Walking simulators have come a long way since the likes of Dear Esther and Gone Home popularized the genre, but I never imagined that they would set out to reach the lofty ambitions portrayed in Nevermind. Tasked with treating the victims of mental trauma, the player assumes the role of a Neuroprober, a doctor that is capable of entering the patient's mind in order to tease out the truth of whatever past event is troubling them. This concept provides not only a compelling narrative vehicle but a broad range of possibilities for interesting and unique gameplay scenarios.
There are six minds to explore in Nevermind (the first of which is a simulation that acts as a tutorial) and each is around an hour long if you take the time to read and explore, although time spent will depend a lot on how well you handle some of the rather cryptic puzzles. Each mind features a final puzzle that involves sorting the patient's real memories from the fantasies that their mind has created. These puzzles can be obtuse and challenging, so you'll need to pay very close attention to each level in order to decipher them. There is a mild horror/thriller theme that runs through Nevermind, and whilst some memories are quite affecting, I didn't find any of them especially scary.
Here's what I liked:
Effective – The concept that Nevermind is built around is an excellent choice for a videogame, and it is well implemented and interesting. Each mind is an isolated, interesting tale of personal strife or misery, and it feels like a voyeuristic delight to be able to explore them. I have no idea what it must really feel like to be a psychiatric doctor, but I do know that in Nevermind there is a real narrative drive to keep pressing on in the patient's mind. Players will be driven to see what happens next and to cure the affected patients.
Affecting – These individual tales are each compelling enough to immerse the player, and in doing so they can become quite affecting. I found myself being drawn into the lives of each of the patients, and once I understood them better, I really wanted to cure them. Most of the tales are fairly grim, but they are surprisingly relatable, and it's a very human instinct to want to help. Once each patient is cured, the player is immediately rewarded with a short montage video that describes them coming to terms with their trauma and beginning the road to recovery. This might be a little bit unrealistic considering the true complexities of mental trauma, but it feels like an immediate and welcome payback in respect of Nevermind as a video game.
Here's what I didn't like
Puzzling – Nevermind features quite a number of puzzles, many of which feature very little signposting. This is a shame because they could have been excellent with a little more effort. Each mind has at least one puzzle to solve, and I had to resort to guides on several occasions simply because I had missed an earlier clue, and I now either had no way back or no recollection about where I might find the original hint. The final puzzle in each mind involves sorting memories into the correct sequence. I really like this idea, but on some occasions I was certain I had a logical sequence in place, but the game disagreed. On at least one occasion, this was my fault for missing a small detail earlier, but with others, it was simply because the memories were too similar or because the patient had referred to information that seemed relevant and would have been a clue in any other game.
Technically Inept – When still, Nevermind has some fantastic looking areas that are genuinely beautiful, frightening, imaginative and a number of other superlatives, but once it begins to move, the cracks really begin to show. Considering that there are very few moving parts in the game world, the frame rate slows to an absolute crawl to the extent that simply turning on the spot feels like attempting to pirouette in a barrel full of treacle. Another issue that relates to the games PC origins is the control scheme, which is unwieldy, to say the least when needed for fine control of puzzle screens. The controller literally becomes a mouse pointer needed to click and drag, but it just doesn't work well. You'll get through it, but it's annoying as hell.
Nevermind takes a great idea and intertwines it with a series of interesting short stories that you will want to see through to the end. There are several interesting ideas for puzzles, but they are poorly implemented, and the lofty technical ambitions are let down by poor performance. All in all, Nevermind struggles to elevate itself above mediocrity, but that doesn't mean that it isn't worth your time. Nevermind provides a lasting experience, and it is fairly unique. However, Nevermind could have done with a little more finesse as it made its way from PC to Xbox One.
Score: Reader's Choice
Nevermind was developed and published by Flying Mollusk on Xbox One. It released on January 11 2017 for $19.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.