Developer: Desert Fox
Publisher: PlayWay S.A
Released:10th March, 2017
The Bad Dream series came about in the form of small, browser based point and clicks, Coma feels like a larger scale realisation of Desert Fox’s horror series. Resembling its predecessors, Coma has a hand drawn appearance and dream world setting, and often uses this to create some surprisingly imaginative segments. The story has an ambitious amount of player agency, choices you make will deviate the plot towards different endings, affecting the gameplay along the way in sometimes drastic ways.
It’s not all good news, there’s a persistent a problem of providing the player with important information, reflected in both the visuals and mechanics. Direction and guidance are sorely lacking while the visual clutter is overwhelming.
Coma looks like a hasty pencil sketch scribbled on an old notepad. A filthy world, almost devoid of colour. The colour palette rarely extend beyond a monochromatic theme, emphasising the few injections of colour. The environmental designs look the part too, a distorted reality, familiar yet twisted. The downside to such a messy style is that it can obscure the gameplay, especially when you’re scouring the scenes for the few interactive objects.
While the world certainly has an interesting look to it, the areas themselves are pulled straight from a horror cliche list. You’ve got a cemetery, rundown hospital and twisted woods to rummage around in, to name a few. They’re boring enough to put you to sleep. If you thought that these locations are tired enough at this point, most of them are the setting for previous installments of the Bad Dream series. It really hold the game back, seeing the more creative aspects being wasted on such tired setting was a real shame.
On the audio side of things, the music is fairly unremarkable. Often used as a subtle enhancement to the settings, a short loop used for ambience. It’s nothing new or out of the ordinary, a piano sting or shrill violin to accompany the more stressful moments. Sound effects are much the same, used where and how you’d expect, but they’re used to decent effect. Screams, squelches and Overall the audio is nothing stand out, a safe approach, but a reliable one.
Bad Dream: Coma has a pretty interesting premise, you’re trapped in what seem to be a collective nightmare, where all the inhabitants are trapped by a cursed immortality. The story unfolds across eight chapters, as you try to find a way to wake everyone up, and escape the nightmare. There’s some intriguing ideas at play, but most of the plot is presented through the characters, who are just boring. The characters lack almost any personality, existing as vessels for tropes and exposition. It was a decent story hampered by poor presentation.
Rarely falling back on cheap tricks like jumpscares, Coma puts in the effort to create a consistent feeling of uncomfortability. There were perfect moments for a jumpscare that never happened, yet when they actually happened. When they appeared, they were completely unpredictable, like they should be. It was refreshing to see from an indie horror. It maintained an uneasy tension.
Bad Dream: Coma’s major strengths lie in its clever puzzle design, making creative use of the dream setting to bend and twist logic The game also likes to play around with its hand drawn aesthetic, incorporating the idea of the drawn world into various puzzles. It’s hard to go into detail without spoiling the better moments on offer, as they rely on surprising you with new way of implementing the setting. The game rarely uses the same trick twice, being caught off guard by the more inventive puzzles was the highlight of the game.
Sadly, I did see a couple of tired and, quite frankly, overused mechanics from time to time. A fetch quest here and a spot the difference there stood out like a sore thumb. While the more inventive segments overshadow the mundane ones, it was still pretty obvious to see where the creativity ran dry.
Before playing, I saw that this game had a choice system that affected the endings, I was initially concerned that it would be a lazy, pick your ending affair. This was thankfully untrue. Throughout Bad Dream: Coma you’re given plenty of opportunities to progress towards either a Good, Neutral or Bad ending. It’s not just the ending, choices you make will change substantial amount of the story and challenges, of character interactions and puzzles.
The multiple endings are nothing new to the Bad Dream series, appearing in much less prevalent forms in previous installments, though not to this extent. It was surprising to see how much different each path was. The multiple choices gave me a compelling reason to replay the game. That being said, it was very hard to make informed decisions, knowing what and wasn’t going to change the story was almost impossible on my first playthrough. Sometimes it’s obvious, but it’s more often not. It’s annoyingly easy to railroad yourself down a particular path. Locking yourself out of a potential ending in the first chapters is as simple as not identifying a potential telegraph.
Bad Dream Coma unfortunately slips up like so many point and clicks do, becoming a pixel hunt at times. At points the sheer clutter hides vital items, they become camouflaged with the backgrounds, turning the game into a pixel hunt where you’re relying solely on the cursor to find items for you. Pixel hunts aren’t fun, and this was no exception. I was stuck at one point trying pick out specific pieces of rubbish amongst a street covered in litter, like a needle in a haystack. You can imagine the frustration.
Although it occasionally slipped up, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this game. The sketchy art style fit the theme well, but hindered the point and click gameplay. The creative influence the setting had on the gameplay made the game’s high points and easily outweighed the duller moments.
The effort taken to make your decision matter to the story was commendable, yet what would and wouldn’t affect the story was frustratingly unclear. for a horror game, it wasn’t really that scary, but it did get genuinely unnerving at times. I’d recommend picking up Bad Dream: Coma, it has enough solid moments to make playing it a worthwhile experience.