Afterdream is a pixel art horror title that puts atmosphere and puzzle-solving above all else. Taking place within the psyche of our protagonist as she recounts her vivid dreams, this format allows Afterdream to make liberal use of weird imagery to tell an intriguing and engaging story.
Drawing inspiration from classic survival horror games - specifically in how you solve puzzles - Afterdream requires you to observe your surroundings and interact with the objects found within. For the most part, you’ll find items that might be missing a key component, meaning you’ll need to search the adjacent rooms and return once you’ve found what you’re looking for.
It’s basic stuff, but Afterdream manages to maintain engagement by striking a strong balance with its difficulty. Some puzzles may initially seem perplexing, but thanks to the confined nature of each environment, it won’t be long before you figure out what needs to be done. As such, Afterdream’s pacing is one of its strongest aspects, bolstered by a snappy UI that never gets in the way. However, we would have welcomed the ability to run at times during the game.
To help guide you, you’ll obtain a camera fairly early in the game, and utilising this at every possible opportunity is key to discovering Afterdream’s secrets. It has two primary functions: the first is a simple “quick-fire” mechanic where you use the camera’s flash to briefly illuminate your surroundings and power up objects. The other function is, of course, to take pictures. Whipping out your camera, you can move the lens around to locate hidden objects that, while invisible to the naked eye, are illuminated in the viewfinder. Taking a picture of the object then allows it to materialise in the environment. This means that if you’re struggling to locate a key item in the conventional sense, you might need to just give the area a quick scan with the camera to see what might be lurking.
In terms of scares, this is the one area that we feel Afterdream could have pushed a bit further. It’s limited to subtle moments, such as a flickering light, a shadow wandering past a doorway, or a quick jump scare as a creepy figure flashes into view. Given the fact that we’re quite literally navigating someone’s dream, we feel there could have been more opportunities to really freak out the player.
Having said that, it’s the overarching atmosphere that drives the experience home. The ambient music is haunting and amplifies the sense of dread at just the right moments, while the dirty, gritty colour palette combined with a subtle noise filter makes for some effective visuals. Finally, while the lack of screen real estate might be off-putting for some, we found the intentional use of black bars at the top and bottom a great way of keeping the view focused, allowing for a wider perspective of each room.
If you’re looking for a quick jaunt through a beautifully haunting 2D world then Afterdream is a solid choice. While it’s a shame the game doesn’t lean into scares quite as much as we’d have liked, the atmosphere makes up for this and the puzzles should keep you engaged from start to finish.