Less than a month away from release, we’ve been able to play through the first two chapters of Little Nightmares II. And if you’re a fan of the first game, you’re in for a hair-raising treat.
The game opens up with you following Mono, the new protagonist who’ll take us through Little Nightmares II. He’s in a forest clearing, next to a broken TV set. The outdoor, natural setting of a forest seems like a far cry from the dark and harrowing setting of The Maw, but don’t get too comfortable. Instantly, you’re faced with signs of the macabre: a bag of dead bodies hanging from a tree; a trail of lost shoes, presumably from the deceased.
It looks beautiful. The first Little Nightmares was a visually striking game, but Little Nightmares II is more impressive in just about every way. The team at Tarsier Studios says it’s built the game from the ground up, which isn’t hard to believe once you see it in action. Loading times have been improved – when you die, there’ll be barely any delay to getting back into the action – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Environments are larger, allowing for a new level of verticality, and they look more detailed than ever. There’s a clarity that lets you get even more immersed in the action, allowing for an adventure more tense and unsettling than before.
While Mono starts out alone in Little Nightmares II, it’s not long until he stumbles across a familiar face: Six. Well, I say familiar, though without her iconic yellow rain jacket you might not recognise her. (Don’t worry; she’ll be reunited with it eventually.) Six initially runs away from you, but it doesn’t take her long to realise that maybe you can help her.
While you never take control of Six – at least in the chapters we’ve played through – she’s an integral part of your journey. Mono and Six work together like clockwork; you’ll lift each other up to higher platforms, and help each other leap across large gaps. Despite the co-op mechanics, however, Little Nightmares II remains a single-player affair; Six is AI-controlled, but she’s been expertly programmed. In our time with the game – just over two hours to complete chapters one and two – she never got in the way. She reacted cleverly to our own inputs, always being exactly where she needed to be on-screen. She’s also useful in giving cues; she hides when we need to hide, and runs when we need to run.
Those cues will come in very handy when you meet the antagonist of the first level, the Hunter. With a sack over his head he invokes memories of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Friday the 13th. He’s just as deadly as Leatherface or sack-headed Jason Vorhees too; if he sees you, you’re dead. While the Hunter lingers in the background, shotgun poised to shoot at any given moment, Mono and Six must sneak through the foreground, using grass, rocks and ducking underwater for cover. It’s tense, but it’s only a taste of what’s to come. After all, we played through Little Nightmares II‘s hospital level last year; we know things are going to get much scarier.
It’s not just Little Nightmares II‘s visuals that invoke the macabre. Sound effects play a huge role in doing so, too. From the sound of cracking bones if you fall of a ledge, to the sound of flesh being torn from an animal by the Hunter, sound effects are incredibly visceral. They’re powerfully unsettling, and if you want to get the most out of the game, we’d highly recommend playing with headphones. If you’re brave enough, of course.
You’ll eventually flee to safety from the Hunter, though ‘safety’ in the world of Little Nightmares II is a non-existent concept. You’re never far from the next threat. Level two begins as you wash ashore in Pale City, what looks like an abandoned industrial city. Six and Mono will wander through empty streets, with no signs of life to be seen. It’s not long before they find themselves upon a school, where new terrors await them.
The school is populated with porcelain doll-like children, some with shattered or cracked skulls. They aren’t there to make friends with Mono or Six, though. In fact, they soon take Six captive, leaving Mono by himself to face what other horrors await in the school. The freakiest of all is the Teacher; innocent-looking at first, she soon reveals her true self by extending her neck to great heights. She can extend it around corners and in tight gaps, making it harder than ever for Mono to run and hide from her.
Like the first Little Nightmares, much of your time with Little Nightmares II will be spent sneaking around, hiding from your freaky antagonists. But this time, combat plays a part, too. Mono will occasionally come across weapons – typically large hammers – that he can drag behind him and swing to damage foes blocking his path. Many a doll-child’s head will get shattered in level two. You can also occasionally use elements of the environment to damage your adversaries, too. You’ll need to get out of the way of a swinging bucket yourself, but if you manage to dodge it, your pursuer will get the brunt of it.
There’s also a greater emphasis on puzzle solving this time. Many of these are very simple – throwing an object to set off a trap, for example – but some are a little more involved, such as a chess board that needs to be properly arranged in order to unlock something. You’re never far from a solution, though, and everything you need to progress is always within reach.
However, as we discussed in our first preview of Little Nightmares II, controls remain to be something of an issue. There’s a level of precision required that can often make a situation feel unduly difficult; the 3D environments, as beautiful as they may be, aren’t always easy to navigate, and lining up a jump, for example, can occasionally be trickier than it should be. The combat, though basic, requires your hits to be timed and landed perfectly – should you misjudge where your hit needs to land within the environment, you’ll leave yourself open for attack. And just as in the first game, one-hit kills persist.
It’s not a problem that will spoil your enjoyment of Little Nightmares II, however. You’ll die multiple times, whether it’s because of a misjudged jump or because the environment unexpectedly tricked you. But each time you do, you’ll pick yourself up almost instantly, ready to try again. Thanks to generous checkpointing, you’ll never lose much progress either; it’s perhaps even more lenient than the first Little Nightmares.
With this preview and the last, we’ve now seen three different chapters of Little Nightmares II, each of them offering something completely different from the last. The Maw of Little Nightmares was fantastic, but each area was familiar; there’s only so much variety you can have in a dank, ship-like floating contraption. That’s something that Little Nightmares II excels in; each level feels like its own micro world, filled with its own terrors and monsters to run and hide from. Just when you think you’ve got used to everything it might throw at you, something else, even more terrifying than before, comes along. We’ve only seen part of it, and we absolutely can’t wait to see what else is in store.
Little Nightmares II is coming to PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC on 11th February 2021. It’s coming to PS5 and Xbox Series X/S at a later date, with a free upgrade available.