Nevermind review: When your own heartbeat is used against you

The Good Nevermind is eerily atmospheric and remarkably good at teaching the player self-calming techniques. The optional heart-rate monitor gives it a personal connection that few games can match.

The Bad The experience is a short one, lasting around three hours including the tutorial. If you do play with a heart rate monitor, the game doesn't take normal heart-rate variances into account.

The Bottom Line Nevermind is a unique horror experience that steps outside the normal jump-scares to deliver something tense and personal. Although it's short, it's intense, especially if you make use of the biofeedback.

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I am a bit of a giant scaredy cat when it comes to horror games. Films are fine, but throw in an interactive element and I become a bibbling mess. So it was with some apprehension that I approached Nevermind, a Kickstarter-funded horror game for PC.

This is because Nevermind has a diabolical feature: It's compatible with a variety of heart-rate sensors. When you hook yourself up and settle in to play, the game tracks its effect on you by monitoring your heart rate. An elevated heart rate indicates stress, and the game responds with sanity effects. Which, of course, wouldn't improve the whole "bibbling mess" situation.

In the end, the gameplay didn't quite turn out that way, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Nevermind's premise is that you are starting work as a doctor to help people overcome their mental and emotional demons. To do this, you enter their minds and seek out their memories, in the form of photographs. There are 10 of these per client, and you need to find all 10 to finish the game.

The gameplay is first-person point-and-click, similar to exploration game Myst. You wander about the landscape of the patient's mind, examining clues that will help you solve puzzles to access both the memories and new areas.

Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET

Once you've assembled all 10, you'll need to put together the correct sequence of events by placing the photos in order, but there's a twist. Only five of the photos are real. The other five are false memories, and you have to figure out which is which based on clues you have observed around the level. It sounds very straightforward, but these are not happy people, and their minds aren't happy places.

The game's locations are absolutely designed to provoke anxiety and stress, from unsettling forest labyrinths to storage rooms filled with wriggling body bags. The soundscape does the same. As you listen, it twists off key or introduces fly swarms or car horns, sounds to which humans are conditioned to respond with, at the very least, discomfort.

There are very few actual jump scares (for which I was grateful) but what stands instead is a profoundly tense and unsettling experience. After completing each patient, I felt emotionally wrung out and needed to take a breather from the game.

Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET

I enjoyed Nevermind's response to my anxiety. The screen would fill with static visual effects and environmental responses the tenser I grew, which forced me to consciously check myself, slow my breathing and relocate my equilibrium. It felt like a very good training exercise for anxiety in real-life situations, which was interesting.