I wish I could say I loved this game. It’s the kind of experience we need more of in our ‘Generic Knight’, beat up the bad guy era of gaming. I’m a defender of empathy games, and I love putting myself in the shoes of other people. While it doesn’t commit the cardinal sin of being boring, it does lack a clear direction. After two times playing and analyzing the game, I still can’t come close to defining the core message or possible interpretation I was supposed to take away. I will say, there are visuals in this game that will sit with me for a while, so if you’re willing to try and decipher the meaning of a piece that may be taking the piss than the visuals will be well worth your time- but perhaps not the asking price of admission.
WHAT WE LIKED
º Visuals that are simply amazing, and match the tone and feel of the story
º A game that critiques the very nature of hiding oneself in a virtual reality
º The inventory system is a superb idea when it works right.
WHAT WE DISLIKED
º The game doesn’t work the way it’s intended, and is full of backtracking bugs.
º There’s a pretentious aura to the game, and I’m still unsure if it had a point.
º Items are frustratingly hidden, leaving you wandering around for long stretches.
Between Me and The Night is the reason I dislike Early Access. When I previewed the game back in November, I fell in love with the game’s artistic merits but was displeased with the state of the build. Of course, the question is how can I be critical of something that isn’t complete? I can’t see the whole picture- don’t know the full intent- I would have to be respectful of the process. Now, Between Me and The Night is coming out of Early Access, and I can give it a full review. Sadly, nothing has changed in the past two months, and that includes the glaring problems that hamper an otherwise enjoyable and thought provoking experience.
Between Me and The Night is about a young man, journeying through adolescence, dealing with loss and disappointment, and the depression that clutches at his soul. His crutch is music, movies, and video games- the trifecta for any latchkey kid. In a very Calvin and Hobbes type way, our protagonist imagines himself a knight, defending the world against- you know, it’s hard to say. Either way, it’s his escape from the world that doesn’t directly say but heavily implies an unfair shake. His family seems angry and dysfunctional, school kids bully him, and life hands him nothing but hardship. Your job is to walk around your home and school, piecing together the puzzle of your life. The game uses a very simple inventory system that limits a certain size and number of items and presents puzzles to solve before proceeding.
Acts are concluded when your character is sucked into a monolithic arcade cabinet, transporting you to a snowy realm where you must battle archers and axemen who stand between you and the castle. The game’s controls suddenly feel faster, and the focus becomes attacking and defending as opposed to searching the environment. These sections will make you feel powerful and is an exciting transition away from the more methodical sections proceeding it.
Now, while I enjoyed the experience, I didn’t feel like the message of the game was focused. Naturally, the player is supposed to feel awkward, escaping life by playing a game like our depressed ‘hero’, but outside of that, there’re some real questions as to what the designers were going for. There’s elements of birth trauma, questioning of reality and the like- but nothing that stands out as a full answer. This is the second time I’ve played the game, and outside of these vague ideas, I couldn’t tell you much more than that. There’re tapes from someone who’s concerned about your well being, but it doesn’t explain who they are. There’s a scene where you rescue a girl from people who turn into spiders, which visually looks awesome, but left me questioning if it truly meant anything, or was more like a fever dream.
Perhaps I wasn’t paying enough attention, and I looked over some of the most subtle clues. Some of the game just feels like it’s more style over substance, like when a giant head manifests itself down the hall and begins pulling on the rug as if it were swallowing his enormous tongue. Sure, it was bizarre and guaranteed to give me nightmares the next time I have a long party night, but what does it mean? That’s not to say there aren’t thoughtful allusions; I loved finding your mom’s vanity mirror and depression medication wherever you go. These small touches do fill in some gaps, but I still feel like I was left with more questions than answers when I completed the very short experience. Also, the ending is very disappointing and abrupt. If you didn’t have bugs to deal with, you could probably beat this game in a few hours.
And yes, there are bugs. In what I can only describe as a complete shirk, the developers have not corrected any of the glaring problems I found on my first playthrough of the game. Essential items will pop out of your inventory and into an inaccessible area of the map, forcing you to restart the entire chapter again. Some items, when retrieved from your inventory, will yield a sprite sheet instead of the single item. If you walk into an area and return to others, you’ll suddenly find yourself in the background, or unable to interact with anything on the screen. Simply put, the game has invisible hurdles, that will mess up your game, and force you to replay your last ten minutes. Sometimes, you’ll even know where there’s a glitch, helplessly trying your best to avoid yet another restart. For example, I had a book that I was attempting to put on a bookshelf and found that if I stood on the table, instead of the chair, I would lose that item and be forced to start over again.
The other problem I have is the level of vagueness on what your next goal is. For example- you walk into a room to see an explosion. When you’re given back controls, you’re expected to find two small items that came off of the structure. One of the items locations isn’t so bad- but the other is put into a place that perfectly blends with the environment. For another item, it’s hidden behind a cabinet, with only a sliver of the object being able to be seen before you retrieve it. This doesn’t create an enjoyable experience, and only has the player wandering around the house in frustrated confusion. I feel art should flow as unimpeded as possible; so don’t put items in areas you know might get overlooked and waste my time.
When it comes to the game’s visuals, they’re out of this world. They remind me of the classic game ‘Another World.’ The polygonal art design is top notch, and the color palette is exceptional. The locations transition through the day (a little too quickly), providing familiar areas with the orange glow of sunrise and blue hue of a rainy day. Creatures are spectacular and have so much thought and imagination to them. I really can’t say anything critical about how wonderful and poignant the delivery of the art style is. If I were to review games on their looks alone, this would be a contender for game of the year.
Audio is also another high mark, utilizing a beautifully, somber dirge that flows through the game’s narrative. When you’re transported into the world of armor and swords, the game shifts its tone and becomes more soothing and cathartic. Even the game’s throwaway music, like an album you can put on in your family’s living room, sounds fantastic and works well with the themes of the game.
I guess if I had to give Between Me and The Night my recommendation or not, I would say if this game interests you in the least then you should probably pick it up. The asking price is a little too high for me, as most will complete the game in three to four hours. It may not be as subtextual as Braid or Ico, but the visuals make it stand out as a group of developers that’s worth watching. While this may not be a grand slam, it did provide me with a nice bit of emotions and gave me something to ponder when it was all said and done.