NIGHT SHIFT

Gaming Buzz

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.

6/10

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Some thoughts on the Stasis Alpha!

Scary Thoughts

So only a few days ago the Alpha demo for Stasis was released – a little known indie horror title that’s just started it’s own bid for Kickstarter success – and I decided to give it a go. I was pleasantly surprised.

(That wasn’t the end of the preview, fyi…)

Stasis is a sort of old-school isometric point-and-click game, I think the closest point of reference (and one that the developer actually uses) is Sanitarium, a similar sort of point-and-click psychological horror game from the 90’s, and though I haven’t played Sanitarium myself I’ve seen enough of it to know there’s a resemblance. If you’re familiar with point and click games (stuff like Monkey Island and Simon the Sorcerer) and the use of 2D pre-rendered isometric perspective in games (RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment used this perspective, but action games like Crusader: No Remorse also did) then you should be able to imagine what it looks like, as it’s sort of a mix of the mechanics from the first with the perspective and control of the second.  

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With that said, neither of those reference points does the game justice, as it literally oozes atmosphere. Stasis is a straight-up horror game but one that seemingly borrows more from slow, suspenseful horror than what we’ve come to associate with horror games – item management, jump scares and violent altercations with queues of freakish monsters. Though I get the sense from the media that’s been released for the game that combat may figure later on it definitely seems as though a heavy emphasis has been placed on telling the story more through mood, atmosphere and environmental design than explosive action.

And I’ve got to say I quite like it.

Though the Alpha did leave me a little frustrated at times, anxiously sweeping my cursor round the environment, looking for items I may have missed (a pretty common problem with anything point-and-click) I generally came away feeling unsettled and tense after what I played. There’s a heavy atmosphere to the demo, right from the get go: a very pretty intro cinematic sets the scene before leading into the start of the game, where you’re dropped out of stasis a little worse for wear and immediately find yourself struggling to survive. Your character, knows who he is, but little about the dank, dark, ship’s interior he finds stretching out before him, but he knows from the ship’s systems relaying his condition that he needs medical attention immediately, and that gives you your first, desperate, objective.

As I’ve said the game is 2D, atleast it’s pre-rendered, and the environments are more like very attractive paintings than just locations to move through; I often found myself stopping in a room just to look around. In that sense I think the look of the game does stand out from a lot of other horror games, and indeed games in general. The art style is sort of dark but relatively photo-realistic, environments are very pretty though – there’s a good mix of light and dark, and despite being dark and ok, sort of murky, it all looks very nice.

I’ve never been very observant about sound, despite how affective it can be, but I did find the sounds of the ship contributed significantly to the atmosphere, as did the vocals of the few voice actors. I also thought the broken English of your plug suit and the ship’s systems was very effective at conveying how alone you are. Both the graphics and the sound really worked well, as far as I’m concerned.

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I definitely think this is one of those games that a lot of people aren’t going to like – there weren’t any ‘weapons’ as such in the demo, it was very slow-paced, and there wasn’t all that much to do aside from progressing through the puzzles to reach each new slither of story, and I definitely think that will turn a lot of people off. It’s no Dear Esther though, you do do stuff, I think it’s just more about the story and the atmosphere than how many clicks you make. You don’t collect hundreds of items or gun-down rows of assailants, instead you explore this very creepy, very atmospheric ship’s interior, and the story slowly unfolds before you as you do so.

It’s a nice change of pace for a horror game frankly, and so far I’m interested enough for me to want to see more of Stasis, especially considering among it’s cited influences are Alien and Event Horizon.

While it’s still an Alpha, and presumably aspects will have changed by the time the full-game is released, what I played was enjoyable enough to get me interested in the game; it’s also nice to see indie games expanding into genres that used to be quite popular but have fallen by the wayside over the years. Hopefully Stasis reaches release and proves that even just pointing and clicking can be a terrifying experience sometimes…