It’s All a Beautiful Dream For Feet in the Snow

There’s a growing enthusiasm for all kinds of media to try and capture a dreamlike experience. No, not a Dallas-style experience where you walk out of the shower and laugh off everything that came before as a dream. No, think of those TikToks that are sewn together in dream logic, or films like Skinamarink that perfectly encapsulate a particular night vibe that is synonymous with the dream state. You can even look back a tiny bit further at films like It Follows where this propped up a more traditional curse movie structure.

I love that stuff. And as a longstanding fan of the ‘weird shit you find on telly at 2 am in 2003’ vibe and its connective tissue with the illogic of dreams, I’m always hungry for another hit of that personal dopamine. Thankfully, the indie horror space has been very accommodating to my needs in recent years. Possibly none more so than Abstract Machine’s Feet in the Snow. On the surface, it is an aesthetically pleasing throwback to early 90s point n’ click adventures, but it doesn’t take long to stumble upon what’s ‘wrong’ in its world. 

Feet in the Snow is served up as a conversation between a psychiatrist and their patient who is describing a strange recurring dream. In this dream, it always begins with following footprints in the snow, and it leads to places and people that are unnervingly surreal. It’s presented in a retro-realistic visual style that looks reminiscent of the early 90s digitized caricature of reality. 

There’s something rather intoxicating about that visual style. It’s dipped in a particular kind of nostalgia for sure, but it’s also a vital component in Abstract Machine’s attempts to simulate a dream feel. For a large portion of the game, there’s nothing that’s obviously wild and weird being presented to you. It’s all small tweaks to normalcy. Details that are missing or over-elaborate, the unsettling way everyone sort of has the same demeanor, the strangely seamless way completely different environments stitch together without question or reason.

By tapping into the ambiguity of early point n’ click titles for its otherwise simple puzzles, Feet in the Snow further enhances the nonsensical nature of dream logic. There’s almost no sensible reason why you need to approach these conundrums in the way you do, but underneath it all, they still make a shred of sense that bothered me. That swimmy sense of a solution is like when you know the answer to a math problem, but can’t for the life of you explain your working out. Is it a trick of the brain? Or is it perhaps something more deep-rooted you didn’t realize you’d stored away?

Early on, there’s a back street with several kiosks manned by dead-eyed folks. The stuff they are ‘selling’ certainly isn’t your usual grocery store fare, and they don’t seem especially keen for your business, but the weird game of telephone you need to go through just to progress to the next part of the dream could be a frustratingly banal experience in the wrong hands, but in the context of Feet in the Snow’s recollection of a recurring dream, it makes absolute sense (well, as much as nonsense can anyway).

Fittingly, the deeper the patient descends into discussing this dream, the more surreal it becomes. The semblances of reality further dissipate as the waking mind drifts further from view and the true impact of imagination is unleashed. Okay, I might be overblowing it a bit there, but it’s honestly quite admirable how the structure of Feet in the Snow is so consistent with its subject matter. Of course, that’s just my interpretation, and as we all know, there are plenty of ways to interpret a dream.

Perhaps the only thing Abstract Machine doesn’t quite capture about the world of a dream is the fleeting level of detail that tends to degrade over time, even when it recurs or traumatizes. That’s naturally a consequence of a game’s permanence, but then I think of how frighteningly easy it still is for a game to just evaporate from existence and know that even that could end up being a part of the dream feel playbook Abstract Machine has created with Feet in the Snow.

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