Everything Is Scary

Be responsible, contemplate the void.

Nevermind revisited

When I first reviewed Nevermind from Flying Mollusk Studios, I mentioned how I am a bitter, jaded little man, and not given - much - to being startled and scared.  The first three scenarios of the game did little to alarm me, which wasn't in of itself the worst issue I've seen in the genre, and by and large it was still an enjoyable experience.  The core idea of going inside people's minds is relatively well-worn by this point (with games like Psychonauts) but is given a fresh face with the driving motivation of therapy.  Nevermind promises the experience of helping overcome a character's fears as you overcome your own.

I'm pleased to report that with the addition of two new scenarios, Nevermind is really digging down into the promise of its premise, smartly doing away with traditional horror game tropes in favour of examining the everyday, human fears that deeply affect our lives.

**NOTE:  FULL SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW THIS POINT** 

In my initial review, I was quite critical of the central mechanic of the game focussing on some pretty clumsy puzzles, with the trademark "fear sensor" doing the heavy lifting in between.  Strictly speaking, that hasn't changed in these new scenarios, but it's just...done BETTER.  Much better.  How exactly things are improved in Patients #440 and #909 is hard to describe without delving into their plots headfirst, so stand by for some exposition.

#440 is an older woman, a patient who is suffering the early effects of Alzheimer's, and experienced an "incident" at a piano recital she was giving.  Inside her mind, everything is music-themed: giant metronomes pound the ground back and forth, and creepy instruments are made out of faces and body parts.

It's all a bit ham-fisted but at the same time, the puzzles inside #440 are much more organic insofar as they are themed to the story.  Truthfully, they are in many ways the same puzzle repeated over and over, but that itself is thematically reminiscent of any musician's repeated practice.  Whereas I struggled with the tedium of the maze in patient #251's scenario, here with each different demand to play the right notes (given with creepy instruction) I felt more and more for the plight of the person whose mind I was clambering around in.

Crucially, the patient's Alzheimer's isn't, per se, the "point" of their scenario.  It's an exploration of perfectionism and fear of failure, with Alzheimer's being a mere catalyst for the true pain they are experiencing.

That same kind of successful misdirection comes into play with patient #909.  A trans woman who has been living with severe agoraphobia (the fear of open spaces), they have been unable to leave their apartment for some time until they were finally convinced to get help by a close social network.

This is unquestionably my favourite of the scenarios to date.  Almost all of it takes place in a single room that you repeatedly enter and exit, which sounds dull as dishwater, but Nevermind finds subtle, creepy ways to change things that aren't immediately obvious (for the most part).  

Here, again, the game deploys the same puzzle in repetition, and it again is really, really effective.  Patient #440 is a person who deeply, deeply needs things to be perfect.  You repeatedly go through the same tasks - make the bed, clean the dishes, throw out the trash, pick up your magazines - over and over, with things rapidly degenerating from a happy couple life to a nightmare where a stalker is pounding on your door as you try to escape.

The horror of the scenario is in watching as this character tries to make themselves fit into the mould of other people, and how those people find terrifying ways to hurt them.  It's very, very upsetting, and so much more effective than any boogeyman leaping out of a closet ever could be.  

I had mentioned in my initial review that with so few scenarios to begin with, the game's price tag seemed a bit unreasonable.  That is no longer a reservation I hold.  It's not even necessarily the expanded quantity that makes Nevermind worth a look, but rather the expanded quality of these scenarios that play to the game's strengths.  Is it perfect?  No.  The flaws I discussed initially with the "fear effect" not really coming into play remain, and your mileage may vary on the first few scenarios.  There are also some optimization issues present, and even on lower graphics settings the game was chunking along when it really, really, shouldn't have been.

Yet these are minor grips against some major improvements.  While I still wouldn't say that Nevermind is a game for everyone, it is definitely a game I enjoyed, and anything that includes a mature, positive representation of a trans person is a HUGE plus in my view (I literally can't think of another game that has done this right).  Give it a spin!  Who knows: you might even recognize some of yourself in these patients.  And things become a lot less scary when you find out you're not alone.

Darkness follows.