Life is about stretching towards impossible goals and having the confidence to overcome them. Sometimes, you’ll fail. But the challenge makes life interesting. And it’s what nearly gave me a heart attack playing Little Nightmares 2.
To preface this mini-review, I’d like to state the following: horror games aren’t my vibe. There’s plenty of games I do love. I’m a big RPG fan. I love life simulators. Anything puzzling, shooting, looting and exploring is absolutely for me.
But this year, I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to dip my toes into the forbidden horror pools and work out once and for all whether I could stomach the prickly little genre.
Turns out, I’m still a massive pussy.
Little Nightmares 2 was the wrong game for me to start my horror adventures with. When trying a new genre you should dip your feet in first. Slowly. I assumed the game’s cutesy aesthetic meant it would be an easier ride, but it turns out it just ramps up the horror factor to the nth degree.
To kick off the game, you’re dropped into a hospital filled with looming, wheelchair-using mannequins. As with the original game, Mono and Six are tiny and are frequently overwhelmed by the ‘hugeness’ of the game’s setting. They’re also mostly powerless outside the ability to interact with objects and climb.
It means dangers around every corner can leap out and grab you, and there’s not a thing you can do about it.
The segment I originally previewed for the game was more of an action platformer with elements of the game’s horror toned down, but the opening chapter feels vastly different — and much quieter. Mono is forced to travel alone through most of it, past grim sanitorium scenes like automaton body parts lying in bins, creepy Thing-like hands wandering the halls and operating tables covered in grime.
There’s bloody meat hooks, rancid food, strange writing and flies dotting the halls.
Pair the grim, mostly black-and-white aesthetic with a minimalist soundtrack, creaky doors and the clacking of mannequin hands and you’ve got a mix ripe for scares.
And boy did this game scare me.
While Little Nightmares 2 does rely on classic jumpscares, the real horror comes from the atmosphere and claustrophobic game design. Mono’s actions and movement are limited, so when a mannequin springs into life and runs after him it’s nearly impossible to escape. Most times, you’ll end up cowering under a bench by the skin of your teeth, barely avoiding reaching hands and drooling claws.
The handy flashlight can stop many of the game’s creatures in their tracks. But because you’ll need to run ahead and defend yourself at the same time, it can be difficult to navigate the creepy corridors without dying. Progressing requires a certain finesse, and even the early challenges are tricky. It’s not enough to run and hope for the best — you’ll need to position yourself correctly and time your light beams just right.
When I started the sanatorium level, headphones on full blast and office lights low, I thought I’d be fine. I’m an adult, I reasoned. It’s just a game. An hour in, I had half an earphone in, all the lights on and my smartwatch was judging me for my extremely elevated heart rate.
I recorded a measurement of 85 bpm around the time I was travelling through a sanatorium corridor and a hundred hands suddenly burst through the wall to grab Mono and shake him until he died. It hit similar heights on the following occasions:
- When a disembodied hand leapt from a bench and onto Mono’s face;
- When a headless mannequin ran at Mono so fast I couldn’t move him;
- When a second disembodied hand appeared from nowhere;
- When I chanced upon a rotted corpse covered in flies lounging in a bathtub;
- When a quiet mannequin leapt suddenly from a wheelchair;
- When I missed a vent and had three mannequins leap on me in an instant
For context, my usual resting heart rate is anywhere between 60 and 66 bpm. I was not having a very pleasant time.
Don’t get me wrong, Little Nightmares 2 is a fascinating, gorgeous game. But for my sanity, I chose to throw in the towel.
Sometimes games just aren’t for you. Sometimes they make your heart go off like a rocket and you have to admit that maybe horror games are a bit too spooky.
There’s no shame in that.
When the rotting corpses and flies started to appear was about when I decided to take my leave. Little Nightmares 2‘s particular brand of horror is stomach-churning and gross, and while I know there’s more nuanced segments (like my early preview of the game), my heart and brain simply say “no.”
Little Nightmares 2 is not for the faint of heart. If you’re not a horror fan, it’s likely you won’t enjoy it. If you’re like me, you might even be tempting fate by playing it.
The small portion I played of the game did excite me. The level design is incredibly clever, as is the way the game builds tension and surprise. There’s an incredible, cinematic atmosphere here, and one I wish I could enjoy more fully. But I know I won’t sleep at night if I keep going down this path.
If you’re in the mood for a spooky, good time, consider Little Nightmares 2. It’s a horrible little game. Just make sure you keep the lights on while you’re playing.
Little Nightmares 2 launches February 11 on all major consoles.