A lovely, sepia-soaked aesthetic let down by a lack of direction.
One of the scariest moments of my life happened last year. It was towards the end of Autumn in New Zealand, and I was walking home from an after-work do just as the sun had crept behind the hills. As I turned the corner onto my street – right in the urban heart of Christchurch – I started to hear footsteps behind me. I didn’t know where the person had come from but assumed I hadn’t been paying attention, that they had strolled behind me and caught up with my pace. But the ‘clop, clop’ of their feet on the pavement continued at a steady rhythm, syncing perfectly with mine. “Surely they should have passed me,” I thought.
This continued for a minute or two and I dared not to look back at the person trailing my every step, quickly twisting my usual calmness into frenzy. My heart was pumping with fear. Nobody walks that close behind you and doesn’t mean you any harm; I’d seen plenty of thrillers. Out of a slightly drunken panic I started to sprint, knowing my house was a minute away, if that.
As I lurched forward, the footsteps behind me quickened, once again matching mine, still so close to me. I reached the driveway to my flat and, feeling a slight bit of bravado wash over me now I was on my territory (plus I knew my flatmates were just a quick shrill from coming to my aid) I turned around and saw… nothing. No evil person or creature, just leafless trees and unkempt berms. It was at that point I remembered my lunchbox was in my backpack and sure enough, I’d forgotten to properly secure it, allowing it and the cutlery to bounce around, creating a noise similar to a determined stalker.
Essentially, I’m a wuss.
So when I received Desert Fox’s Bad Dream: Fever, I was jumping at my own shadow even before I booted it up, anticipating the scares and the potential terrors it had waiting for me. And, well, that’s as frightening as it got. Which, to be fair to the game, is not really its goal. Bad Dream: Fever is less of a horror game and more of an unsettling experience but ultimately, it’s a frustrating one.
Bad Dream: Fever is set in a sepia-smothered world, a point-and-click adventure which takes you from scene to scene, wanting you to soak up every artistic stroke and pencil line which turns familiar shopping lanes or messy bedrooms into peculiar, lifeless paintings. The gritty artwork evokes loneliness and desolation as you wander around a town suffering from an epidemic: Ink.
The blackish-purple liquid clings to dead bodies, dying foliage and ruined surroundings, clearly dripping with plague and pestilence. Click on the vile fluid and your screen screams with a distorted static, indicating quite clearly to stay away. It’s the main source of danger and unease in the world and the way Desert Fox have created this fascinating setting is commendable. It’s by no means revolutionary yet still has a lasting, warped impact. Unfortunately, though, it’s not enough to redeem this game from its many faults.
There are two sources of direction in this game: your own intrigue and a lady with a witch doctor-like mask firmly strapped to her face. What at first is a peculiar character/instructor filled with mystery quickly dulls into the reason for your soon-to-be frustration, as she commands you to search for multiple items or to fix a variety of objects. It’s no surprise this is the format Bad Dream: Fever takes; it’s the bread-and-butter of point-and-click adventures. However, the way the game telegraphs this information is obscured. Sometimes ‘Mask Lady’ will ask you to search an area with no tangible clue of what to look for, which gets reduced to fumbling your mouse over and clicking every item in sight.
Its lack of direction often makes you feel like a drunk person trying to get into their house late at night, the key inaccurately scraping and poking countless times at the frame of the door, before it eventually finds the lock.
Even if you do know what to look for, it can be frustrating finding the right pixels to click on or figuring out the specific puzzles. Sometimes these have playful ideas to them, but they’re often poorly implemented due to a lack of information or convincing logic. It ruins the ominous vibe the game aims for as you hear the same sound effects over and over again in one location, which quickly go from unsettling to boring, breaking its creepy and sometimes scary theme. In the end, though, the most frightening thing about this game is the amount it will contribute to your chance of developing RSI.
If you can survive the repetitive and infuriating design of this game you may experience a story which slowly unfolds over an hour or two going from strange, to weird, to eventual disappointment. I won’t spoil anything but the initial curiosity of wanting to know what happened to this town draws you in only for the ending to feel a bit of a cop-out, which is a real shame.
Bad Dream: Fever has aspects of it which I adore and would love to see elsewhere, just not behind this fatiguing experience.
[Reviewed on PC]