Based upon Todd McFarlane’s Kiss: Psycho Circus comic books, The Nightmare Child is dark but always fun, with a ridiculously camp and mystic plot driven by the four characters of the fictional alter-ego band.
The band members of the comic books and game are four Elders, elementary representatives and defenders of good against the God of Evil. Unfortunately they have lost their way somewhat since last defeating the God of Evil and have become parted from their magic garments. They will need to re-clothe themselves if they are to abort the Nightmare Child, an evil foetus spawned by the big bad one before his demise. Luckily they have a mad blind Gypsy to guide them.
Action begins at a seedy Roadhouse gig (you can use the microphone and play Kiss tracks on the jukebox) where monster minions of Evil begin to spawn. The band is separated and the game is divided into four initial episodes, one for each character. These can be played in any order, but set progression is recommended and the first episode is far gentler in introducing steadily harder enemies and bigger weapons: almost a tutorial.
Unfortunately only two weapons differ between any of the four characters. Each has a unique default close combat tool and each eventually wields a different uber-spell. Otherwise there are variants on the grapple, shotgun, machine gun and rocket launcher for all. If it were not for the great variety of environments, grand architecture and swarming enemies between episodes, the first-person perspective would negate any point to the division of the game by character.
Progress through each four-level episode is very linear, but kept exciting with plenty of (switch and door-based) puzzles, spiced-up platform elements (traverse a broken spiral stair as a tower fills with water) and massive battles. All of these tried and tested elements make The Nightmare Child a refreshing dip into the retro pool, revitalising those memories of Doom that have been buried for so long under the experimental thinking elements of much recent FPS fare.
The proudly populated battles are The Nightmare Child’s overwhelming success. Hordes are back in town and mass carnage is the order of the day. The modified LithTech engine copes admirably with massive melees and an extremely customisable video interface will keep things pretty smooth even on lower end PCs. A good range of animation routines and an impressive scaling system mean that groups of units don’t look unrealistically similar en masse.
Many monsters come in small, medium and large sizes and location-based damage and dismemberment adds to a chaotic realism that skirts the problems of Doom’s line-dancing imp armies (step-forward-growl-fireball, step…). More nods to Doom include plenty of explosive barrels and tendencies for certain monster types to turn on one other. Regular mini-boss encounters and big boss endgames break up the big battles, where saves are denied to increase tension.
The Nightmare Child’s distinctive retrogression jumps back so far that it will probably seem innovative to the post-Doom gaming generation, but for those who have been secretly hankering for less thought and more slaughter, it’s still a welcome return to original form.