Nevermind provides an interesting and eerie opportunity to see into the minds of four very different individuals, and help them overcome trauma. It’s part walking simulator, part puzzler and part horror, although the latter largely puts you in a position of unease rather than fright. And the three gameplay elements meld together splendidly to create a unique and fascinating, albeit short, experience.
You are a psychologist who’s been newly hired at a very advanced medical facility. Here doctors don’t just talk and listen to their patients but also delve deep into their minds, thanks to technology that maps and then allows you to explore their subconscious as if you are really there. It’s a neat idea and one that opens up huge possibilities for story-telling, but in Nevermind it’s merely a framing device for some eerie and perspective shifting exploration and puzzle solving. That’s not to say it’s dull, far from it, but there’s a spark of Portal genius here that’s unfortunately not acted upon.
One thing that’s missing from the Xbox One version however, is the biofeedback element. This would take data from a variety of third-party biofeedback devices that are available right now, and the game would change depending on how stressed and fearful you were. It sounds a like a great concept, but one that isn’t realised for Xbox One. However, what’s here doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything, and it’s still a great experience.
A tutorial level helps ease you into the experience, following the familiar tale of Hansel and Gretel, but before long you’ll be experiencing the subconscious minds of four patients who have suffered some kind of trauma in their lives. Whilst exploring their mind it’s up to you to find 10 photographs which represent key memories, five of which are false. In order to cure your patient you must gather these memories, figure out which ones are true, and put them in the correct order. Afterwards, you can revisit their mind to try and find other memories, which are important for you to understand their story fully.
For the most part you’re walking through locations that represent real locations in your patient’s lives. Much like a dream, these warp and change as you explore them, with doors leading directly to a completely new location or even back to one you’ve recently visited but having gone through a transformation. It’s cleverly designed, with things often changing drastically simply when you turn your back, featuring some powerful imagery that invokes myriad feelings and helps put your patient’s trauma into perspective. It’s a little bit scary too, with some excellent sound effects and music, sparing but deliberately used to bring locations and events to life. However, whilst it’s certainly looking to invoke an emotional response from you, it’s not looking to outright frighten you.
It’s meant to be eerie but don’t expect any jump scares, instead it means to tap into your empathy and place you in the mind-set of the patient. And it works too; the framing device of delving into the minds of these people is immersive, making it feel like you really are exploring someone’s subconscious. Meanwhile, some terrifically detailed visuals with high quality textures, a wide colour palette, effective use of lighting, and the added sound effects, music and weird imagery, is remarkably effective at putting you in their shoes. As such, if you pay attention to what is being said and shown to you, figuring out the trauma and what’s a real and fake memory in the photos is fairly intuitive.
Jumping back into your patients minds to further explore and find those fragments of memories to allow you to fully understand them, are a little more abstract and far less gamified than the rest of the experience. It makes them tricky to find if you’re searching for them specifically, such as for achievements, but if you do come across them naturally, they enhance your familiarity with the patient quite effectively.
However, it’s not entirely smooth sailing through the minds of your patients, some slow-down kicks in frequently as you’re looking around, making the controls suddenly sluggish. There are occasions where this is done intentionally, such as puzzle sections or to help invoke a feeling related to your patient’s trauma, but when it happens outside of these moments it threatens to break the immersion. Fortunately, as frequent as it is, the overall experience isn’t hurt by it, it just feels odd when it does happen.
Indeed, Nevermind is a clever, revealing and fascinating exploration of mental health. The characters that make up your patients are believable and brilliantly voice acted, the locations and puzzles you explore are crafted to represent and encapsulate the trauma of the patients splendidly, and figuring it out and experiencing perspectives that you might not have otherwise experienced is highly satisfying and intriguing. There’s certainly a ‘what if’ niggling disappointment at how much more this kind of concept could be explored if narrative was more what the developers wanted to focus on, but that’s not what Nevermind is about, and what it does focus on is very well-crafted.
Thanks to Xbox and Flying Mollusk for supporting TiX