Nightmare – Regression. That is what the game’s title means, and what first time developer Skyjaz Games was hoping to capture with their horror game Pesadelo – Regressão. First time horror releases from indie sources are commonly plagued with many crude, low-production game elements. Does this entry live up to its chilling namesake? Judging from early reviews and Youtube summaries, some have already deemed the only “regression” at play here is the leap backwards in animation and mission design. While Pesadelo does some spectacular head-first somersaults into indie faux pas pie, in between the awkwardness and confusion there’s something worth playing. There’s an ambitious mixture of stealth mechanics and puzzle solving, encased in a brooding atmosphere that is sure to give some gamers nightmares.
One of the first standout aspects of Pesadelo are its visuals. Dark and foreboding, I had an immediate sense of trepidation as I wandered into the cemetery. Occasional lamps and candles cast shadows even through the thick underbrush growing between tombstones. Matches can be used to light all common flammable sources which is a great aid since everything wears a thick skin of darkness, I put the first box of matches to good use. Textures and models are sharp, and add realism to scenes. There is always a sense that there is something hiding just out of reach, making item hunting into the unknown an uneasy affair.
After carefully exploring the nearby tombs and pits, I came across a bleeding, emaciated man lingering in a ruined stone housing. He said he was the gravedigger on the grounds. He informed me he was injured and needed a concoction of water mixed with a specific plant to help him. Instead, I felt like giving this skinny ass guy a concoction of greasy batter fried chicken and buttery mashed potatoes with cholesterol gravy. Put some meat on those bones. However, I acquiesced to his fetch quest
Within this disheveled structure, there are posters you can take with you for reference. These posters give some hints as to dangers residing in this place, one warned of a poisonous plant inhabiting the surrounding underbrush. Rummaging some more I discovered other items such as batteries and bottles of water on a nearby table. A few bunches of the plant Mr. Bones required where available in pots around the tombs outside. I also ran into those nasty poisonous plants, they chatter and hiss if you draw near, but wandering around through the deeper patches of tall grass would be ill advised. A pervasive question pushed itself to the forefront. Why was I risking my life for someone who was about to die from malnutrition? Note to self: Send a link to the game to Sally Struthers, she might enjoy that aspect.
Within the inventory, I was able to combine the two items to craft the healing medicine, and doubled back to Pedro, or whatever his name was. I can only assume he drank the medicine, because an instant later Pedro moonwalks off talking about his missing partner, who had disappeared around a “cave”.” Apparently this missing cemetery worker, was the only one with a key to the main exit, a pretty dumb oversight. I had half a mind to complain to the cemetery management company, I wanted to let Pedro know we didn’t need a key to get out, because you see … some how I got in here, and it wasn’t through the main exit. There was a place called “the Entrance” that was unguarded and open and offered the same route towards a more festive Rio De Janeiro with far less potential for encountering angry cemetery monsters.
No matter, Pedro did not appear to be in a state to be reasoned with. He was intently maneuvering his feet to give the semblance of walking, but was he? Animations this good haven’t been seen since Deer Sniper 2014. Pedro’s languished walk towards the gate was eternal, and I was pretty sure he would drop one of his vital organs along the way. I sped ahead of Pedr’ito, thrilled to see objects slide through my peripheral vision. Movement was a privilege I had taken for granted. I reached an iron gate, looking beyond it there was nothing but more tombstones. A year later, Pedro walked up behind me, I turned to face him.
“What is it Pedro?”
He sat there motionless. Had he gotten skinnier? His lips thinned into a straight lined, his breath slow but constant. His eyes didn’t react as I wildly waved lit matches before them. Clicking my flashlight off and on, its glow bouncing off his triangular face at the same rhythm. He just stared back, uncaring, with those darkened sockets like divots. His calorie deficient eyes having lost their shine long ago, staring right through me.
“Goddamnit Pedro!” I yelled, “What in the hell do you want?”
The staring never ceased. Unblinking, Pedro continued his impersonation of a statue.
Exhausted I withdrew from the gate and sat down on one of the many wheelbarrows inhabiting Cemetery De Brazil. Without warning, as if someone replaced his batteries, Pedro sprung back into slow motion action with his robotic stagger towards the gate. I was relieved to see Pedro talkative once more.
Pedro opened the gate to the south side of the cemetery. I was relieved he did so without losing any organs. More importantly, since I had met Pedro I had one burning question, was his backside as caked in swirling clotted blood as his front. I was too embarrassed to ask outright. Though as he walked before me, I received the answer to that burning question. Once the gate was open, I was on the south side of the cemetery. The foreboding feelings returned. Pedro stayed there at the gate. He didn’t wave. He just stared at me. His gaze making certain truths clear: I would go at this alone, Pedro would continue to refuse to eat, and deforestation around the Amazon basin is a serious global problem. I pressed on.
As I carefully examined another wheelbarrow, a cutscene jolted me out of my fuzzy bunny slippers. There was a monster prowling in the mist. Gradually I became aware of its snarls, noting its glowing eyes as far more distinct than the dotted candles above the gravestones. A warning message appeared, letting me know that crouching helped one stay silent and out of sight of enemies. Who was delivering these tips? It wasn’t Pedro, he was still miles away trying to draw in calories through osmosis. No name for these strange creatures was given by the mysterious message giver, only that crouching was going to be important. As I went through a thicket of long grassy stalks, I observed the shifting shapes patrolling through the darkness. I had seen these beings before. These things have an uncanny resemblance to extraterrestrial aliens from X-files, I was sure of it, fifth or sixth season most likely. For the first time since Pedro’s bleeding backside was keeping me company, I began to worry. How fast were these creatures? How well can they see? How good is their hearing? How… croak!
From the righ, another one of those … things had crept up beside me, and screamed. His lone eye, a beacon in the dark, turned from ghostly white to crimson red. He swiped at me, hissing like a cat. I winced and cried out like a school girl who’s pigtails had been yanked. Blood spattered onto my eyes, this must mean I’m injured. Running blind I tried to get away from this unknown attacker. It’s fortunate that it suffers from the same animation disease Pedro was inflicted with, only not as severe. I caught sight of a stone mausoleum, I dove inside hoping the walls harbored some solace for the living. The creature was behind me still groping for my flesh. Another howling scream from its menacing grin rang out, in mere fractions of a second it would attack again. Then I activated one of the most intense, powerful, and riveting weapons ever introduced in a video game: the door.
I closed the door.
I opened the door. The creature roared and lunged.
I closed the door once more.
Beneath the cracks of the powerful all-saving door, I watched and waited for the aura of his lantern to fade away. Its snarls and screams fading along with it. It was gone. Inside the catacomb I found a scribbled note:
I began to deeply resent Pedro for hiding things from me. Why didn’t he tell me he was such a gifted sketch artist? I know we had just met, but I cured the bony bastard of everything but his severe malnutrition. He wasn’t embarrassed to show me his small intestines, but he can’t show me his art? I could have helped Pedro. I have friends in high places, Dark Horse, D.C., Marvel? Good luck showing your sketches off to dead people Pedro.
Pedro also loses points with me for not discussing how awesome doors are for stopping the onslaught of gruesome evil cemetery monsters. Not to mention leaving out an important discussion topic as I nursed him back to health: the alien creatures that maimed him and left him like an inverse Kool-Aid man by the candlelight. Thought that would be an important conversation to have with the person saving your life, guess I was wrong. These things “make you very sick” … Hello? Was dropping a note the best way of letting me know this?
“Hey I just saved your life.”
“Thanks man, here’s what I’m going to do, first I’ll open the gate towards the things trying to kill me, then I’ll stare at you as you go die. If you live, you’ll find a note describing what almost killed you. Thanks. Bring back key. — Eternally Yours, Pedro.”
This early experience encapsulates what playing Pesadelo – Regressão is like, which is more akin to a campy low budget horror flick than anything else. On one hand it’s comical and amateur, with unrefined aspects that stand out to the point of ruining any immersion. On the other hand, it can be tense and adventurous, with thrilling moments that keep you on the hunt for more clues. The cemetery is not just a place cloaked in darkness, but a maze of thick grass, trees, and above ground tombs that work as cover. Important areas of the cemetery are well lit, while most other avenues are shrouded in darkness. All too often you’ll walk straight into danger, enticing a jump scare or two.
Candles and lanterns can be lit with matches, should you wish to keep an area of the cemetery illuminated. This could be useful for lighting a path to a safe room, or keeping a lookout in place for the giant behemoth mutants thundering around the central plazas. Exploring leads to finding more posters and notes that clarify what objectives need to be handled next. While it maybe frustrating to be thrown into the middle of a stealth based labyrinth with no direction, there was a certain satisfaction with figuring it out on my own. Finding the elevator to the caves first, I was able to follow its power cables to the generator which powered it. More exploration lead me to fuel for the generator and so forth. Searching each sepulcher along the way for more items and clues.
Game saves are handled in a creative way: Certain areas contain clipboards that are essentially save game locations, you need blank sheets of paper to save a game at the clipboard. This game save formula at first seemed odd, but playing the game I realized you are forced to explore and memorize your surroundings to return to an area and save your progress. It also thematically plays into all the left behind notes scattered about. It also prevents player “abuse” with saving every two steps, thus making things too easy. This also mirrors other aspects of the game that prevent “abuse”. Flashlight batteries run out. Matches burn out. Dense grassy areas are littered with poisonous plants. It’s a game of cat and mouse, where darkness and blind spots can lead to entrapment but poking around rewards diligent explorers.
Pesadelo is not Perfect-elo, it’s an ambitious indie horror that is desperately trying to avoid the common walking simulator horror tropes. It succeeds in a few areas, while comically stumbling in others. It’s boorish and campy moments do not eliminate the more thrilling aspects of exploring while being hunted, nor the mild puzzle solving the game has to offer. I couldn’t help but wonder what a budget, and some refinement would mean for Pesadelo. The developer impressed me when I posted a request for screen resolutions beyond 1920x1080p to be added — the developer not only responded right away, they added in the resolutions the next day. For what it is, this is a game that shouldn’t be avoided by indie horror fans that can withstand a little dash of bad gaming especially in light of a first time development team that is eager to please.
As for Pedro..screw that guy.