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Review

Review: Not Tonight

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Brexit is a pretty big deal, not just in the UK but the world as a whole, so it’s no real surprise that some brave developers would try and turn such a controversial event into a videogame. Reading through the summary for Not Tonight made us a little wary of how the creators would handle the rather series subject matter, but we were still intrigued by the game’s setting. It’s a shame that the final product missed the mark in so many ways.

Not Tonight is set in a post-Brexit Britain where everything fell apart. A far-right group came into power, the country was closed off and anyone deemed foreign is exiled. However, instead of a serious take on the effects of Brexit, this is a more satirical game that relies more on comedy to attempt to get its message across. Unfortunately, said message is incredibly heavy handed and becomes grating less than an hour in. Every character you meet is one dimensional, and it’s hard to sympathise with anyone when they rarely act like actual human beings.

The entire setting is really this game’s biggest problem, since it not only affects the story but gameplay as well. Your character works as a bouncer to pay off his debts to this anti-European Britain, and each shift plays out in the same way: Manage at least one queue of people, checking their IDs and any other required information for discrepancies and then decide if they’re allowed to pass. The easiest comparison to make would be to 2003’s Papers Please, a game which Not Tonight take more than a little inspiration from. Though here, instead of deciding whether people can enter the country – or even whether they live or die – you’re mostly just managing a small group of people outside of dingy nightclubs.

For a game that themes itself around such a heavy political event, nothing in the game requires the player to think about their actions and how they’ll effect the world. The story is pretty much set in stone, where you side with the resistance group that is attempting to overthrow the government regardless of how you interact with certain characters. By the end of Not Tonight, it didn’t feel like our character had and real impact and the game sort of ends abruptly making everything feel even more meaningless.

It doesn’t help that many of the game’s mechanics fall foul of the goofy setting as well. Things start off OK, when you must check IDs to see if a person is over 18, if their ID has expired and that it has the correct markings. But later additions like banned clothing and weirdly short guests lists don’t really make much sense. Hunger and health meters are also introduced late in the game, and even though they try to make up a reason why they weren’t there from the start it just comes across as stupid.

The over-the-top setting and general mundaneness of your job as a bouncer come together to make for an incredibly repetitive game. Sure the basic concept may be similar to the aforementioned Papers Please, but unlike that game there’s nothing particularly interesting to break up the day to day work shifts. By the end of the first in-game month we were already incredibly bored, and the later months only made it worse.

At least Not Tonight delivers when it comes to fantastic visuals. The backdrops to each workplace are vibrant, features some of the best sprites we’ve seen this year. It’s one area where the goofy setting actually works in the game’s favour, allowing the artists to create some inventive areas that make the boring gameplay slightly more manageable. It’s just a shame that most of your time will be spent looking at your workspace on the bottom half of the screen instead.

Conclusion

This was always going to be a polarising game thanks to its subject matter but, even if you can ignore the heavy handed approach it takes to storytelling, Not Tonight is just not a fun game. Bland gameplay and questionable design and balance decisions make for a boring overall experience that doesn’t come close to the game it takes inspiration from. There’s definitely room for more games like Papers Please, but Not Tonight is little more than an example of what not to do in nearly every way.

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