Dead Dreams is a scary game. Scratch that – Dead Dreams is a TERRIFYING game thanks to a brilliantly crafted atmosphere of dread that never lets you rest. The simplistic visuals might scare you off, but don’t let them.

Classic Survival Horror titles are hard to come by these days, so it is refreshing to see indie developers stepping up and filling this void. One such developer is Aiaz Marx, who recently released Dead Dreams.

Dead Dreams is a tense, spooky, and downright terrifying indie horror game that invokes the likes of Silent Hill and Lone Survivor.

A Dream Within a Dream Within a Simulation

Dead Dreams is a story about a group of friends exploring abandoned subway tunnels – a classic horror setup. Or maybe it’s about secret government experiments? The dangers of VR? I’m really not sure. The game’s narrative is convoluted enough to keep you guessing. Throughout most of it, you don’t truly understand what’s going on.

You switch between two characters: Thomas and Liam, childhood friends who grew apart after one of their friends died. At first, it isn’t clear where or even when their story takes place, but that’s part of the game’s mystery. While there is one coherent (I use this word lightly) narrative, you keep jumping between scenes through memories and something that may be a VR simulation. The result is a fragmented narrative that always feels unnatural and uneasy.

A classic horror setup.

The game clearly belongs to the “Psychological Horror” subgenre, as it messes with both your characters’ heads and your own. It takes a page from Silent Hill’s book, where your character’s fears and trauma twist environments, monsters, even memories. It makes the disjointed narrative even more confusing and unreliable, but in a genuinely intriguing way.

The Stuff of Nightmares

It’s not only the plot that makes you constantly feel unnerved when playing. As you explore the dark, claustrophobic corridors, the game severely restricts your field of vision with a thick dark frame around your character. The camera also does its best to make sure you don’t get to see too much. It zooms into extreme closeups from time to time to make sure you can’t really see anything around you. These restrictions feel very forced and artificial, but you can’t deny their effectiveness.

The monster design helps too. Despite the… simplistic graphics, the creatures you’ll be facing are pure nightmare fuel. The game always knows when to give you a tiny glimpse of a grotesque creature, and when to show it front and center. I screamed out loud more than a few times when a new monster appeared from out of shadows.

The Stuff of Nightmares

Dead Dreams manages to maintain a tense atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat even when nothing is happening. It never lets you rest, and you never feel safe. At times it can be exhausting, but the game’s relatively slow pace means that sense of dread is always present but never overwhelms.

However, some of this aura of uncertainty is due to how the game fails to communicate certain crucial information. For example, it never tells you when it saves. There were multiple instances where I had to replay a section of the game just because I quit without realizing the game hasn’t saved for 20 minutes. You can occasionally save manually, but those are rare instances. The game can do a better job of giving the player more feedback in general, so you only feel lost when it wants you to.

Your Imagination Runs Screaming

Dead Dreams’ visuals are admittedly not very impressive, but they never hurt the experience. Some cleaning up still needs to be done, especially when transitioning from one scene to the next and see a bunch of environments flash on the screen as they load. However, it’s nothing major, and it actually feels consistent with the game’s garbled vibe.

Dead Dreams review

But the real star of this horror show is the audio. The game barely has any music, so most of the time you walk in absolute silence – silence that only accentuates any sudden, often disturbing sound.

You can hear bones snap, heavy breathing, something fleshy being torn apart. You rarely get to see what makes these noises, so your imagination runs wild. And we all know our imagination has way better graphics than a pixelated horror game.

Dead Dreams is an effective horror game, meaning it’s actually scary. Once you make it past the rocky first chapter, the game starts to feel like a true classic Survival Horror. Bear in mind that only one person developed this game, and in some places, it shows. Still, fans of horror should get a few hours of chills out of this one – I know I did.

The audio is the real star

Developer: Aiaz Marx

Publisher: Aiaz Marx

Release Date: Feb. 6, 2020

Genre: Survival Horror

Available On: PC

Reviewed On: PC

Our Dead Dreams review copy was provided by the developer.

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