Imagine you’re in great britain right when the UK Leave vote happened and it was decided everyone who was not british within 2 generations has to leave the country or live under the hardest restrictions being a Euro. Not Tonight does not shy away from politics, statements and obvious analogies to the real world while being also a fun game of course at the same time. Being a bouncer ain’t easy and especially if everyone around you suddenly treats you like you’re the enemy of the state, although you’ve lived all your young live in the country that now wants to have you out by the end of the month if you don’t meet the criteria that are subject to the officials.
Not Tonight is the story of a character that you can pick yourself. You start the game with some basic character selection from which you can pick a backstory, a tone of voice (male/female grunting sounds really) and a basic look of your character that you’re going to play as. After that, the game goes right into the gameplay. Your job is to check the tickets for the new years eve ball, which marks already one important detail of the game: dates and times, but more about that later. After you’ve spotted a few tickets, suddenly, EXPLOSION, death and drama enfolds! Until the screen fades and sets you back from December 31st 2018 to January 1st 2018. The day your letter announcing you have to be deported from the country arrived. Now it is up to you to work a lot to afford a life in the country that is still your home in your heart, but not on the paper anymore.
Very similar to what we’ve seen with Papers, please!, Not Tonight has you work as a bouncer for night clubs with a lot of criteria that you have to check upon before letting people into their venues. In a point and click adventure way you’re walking by selection highlighted markers on your ground and while doing your main task you’re just taking IDs from clients on your notepad and handing them out again. Maybe this game will even find its way to mobile devices in the future. It is certainly equipped for the input options.
Now checking IDs and letting people in OR sending them away starts of very easy at first: people need to be older than 18. Here comes the special setting of the game in and makes this criteria very easy to deal with, as the game is starting on January 1st 2018, everyone with a birthdate that starts with 19xx is of course automatically older than 18. Easy, right? Once the first few people are in and you got your shift done, you’ll be paid and can go back home again.
Over the coming days, your job gets more and more difficult, having to not only look if a person is old enough, but also if their ID is not expired yet, if the flag of the person’s origin is on the ID and also if the hologram mark is on the ID. More and more things are important parts of your job and while I sit here, after my day job, after my gym session, now actually pretending to do more work as a bouncer for a night club I have to say: this is really refreshing and actually even fun. Yes, the mental effort of checking back and forth dates, colors and later also things like a guestlist for example and multiple queues get your brain quite under moderate stress. Yet also it’s a good challenge and with enough time between checks you’ll manage to not only hit the criteria of the night for minimum people being correctly into the night club, you’ll also manage to allow more people to unlock a bonus for your payment. Nice.
Here’s a thing though, if you send a person away that should have gotten entry, you’re also getting a penalty. Like… how does my boss know? Did he check the IDs himself again too? What the hell is my job then anyway? Or maybe… the person just complained at my boss afterwards and had to be given entry anyway. Who knows, just a thing I stumbled upon.
Once you get paid, you really need to work out your next steps. Are you going to save it all, or are you improving your living situation? Maybe new fancier clothes get you more respect with queue clients and less talk backs when declining entry? At the end of the month you need to smear the officials so you can stay in the country! So many decisions, only so many things you can do to survive and improve your life at the same time. It doesn’t help that people want to give you something extra when you should decline someone in line. Is the risk really worth it? The first time having someone enter falsely is without repercussions, but if I do a 2nd mistake I get less payment because of it. Not Tonight really makes me think about my economic decisions in this game and makes me think twice if I really want the new jacket that makes me look so much more like a proper bouncer.
The other side of Not Tonight
But of course, Not Tonight is not only a simulation of being a nightclub bouncer. As I said before, you’ll also have to deal with the officials, learning to manage to meet their expectations for being allowed to live in the country and even more. People are coming by and talking about their partners that will eventually stand in your queue at night and you’ll have to decide if you want your personal ties mess with your professional guidelines. The mobile phone that is also part of your gameplay interaction has several apps on it like text messages that will announce upcoming checks, but also opportunities that will be unlocked in the so called BOUNCR app which you use to unlock jobs. There’s even a news app that outlines the often very close to the real world events that are happening in this game and last but not least there’s also a shopping app called SHOPR which offers enough opportunities to upgrade your wardrobe, flat and mobile phone.
So there you are, you’re considered due for an exportation and yet you still are in the country, trying your best to earn lots of money through bouncing all night, trying to keep the officials away from your neck that just wait for you to mess up and also trying to be a good person to your neighbours. Not tonight tries to balance out both the stressing reality of a tough mental job and the stress that comes from being considered an outsider and unwanted guest in a country that is still your home in your mind and heart.
Meanwhile, even a resistance is building up, having people trying to revoke the leave vote and having the Euros being considered as one of their own again from the protestors. As I started this review out above, it does get quite political in Not Tonight.
But regardless of the bigger picture in the background, also smaller stories find their way in Not Tonight. Such as the underage Shannon that tries to sneak in as so many different people, like her pretending to be her older sister, while still using the same ID, or Viklav who just wants to dance and drink while his wife asked you to keep him out of the clubs. So many stories have quite awesome resolutions and sometimes the items that you can get when you become the head bouncer of a club will help you later in the game. Just experiment and see what happens when you give the ShopR lady something you’ve acquired while playing. It’s a nice world building element that sometimes characters are not necessarily a big part in a game, but still uplifting and interesting to the whole product.
No Shannon, just because you’re pretending to be French doesn’t let you become magically older than 18!
Looks and Sounds
Not Tonight mostly only has music when you’re at work and even then you can’t really enjoy it of course because the music is inside and you’re outside of the venue checking IDs. The music is still audible but filtered, which gives a fitting impression of when standing outside actually. The music that is there in Not Tonight is not annoying and not too boring, so it fits quite well to the high concentration that you want to keep up in order to do your work properly. The game sounds are proper implemented, of high quality and fitting when used. The most interesting aspect of course are the noises all the characters make when talking to you or when you’re talking yourself. The game does not use narration and only advances the narrative through text. It does however still feature a quite large range of voice actors that all have used their time and talent to mumble some “uh hu”, “mhm” and “ah” noises into the microphone. Especially when you send a potential client away because of a problem with their ID, everyone sounds quite distinct from each other.
The world of Not Tonight is looking excellent. It is quite a gritty world that you have to navigate through and while looking simplified, the 16-bit style graphics that just charmed me in titles like Party Hard, also works quite well here in Not Tonight. Especially considering that you have to start to check faces against their passport pictures at some point later in the game and you’ll actually want the simplest faces to compare against each other. The different bars and in general locations are looking very well with proper designed lighting and environmental constructs as well.
Not Tonight is supposed to take 12 hours to finish and I sadly only managed to log in around 4 hours so far. The game has a huge revolution story going on behind it and I was super close to dig deeper into it. Sadly I could not yet report back about this part and so I have to leave you with my impressions of what I’ve seen so far and I gotta say: damn right this game deserves your attention!
If you liked Papers, Please! This game is for you! If you like challenging gameplay and depressing stories, that’s also for you!