Short Horror Week #5: Pesadelo

Work against time to escape a monster and an impending disaster

Platform: PC

By Ian Coppock, Originally Published on February 21, 2013

Brazilians. We Americans tend to stereotype them as physically attractive and obsessed with soccer. After today, though, I’ve realized that beneath this innocent characterization lies a talent for designing terrifying games. I’m talking about Pesadelo, Short Horror Week’s fifth entry and the scariest game I’ve played so far. Pesadelo was developed by Skyjaz, a team of Brazilian designers whom I can only describe as sadists with good level design skills.

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The Story
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I inferred from the game’s Portuguese signage that Pesadelo takes place at a Brazilian train station, just before a nighttime thunderstorm. You are Alex, a worker who is less than enthusiastic about his new job there. He’s heard a lot of creepy stories about the station, and as misfortune would have it, that’s where he’s headed.

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Train stations are remarkably unsettling at night

Like many horror games, Pesadelo blends terror with puzzles. Shortly after arriving to the station, Alex is attacked by a gaunt, screeching monster. The goal of the game is to avoid it seeing you, lest it charge at you, shrieking. A power malfunction adds yet another obstacle to Alex’s survival, and he (meaning you, you poor sap) must work against time and the monster to escape with his life. Outside of the murder stories Alex mentions at the game’s beginning, this is the only story we really have.

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The rest of the game is a high-velocity escape adventure. The monster suddenly appears randomly and without warning, and will give chase until you elude its line of sight. Never knowing when the monster would appear made this a lot creepier than Hylophobia, in which the monsters could be seen from a distance and thus avoided. Not this dude. It will knock your block off unless you can sprint away in time, and its screams will let you know how close it is clawing your spine. Being quick and staying out of sight are key to survival in Pesadelo.

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“Excuse me sir, you’re in my way.”
The only frustration to log with Pesadelo‘s gameplay is the hiding of objects in a similarly-colored container (a gray key in a gray urinal). This was something that happened only a few times, but I was less than impressed.
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The Artwork
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Pesadelo‘s art and level design is reasonably detailed. The station itself consists of two platforms straddling a broken railway, with all the scenery you’d expect at a train station: benches, platforms, and lamp posts. However, the team at Skyjaz went beyond creating a simple railroad platform, adding colorful advertisements, signage and even railroad maps to the environment. I was impressed with this level of detail, because it made getting immersed into the game a lot easier. When the environments are as detailed as you’d expect in real life, that sense of realism, of immersion, becomes a lot easier to attain.
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Lucky for me, Spanish and Portuguese have a lot of crossover 😀

Pesadelo‘s interior environments, such as offices and restrooms, were also well-designed, giving me that same sense of satisfaction I get from eating a good meal. Pesadelo‘s monster nearly sent said meal out the back hatch, but luckily I got through the game without any embarrassing accidents. The monster itself was a hideous beast, though with it chasing me I never got much of a look at the damn thing (beyond its imposing height and red eyes). The game is also compounded by a mournful, ominous soundtrack. Heavy shadows drape the station’s recesses, and occasional power outages drown everything in darkness. The combination of outages, music, and artwork make Pesadelo a well-designed indie horror game.

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Should I get it?
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Pesadelo is horrifying, and I don’t throw that term out lightly. I would also say that it’s scarier than yesterday’s game, Hylophobia.
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So yes, get onto Skyjaz’s forum and download it ASAP 😀
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Then, if you so elect, leave a comment or a recommendation for what game, scary or otherwise, you’d like to see on Art as Games!
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