to the end of my second patient’s memory segment. Eager to move on to a third, I checked the computer terminal in my office, expecting a new case file to have been unlocked along with the two that were already completed. When I found nothing new waiting for me there, I wandered through the facility, seeking that moment when an open door would lead to a new area and the next phase in a larger story arc that seemed like it hadn’t even begun yet.
It wasn’t until ten or fifteen minutes of fruitless wandering had passed that I begun to suspect the truth: that I had already seen all available content in the two actual patient scenarios (plus the tutorial level in the form of a haunting retelling of the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel), and that there was actually no plot at all surrounding me, the neuroprobing doctor. Even as a collection of disparate patient stories, Nevermind falls woefully short on content when the tutorial ends up being one-third of the game’s approximate three-hour runtime. But play time isn’t really the issue; it just felt like the game was abandoned after the first few scenarios, to the point that it couldn’t even be bothered to communicate to me that is was already over.Continued on the next page...