In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Joe shivers in terror at Little Nightmares' horrible antagonists.
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown," so reads the opening line of HP Lovecraft's enduring 1927 essay 'Supernatural Horror in Literature'. And what makes this idea of so-called unknown fear that bit scarier? When said unknown is hell-bent on tearing your head off at every turn.
This week I finally finished Tarsier Studios' Little Nightmares and while thoroughly enjoying its mix of mechanical puzzle solving and frenzied platforming, its horrifying ensemble of antagonists left a lasting impression on me. I've played many a survival horror game over the years and despite growing up during Resident Evil's B-movie-driven heydey, I tended towards the likes of Clock Tower, Silent Hill and latterly Forbidden Siren for their abstract and intangible slants on survival horror.
Don't get me wrong: Resi 2's T-00, aka Mr X, and its successor's eponymous Nemesis scared the shit out of me as a youngster, but there was something truly awful about the Silent Hill series' Lying Figures, Mandarins, Bubblehead Nurses and towering Closers. Even against their exaggerated, nightmare-inducing features, there was a sense of humanity about these characters that I didn't get from Resident Evil's generic zombies—despite the latter having obviously evolved from actual human beings—and their unpredictable movesets and mannerisms only served to underscore what made them scary.
With survival horror's shift towards action-oriented fare in recent years, I've struggled to rediscover the same terror the classics instilled in me—to the point where I'd chalked it up to maturing as a player and as a person.
Much to my surprise, Little Nightmares restored that same sense of fear in me. Or, more accurately, Little Nightmares' enemies did.
Which might sound unusual for an indie puzzle platformer that stars a young protagonist clambering around a giant-sized world. On paper, that might conjure imagery of traditional and whimsical sidescrollers, or even the likes of Playdead's Limbo and Inside which, while sombre in tone and serious in nature, are more unsettling that outrightly scary. But when set inside The Maw—a weird, dank, and mysterious vessel that goes out of its way to make you feel unwelcome at every turn—that's filled with traps and horrible adversaries, that droll notion quickly changes.
Speaking to the latter, Little Nightmares' cleaver-sporting Twin Chefs are as terrifying as anything the aforementioned ethereal classics conjure, with their cumbersome yet dogged movements, drooping features and insta-fatal attacks. The Janitor's extended reach reminded me of Silent Hill 3's Leonard Wolf as he appears in the abandoned town's twisted Otherworld. Despite being blind, this foe has a heightened sense of hearing and recalling one particular set piece involving creaking floorboards and a last-ditch sprint into a floor vent gives me shivers as I'm writing this.
The faceless Leeches are almost ghostly as they lie in wait, and the Guests are just plain nasty. While the latter are arguably the least threatening of Little Nightmares' horrid repertoire, the fact that their purpose is never properly explained lends them a cultist persona within The Maw, and galvanises the sinister nature of the setting itself.
Without spoiling the plot of Little Nightmares, The Lady, the game's ultimate antagonist, is for me just as awful as Bobby Barrows or Mary or God or Inferno. I'd even argue The Maw itself is up there with Silent Hill's Otherworld, or Forbidden Siren's Hanuda—and the vulnerability of Six as a protagonist reflects the struggles of James Sunderland, Jennifer Simpson, Hanuda's sightjackers, or whichever everyday hero(es) stepped up to the plate in your favourite horror games.
It's taken me some time to find a horror game capable of disturbing me in the same the way the games of yesteryear did. Little Nightmares is an unlikely candidate to take up that mantle, but I can assure you it's no less worthy than the most established survival horror games of today.