Nevermind: The difficulty level!

Remember when the internet got scared of Kinect? That brief paranoia that nameless, shadowy government employees would spend chunks of their valuable time watching bedroom-bound youths picking at scabs? Of course, the death of always online functionality put paid to that, but don’t get too comfortable Nevermind finally gives you a reason to be truly afraid of that all-seeing eye.

Kinect, through a combination of devastatingly complex technical processes, is able to read a player’s heartbeat through any number of layers of clothes, skin, gristle and bone. Quite apart from sounding like a horror-story bad guy in itself, it also offers Nevermind its cruel central gimmick as you get more scared, the game realises, and becomes harder.

“One of my favourite rooms in our original proof-of concept-level is the kitchen,” explains creative director Erin Reynolds. “When you first enter this area, you might notice a milk carton dropped in the middle of the floor with what appears to be fresh blood spilling out of it. As you explore further, the eeriness starts to set in and I’ve found most players quickly start to become uncomfortable and anxious to get out of there. The game can sense that discomfort and, if you’re unable to stay calm, milk will start pouring out of the cupboards, light fixtures and sink and will proceed to flood the room. Naturally, this turn of events may cause you to become even more anxious but this is when it becomes imperative that you relax. The longer you allow yourself to stay stressed or scared, the more the milk will flood until it rises high enough to cover your eyes, and eventually drown you.”

Heart feat
Your body is the game’s central mechanic, a dynamic difficulty level that ratchets up the notches if you don’t keep it in check with a steady stream of deep breaths. All of this said, the game isn’t actively cruel. The team has avoided jump scares, which could cheat your body into failing, preferring to subtly change your environment and having you learn the layout of rooms while they shift behind your back.
The longer you allow yourself to stay stressed, the more the milk will flood until it drowns you
“Horror has always been one of my favourite game genres thematically,” Reynolds explains. “But mechanically I often find many mainstream horror games out there to be simply too difficult for me to experience and enjoy fully. As opposed to creating a ‘survival horror’ experience, I wanted to build a ‘terror’ experience that almost anyone would be able to enjoy. Nevermind relies primarily on psychological horror the gameplay itself is actually more akin to adventure games like Myst, which inherently makes it that much more accessible. The true challenge lies in the ability to solve puzzles, piece together mysteries, and maintain one’s composure in the face of dread.”

The game’s story helps both those puzzle elements and that dread take on new and unfamiliar shapes. You play a ‘Neuroprober’, one of a set of future-psychiatrists who take the mantra of “getting inside your head” a little too literally by taking a stroll around the psyches of their trauma-stricken patients. The game’s literally a set of nightmares, asking you piece together and resolve the events that damaged those subconscious level designers.

The game’s at a relatively early stage (much of the initial work has gone into that biofeedback element), but even the single playable level points to how much the game will challenge your senses. Screamed arguments pour from behind doors that lead to empty rooms and huge, terrified faces stare down on a neverending car crash, all while a carved tree trunk slowly fills with photos of a father’s suicide.

It’s repulsive and intriguing, a push-pull trick few horror games can manage, and with a barbed twist that simply no one else has tried. There’s no doubting there are potential pitfalls here the lo-fi looks don’t offer quite the immersion of the likes of Outlast, and the game will need to make good on offering enough different kinds of scares to keep that central mechanic working throughout but by making you both the player and the game’s sole enemy, we’re looking at something truly unique. The internet was right: the sheer weight of tech behind Kinect is a scary prospect. And someone’s finally trying to use it to its full effect.

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