Release Date : February 11, 2021
Developers : Tarsier Studios
Publisher : Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms : PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC, Stadia, Nintendo Switch
Following in the footsteps of Playdead’s cinematic platformers, Little Nightmares has managed to find its audience. With a unique universe, this experience, which wasn’t flawless, was a classic adventure in its structure, but very effective. What about this second project? Did he learn lessons from the past to make his disappointments disappear and outperform his elder brother?
A LOT OF NOISE FOR NOTHING?
From the very first moments, the legacy of the studio behind Limbo and Inside is more prominent than ever. The adventure opens on a gloomy forest from which our new hero, dressed in a paper bag to hide his face, must escape. A trunk tumbling down a slope threatening to crush us, wolf traps, crows, a chase sequence where the hero will have to hide in shady areas… Familiar imagery and situations already encountered by anyone who has tried Playdead’s titles.
From a strictly narrative point of view, we were disappointed by Little Nightmares 2. Where the first episode succeeded in restoring a tortured world, where disturbing figures found themselves around the practice of cannibalism, the second episode was a succession of nightmare sequences, sometimes for free. The progression of the previous episode responded to the need for a real script development. As the player progresses, he obtains elements of answers allowing him to reconstruct a gloomy story. Here the structure that will be repeated 4 times during the adventure is the following: Discovery of a place, infiltration, and puzzles, pursuit phase, end of the zone. Each section takes place in a disturbing environment and is inhabited by a particular monster. The woods are haunted by a masked hunter, an orphanage by an overbearing schoolteacher… We will be careful about revealing the following to leave you the pleasure of discovery.
While it’s not impossible that we may have misapprehended certain narrative elements, these horror sequences didn’t seem to share any script connection. So much that the final episode seems completely unconnected to the rest of the adventure and rushes to a satisfying conclusion to the whole story. By splitting the experience into several bad dreams, not always very subtle, Little Nightmares 2 seems to lose sight of its narrative ambitions. Its conclusion put aside, we didn’t really understand where the title wanted to take us. But we have the feeling that he didn’t either.
In the middle of its horror evoking childish anxieties or fears straight out of folk tales, LN 2 seems for a while to be trying to deal with media alienation, only to retract it with a frankly disappointing sleight of hand. When the game was finished after 5 hours of play, we have the impression that we were dealing with a title whose ambition is to create a series of strong and impactful visuals at all costs. This aspect is successful because the monsters encountered offer really striking sequences. The places crossed, which are unfortunately limited to horror stories, offer particularly well-composed rooms and benefit from a careful artistic direction. It is a pity that it comes at the expense of any talk or solid narrative construction.
FRUSTRATION IN PERSPECTIVE
In terms of gameplay, the main new feature of this episode is that our hero is now accompanied by another child who allows him to solve puzzles requiring four little hands. It’s up to us to use short ladders and jump over larger chasms… If the player ever needsed to carry several objects, our friend will be happy to help him out. Without radically changing the progression, it also allows us to switch between mods alone or accompanied and thus regularly reinforce the feeling of insecurity.
The rhythm is therefore positively affected and this novelty is therefore welcome. The puzzles at the beginning of the game aren’t very complex, yet they remain pleasant to solve. Obviously, the growing complexity and the new mechanics implemented throughout the adventure renew the game. Basically, these environmental puzzles are quite satisfying. However, it is unfortunate that many of them have little strategic logic. If finding fragments of keys in sticky stuffed animals makes sense in the universe of Little Nightmares, not all the puzzles seem to be so well integrated. Thus one can wonder which monster would place a key on a hook 3 meters high to connect it to a pulley system.
Unfortunately, Little Nightmares 2 finds its old demons and the main flaw of the first episode is here even more crippling. Little Nightmares differs from Playdead’s games by its depth management. The problem is that, coupled with the relative imprecision of the controls, some sequences become terribly frustrating. Overall, each phase of the gameplay requiring some semblance of precision becomes potentially laborious. We no longer count the number of missed jumps because we weren’t perfectly aligned.
Going up a corridor, seen from the front, sliding between the enemies becomes an ordeal as we can hardly estimate their position in relation to ours. It is the same for the battle stages, messy, which made us curse more than once. This global imprecision is all the more problematic during the pursuit phases. The player has only a small margin of error before being caught.
This means that the player must identify the path to take carefully and never miss or he will die. However, it is easy to get stuck in a piece of scenery or to bump into your friend at the least convenient moment. This regularly spoils the experience, as one is sometimes more busy railing against rough controls than enjoying the very good setup. Because on this side Little Nightmares 2 does not disappoint at all.
Without diving into the easy jumpscare, it manages to set up a heavy and sticky atmosphere, but also to create some oppressive chasing scenes. If the choice of the 3D mode causes problems in terms of gameplay, the chosen field of vision allows for some impressive frame shots. The camera never stops moving to support the direction of the scene and takes distance when necessary to support the gigantic nature of the locations or the monsters crossed.
There are also nice depth-of-field effects that sometimes weakly mask our opponents, which makes their nature even more unclear and creates some fear. These formal choices are naturally at the service of an efficient artistic direction. If you regret a selection of places and characters that is rather agreed upon, their visual handling has enough personality to overcome this complaint. Tortured and deformed, monsters inspire as much fear as discomfort. However, there is originality below the first episode which was much more refreshing in its last act. In short, the set is still successful visually, but the inspirations of this second piece may lack the madness to make a lasting impression.
Technically, apart from some occasional framerate drops when loading a new zone, we have no complaints about LN 2. The lighting effects are successful, the designs are detailed and the title never seems to be pulled back by its technique. We appreciate this DA for its perfect audio production. The heavy and disturbing noises coming from the places we pass through allow an anxious environment to settle in. The screams and moans of the opponents have not been forgotten, while the soundtrack with music box motifs supports the apparent innocence of the protagonists.
While this new episode shows goodwill, it is nevertheless disappointing on several points. More inclined to multiply horror sequences than to link them together, Little Nightmares 2 seems obsessed with the idea of offering strong and impactful images. The latter regularly seem free, due to a too weak theme. Its production and artistic direction are as effective as ever, but the problems of perspective are even more limiting than in the past. The result is a gripping and well-produced adventure, but regularly frustrating, as much from a narrative point of view as from a playful one.