Nightmare Reaper (PC) Review

Enter sand(wo)man!

Nightmare Reaper – developed and published by Blazing Bit Games – is a retro-inspired, modern FPS. It manages to expertly blend the skill-based shooting of ’90s FPS with more modern rogue-lite, looter-shooter, and progression-based systems. The result is a blisteringly fast, intense, and unexpectedly lengthy experience that sometimes stumbles when the procedurally generated elements go awry.

Now I don’t want to dig too deep into the nonintrusive story as – like the ’90s FPS classics it seeks to emulate – you could comfortably argue the gameplay is all that matters. For those interested, you play as a young woman, subjected to a truly awful upbringing, that literally fights her internal demons in her nightmares. The bulk of the storytelling is done by way of the hospital hub (and, later, secondary hubs) as you slowly accumulate notes from her therapist after each level.

The hubs, however, offer more than just narrative snippets. They slowly change as you progress (sometimes subtly, other times violently), there are several key items to find that allow you to explore further, and several unsettling encounters will have you questioning whether these wakeful moments represent reality. Personally – and I’m someone who always enjoys narrative context – I found the delivery too slow to hook me. Thankfully, Nightmare Reaper‘s gameplay loop is more than sufficient to hold your attention.

Reading notes in a creepy hospital is far less interesting than the random encounters that can trigger within each level. Sadly, you’re more likely to find something weird trying to kill you than a cute dog to pet.

Now it’s worth noting upfront that if you have no interest in the retro-FPS craze we’re going through, Nightmare Reaper won’t change your mind. However, if you’re even a casual fan of the genre, it offers an eclectic yet cohesive mix of gameplay elements that provide dopamine hit after dopamine hit – 90% of the time. Hell, if anything, it might offer too much of a good time.

The core gameplay hook is the combat, which feels simultaneously retro and modern. Nightmare Reaper – in addition to offering three difficulty levels – is highly customisable, but falls into that category of fast-paced FPS in which standing still means a quick death. Even before considering upgrades like dashing, wall-running, and a grapple, you move, jump, and bunny-hop at such impressive speeds it would make more vertical levels doubly terrifying were it not for the responsive controls. There is solid gamepad support and generous auto-aim, but I felt it was considerably less difficult to play with a mouse and keyboard.

The shooting feels fantastic thanks to the combination of an eclectic gun selection (with a mix of hit-scan and projectile weapons), the audio-visual feedback, and responsive controls. Gun barrels roar, monsters scream, muzzle flash and magical projectiles illuminate the environment, enemies crumple or explode into gibs, an inordinate number of particles fill the screen, leaving gore and debris littering the floor. The bulk of your health and ammunition pick-ups come from fallen enemies and breakable objects, so aggression and forward momentum is always rewarded. With the simple addition of a slow-mo effect for some critical kills, it’s a sight to behold. I just wish the melee weapons and kick attack packed as much punch as the ranged options.

Splat, headshot! A brief moment of slow-mo, a shower of gore, and back to the killing.

The more “modern” elements include the roguelike progression, randomised weapon drops, and procedurally generated levels.

Starting with the good, the escalating combat difficulty and environmental hazards are offset by a steady flow of persistent upgrades and new gear. There are three skill trees to work through, with one attached to an optional arena mode but still beneficial in the campaign. You improve your character through a combination of cash and playable minigames that riff on classics like Mario and Pokemon – all played on a handheld system in-game. There is an incredible amount of depth here and the upgrades range from incremental (think more health or ammo reserves), to new abilities (dashing, wall-running, reduced fall damage), summonable pets, and buffs that affect all save files. You’ll rarely go more than a single level without the ability to upgrade and improve your odds.

The random weapon system also works most of the time, ensuring you always have something powerful (or at least entertaining) to tear through the extensive roster of foes. There’s a myriad of conventional firearms, medieval weaponry, sci-fi blasters, magical staves, traps, and grenades. Sure, you’ll recognise the archetypes quickly but, when you consider the buffs associated with rarity tiers and secondary fire modes, there’s a ton of variety that should cater to your tastes. Many weapons seem inspired by other classic FPS – think Doom‘s Super Shotgun, Unreal‘s ASMD Shock Rifle, Red Faction‘s Rail Driver (I think?), and even Half-Life‘s Hivehand. However, at the end of each level, you can only retain one weapon, leading to some agonising decisions as you weigh up the value of a solid all-rounder vs. a single-shot death beam.

Decisions, decisions…you can only keep one.

When it comes to the procedurally generated levels, I was less enamoured. They’re not completely random as each named location has a few distinct layouts that are stitched together and tweaked, while the degree of randomisation seems to decrease in the final episode. There were times – particularly in the second and third episodes – when levels could feel balanced and skillfully designed, with entertaining secrets and quirky random encounters that referenced other games. However, a couple of deaths and reruns quickly demonstrated how the procedural generation could impact gameplay.

Level progression in Nightmare Reaper is your standard arena-shooter fare: shoot your way through more linear paths looking for keys/runes/switches to progress, then get locked into an arena with a horde of enemies or a boss fight before reaching the exit portal. Simple, enjoyable, but prone to layout-related difficulty spikes. Most of the roadblocks I experienced involved arena battles in an area with limited space – typically some sort of interconnected chamber layout or a long but narrow chasm – which saw my health pool shredded in seconds by the sheer mass of enemies and converging projectiles (suicide-exploders are the worst). A repeat run or two got me a more favourable layout but, when coupled with some awkwardly shaped rooms, I found myself wishing for hand-crafted levels.

There’s an absurd amount of upgrades and potentially hours of minigame gameplay if you’ve got the patience. If not, you can disable the gameplay component in the options menu to speed things along.

So long as you don’t have some irrational hatred of retro-inspired visuals, you’ll find Nightmare Reaper looks fantastic throughout. The visual impact has little to do with the levels, as aside from a few standout moments, the texture tile-set is limited, and you’ll spot repeated layouts. However, when you combine them with the distinctive enemy and environmental sprites, overboard weapon effects, an absurd amount of gore, gibs, and debris, and throw in some dynamic lighting, you get a sensory overload. I’d argue it’ll be too chaotic for some, but you can tweak a ton of options in the extensive menus to both adjust the visual intensity and get Nightmare Reaper running as smoothly as possible (which can be tough as there are some lingering performance bugs that result in seemingly random framerate drops).

Complementing the visuals is the fantastic, punchy audio and thumping soundtrack from Andrew Hulshult – who just keeps going from strength to strength since his days of working with 3D realms and creating heavy-metal covers of classic FPS tracks. Every weapon sounds as deadly as it feels, with a satisfying, distorted echo kicking in when the visual slow-mo effect triggers on a hit. The soundtrack can feel a little repetitive in the opening episode but, once you’ve got a feel for the gameplay loop and you’re making steady progress, you’ll realise almost all named locations have a unique and thumping combat track. A small touch, but an entertaining one, is the maniacal cackle the protagonist lets out when picking up a high-tier weapon or landing a critical hit.

The three episodes offer an eclectic mix of environments – not unlike 1996’s Quake – but I wish it took less time to clear the first episode and move on from the claustrophobic dark fantasy setting.

All things considered, I think Nightmare Reaper is a fantastic retro-inspired but modern FPS hybrid. However, I also feel it could have been a tighter experience. When you factor in potential deaths and reruns due to the escalating difficulty, you could comfortably sink 25+ hours into completing a “normal” campaign playthrough. There are three episodes, with around 25 unique locations, more than 80 levels, an optional arena mode, and even the progression minigames have multiple levels to work through! As a result, Nightmare Reaper requires a hefty time investment by both indie and FPS standards.

Of course, optimal game length is subjective, but I rarely felt like I could lose myself in the experience when I was constantly bouncing in and out of levels, spending too much time in menus considering stats, staring at more achievement notifications (there are 150 of them spewed out with reckless abandon), and I eventually disabled the gameplay sequences in the minigames so I could just level up quickly without breaking my rhythm. Make no mistake, Nightmare Reaper comes recommended – just take it at your own pace, at a difficulty you’re comfortable with, and make use of the extensive options to further tailor the experience.

Nightmare Reaper (PC) Review

Nightmare Reaper (PC) Review
8 10 0 1
Total Score
  • Story
    6/10 Normal
    Non-intrusive, optional, but also drip-fed so slowly it won't satisfy those that crave a narrative hook.
  • Gameplay
    8/10 Very Good
    Fast, dynamic, and intense combat is paired with a robust progression system. I just wish you moved through locations quicker and the procedural generation was tweaked to avoid some downright unfair encounters.
  • Visuals
    7/10 Good
    Authentic but unremarkable levels are elevated by great sprite-work, impactful gunplay, abundant particles, and (optional) dynamic lighting. There are some performance bugs that need ironing out though.
  • Audio
    9/10 Amazing
    Guns that sound lethal when fired, coupled with impacts that sound devastating when they hit, all backed up by a thumping soundtrack.

The Good

  • Fast, dynamic, and intense combat
  • A diverse and creative selection of weapons
  • The novel upgrade system
  • Retro-inspired visuals and a thumping soundtrack

The Bad

  • The procedural elements result in variable level quality and some unfair encounters
  • Too much of a good thing?
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