If Ryan Gosling liked puzzles
In 1990 LucasArt’s released a game called Night Shift. It was an unusual platforming game set in an eccentric toy store. This review is not about that game, so we just need to accept this and move on with our lives.
This Night Shift is a driving puzzle game. That description may be straightforward, the game itself is not. Though it can be obtuse, its mysterious ambience keeps the player driving.
There’s a brief silent opening narration. Darkness has set across the land and it’s up to you to find the light. That’s the goal, but whether it’s the goal of the driver or the car itself, I’m not sure. I felt more like the car than the driver, as if Knight Rider‘s Kitt became very philosophical.
The driving controls are simple, but they work fine. The only options are accelerating forward, reversing, and turning. There is partial controller support, and that seems to be the way to go. With the digital input of a keyboard, it’s either full acceleration or nothing, so the only way to control speed is tapping. Holding the accelerate key causes the car to move too quickly and pressing the key in bursts results in it jerking forward.
Night Shift does not offer the most complex puzzles, but it doesn’t hold the player’s hand either. This is apparent from the moment it officially begins: I was driving with no clear direction and suddenly realized I was in a puzzle. While this can be an interesting take on introducing the player to the story and gameplay, it felt a little too vague for my tastes initially. The puzzles reinforce the fusion of something otherworldly, yet human in the terrain. Sometimes I was wandering aimlessly, finding ghosts, flashing them with the headlights, smashing through them to help trees grow, all the while trying to figure out if I was supposed to keep doing it or try something else.
A lot of the screenshots look similar to one another because the heads-up display takes up a lot of the screen. The dashboard does have little added touches, such as a speedometer or other animations that give life to the motorized shell the player sees the world from. It’s lonely out there on the road, but there is life to be found in random moments of luminosity.
The graphics are simplistic but evocative of Driver and other neo-noir Giorgio Moroder backdrops, though the environment is more like a barren Mad Max meets Cabin in the Woods landscape. Without the music and sound design, it may have been less tolerable to keep playing. Dance with the Dead’s music hits from the menu screen, and it sounds great throughout.
This is a game I’d recommend spending $4.99 on whilst watching Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace on a Friday night with the lights down. It will be interesting to see what is next from developer Brandon Brizzi, as Night Shift is a unique entity with an unusual style of player awareness. It uses its original story and turns it into an almost haunting Driver game homage.