Like the name implies, Personal Nightmare is a horror game. The intro only shows a man being hit by lightning in a church, then transforming him into the devil. If you ask me, that makes it awesome. However it doesn't explain what the player has to do. After doing some research online, I found the plot behind Personal Nightmare:
Your father is the pastor of your village. A strange letter from him made you decide to return to your village, only to find out your father is nowhere to be found, and everyone is hostile and strange. You have to find out what's going on and what happened to your father. My guess is that the guy being struck by lightning is the man in question. By playing the game, you discover that evil forces have taken over the people of the village.
The theme of the adventure is to find and expose the evil people by getting evidence against them and having them arrested; There's not only "normal" sinners, like murderers and adulterers, but you'll have to dispose of a witch, a vampire, a hell-hound and finally the Devil himself. I'm not really sure why, but you must complete the game before the next sermon at the village church - which is in 4 days!
Every few minutes, the game will tell you that another hour has passed. I rather enjoyed this, as a time constraint really pushes the player to do less random exploring and focus on the task from the get-go.
The interface is very similar to that of Frederik Pohl's Gateway: you tell the game what you want to do by typing sentences in. The center of the screen shows what the player is currently looking at (the room you're in), on the left is a compass which shows which way you can go, and on the right is a list of verbs that the game understands.
There is some good news for the lazier among you: like Gateway, the mouse is supported and does wonders to speed up gameplay. For example, you can click on a verb (Open) and an object (cabinet), and the words appear at the bottom. You just have to press Enter. I know many adventure games have point-and-click interfaces, but remember this game was made in 1989! Speaking of which, here's an interesting bit of trivia: Personal Nightmare was released on the 31st of December 1989.
Due to its age, you'll only find 16 colors in the game. Still, that only impacts the graphic window, which is still detailed enough to clearly show the objects in the area. There's even a bit of animation: you'll see people walking along the sidewalk, a taxi coming to the local pub to pick up someone who's had one too many... it's not much but it improves the atmosphere and gives you the feeling of exploring a living world.
The only sound I could hear in the game was in the intro. More specifically, the laughter of the Devil as he comes out of the dead preacher. The lack of sound doesn't really affect gameplay, and it can even be taken as an invite to load up Winamp and play whatever you think would enhance the atmosphere. My choice? Savage Garden. Don't ask...
You need DOSBox to run the game, and the first time I tried, it crashed. Probably a fluke, since every time after that, it worked. Overall, I'd give Personal Nightmare a 4. Its graphics may not be that good, it may not have sound, but it's immersive. NPCs go about their business, some of the locations are really creepy (like when you first find the vampire's coffin) and the puzzles are intelligent but not too difficult. Maybe I'm biased by nostalgia - one of my favourite games of all time was Gateway, which bears many similarities to Personal Nightmare. If you like horror adventure games, you simply must give this a try!
And for those of you who play it but don't really know what you should do, here's something to point you in the right direction:
You start off in the bar. Wait there (by telling the game 'wait') until someone gets up and walks out. Follow him. He will be in the street, having been hit by a passing car. Search him and take everything in his pockets. Do it quick, because his wife will soon be there and she won't let you touch him. Wait a little more, and a policeman will come as well. Give him the broken numberplate that you just picked up from the crime scene.
And a final tip: the game lets you save your progress at any point. You can die in several ways (the witch set me on fire while she was sleeping), so save often!
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