Nightslink Review: Nightmare Simulator
Sometimes the most effective horror is what you don't see. Movies have used this tactic for decades, and a good horror video game knows how to hide its monsters in shadow until the right moment.
Nightslink is a horror game made almost entirely by one person, and it's made with this guiding light in mind; less is more. That's true of its physical horrors, its thematic elements, and even its runtime.
While it's simple to move through this 30-minute adventure-horror game, its imagery, sound, and setting will unsettle you even after you're through. Though I admit, I was moved in this way despite not totally understanding what happened.
Nightslink Review: Nightmare Simulator
Nightslink is a short, retro-inspired horror game, played in first-person but made to look like a PS1-era video game. Jagged polygons and blurry environments give the game that old-school feeling familiar to horror fans who grew up on the classics at the turn of the millennium.
In it, players take on the role of the titular Nightslink, an apparent merchant of rare goods. In this case, it's mysterious cassette tapes that unseen apartment dwellers are buying through the special mail slots in their doors, which seem made exactly for this purpose.
A foreboding setting gets more decrepit with each night shift, wherein you enter the apartment, deliver the goods, and exit, usually after hearing a baby cry out from an apartment at the end of the hall.
Then, you go back to a long, nearly empty room where only a table and chair sit at one end. On the table is a pile of these cassettes, whose contents are left as just one of several in the game's short time. From the end of the room, a wire runs under the door, apparently to allow you to record what's on the other end.
Like the dingy apartment, this room is unwelcoming and unsettling with each visit, and Nightslink's best quality is this very feeling itself, how it permeates through every inch and every second of the game. What the hell am I doing here? I thought to myself with each shift.
The game is content to never really explain that — or anything really. Things happen. There is a beginning, middle, and end, and the final scene is one of the creepiest in any game this year. I just don't know that I could properly dissect what it all meant or how I got there myself.
While this confusion is somewhat frustrating, it's also admirable. It feels like a literal nightmare sold on Steam, operating on dream logic, offering a world vaguely familiar yet upsettingly askew. When we awaken from a dream, we can often feel the details slipping out of our mental grasp.
In the moment, it feels so real, but as soon as we wake, it's as though a countdown begins, and when it reaches zero, we hardly have any recollection of what we experienced, but we still feel what we went through, even as we can no longer say. Nightslink is a bit like that.
Audio really goes a long way to setting the right mood for this game. It should go without saying that this horror game, like all, deserves your headphones-and-darkness dedication, and should you give it that vital pair of scene-setters, you'll be doing yourself a service too. Bizarre, somewhat computerized voices taunt you from the other side of every apartment door, and like the grainy visuals and the looping weirdness of your task at hand, it helps create that pitch-perfect nightmare setting.
This is a game covered in fingerprints of its singular developer, who goes by the handle Noiseminded. You need not know anything about them to sense that Nightslink is one person's unnerving vision. It's a game that would lose some of its weirdness if even a small team worked on it together. It couldn't be made any other way.
I can't tell you what Noiseminded was trying to say with Nightslink, and I admit that is a bit frustrating even as I'm typically a staunch defender of letting mysteries be. I'd love to hear what others think the story means when they finish it. I have one idea and it could be way off, but I like it that way — like finding meaning in our own surreal dreams upon awakening.
Nightslink Review — The Bottom Line
- Plays like moving through a real-life nightmare
- Retro aesthetic lends itself to the dark and dingy world
- Audio design is unsettling and memorable
- Story is just a bit too perplexing
We've been experiencing some fall weather in my city as of late, and I always love that feeling — like welcoming fall leaves and Halloween back for another weeks-long extended celebration. Nightslink feels like the proper kickoff to my Halloween season.
It came a few weeks earlier than I planned (I tend to start my own horror marathon annually on September 1), but I don't mind the early arrival at all. In its brevity, Nightslink leaves a disconcerting impression, one I think true horror tourists will appreciate.
[Note: Noiseminded provided the copy of Nightslink used for this review.]