Hard Labour: Devastated Dreams
Pregnant with fear
Did you play Neverending Nightmares? It's a horror game in which a dapper chap wanders from one unpleasant situation to the next, in a side-scrolling grayscale world, with occasional splashes of the red stuff. I didn't play enough to explain its appeal, beyond the striking graphics, but it is "inspired by the developer's actual battle with mental illness".
The next game from the same developer, Devastated Dreams, is currently seeking funds on Kickstarter and there's a demo available. This time around, the inspiration comes from Filipino folklore and the fears of an expectant parent. I played the demo just now and saw terrible things.
Mostly, as with Neverending Nightmares, I saw attractive hand-drawn backgrounds, like sketches in pencil. Rather than they Gorey household of the previous game, Devastated Dreams is set in a village in the Philippines and you play as Angel, a pregnant woman who is wandering around in the middle of the night with a flashlight and then there are bloody trails, bloody blankets, GOD KNOWS what that thing flapping past the window on broken wings was, and, shit, yes, that's a bloody blanket with an infant-sized shape beneath it.
Despite my horribly punctuated sentence, DD doesn't move along swiftly and choppily. It's a sedate sort of nightmare. You walk to the right for a while, the flashlight cutting across the darkness of the screen, and then you go into a house, read a note. Eventually the bad things start to happen and you have to click the left mouse button to struggle as a monster tries to eat the heart of your unborn child, but other than that, there's plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.
I'm more gripped than I ever was by Neverending Nightmares and that's in large part thanks to the setting. Creative director Matt Gilgenbach is married to Joanne Gilgenbach, a creative consultant on the game who was "born and raised in the Philippines". Joanne's input is no doubt the main reason that the places in the demo feel authentic, even if they are no more than backdrop, and the creatures in the dark - aswang - are drawn from Filipino folklore. According to the Kickstarter page: "Their favorite food is unborn children, and they have a long tongue that enables them to suck out the hearts of fetuses, but they are also known to eat babies."
Pip suggests that "the ghouls feed on the baby, the baby feeds on you, you feed on the ghouls", creating a wonderful circle of life AND a way to fight back. The demo didn't show me enough of the game to confirm whether I could eat the ghouls or not. Whatever the case, the whole thing probably isn't as terrifying as the other pregnancy games.
More than anything, I'm reminded of Year Walk, another game that dealt with folklore and family. I'm not sure if Devastated Dreams would keep me hooked til the end but the demo is as good as any I've ever played, in terms of its ability to describe the experience of the game. Take a look.
The Kickstarter is aiming for $115,896 and has 31 days left to run.