Mightnight Nowhere is a point-and-click horror story from the developers of Jazz and Faust, Russia's Saturn Plus. The adventure begins as players take the leading role of a man who has just awakened in a morgue, surrounded by unceremoniously strewn cadavers, with no recollection of who he is or why he is there. In his long journey toward finding answers, the unfortunate hero faces a variety of puzzles, and interactions with a number of strange characters, in more than 60 different environments. The game features fully animated 3D characters against hand-designed interactive backgrounds. High-resolution cut-scenes help move the story forward at key points.
In the spring of 2019, the City of Black Lake is locked in the grip of fear. In less than a month, the gruesome murders of 78 people by a serial killer have left the inhabitants panicked and the authorities at a loss. Sparked by mass evacuations and the need to catch the killer, the town is sealed off and all evacuees detained in special quarantine centers in the hopes of catching the person or persons responsible. Our hero awakens in the morgue inside a body bag with no recollection of how he came to be there or who he is. (I wish I could remember how many times I've played an amnesiac.) Welcome to Midnight Nowhere.
Traditional point and click with a third-person perspective, Midnight Nowhere is the latest game from Saturn+, who also brought us Jazz and Faust. The game's premise - figure out who you are and what's been happening and get out of your current predicament - is a simple one, but don't let that simplicity fool you. On the way to puzzling various conundrums, you'll witness vast amounts of carnage, gore, nudity and some truly odd attempts at twisted humor. This ain't yo' mama's adventure game, so viewer discretion is advised.
Gameplay consists of the usual adventure gaming suspects: riffling through desk drawers, reading other people's mail, chatting up a few NPCs, frisking lots of dead bodies and hunting up keys ... lots of keys. You won't find sliders, mazes, towers of Hanoi or variations on memory games, just a treasure trove of doors needing keys. (There's even that old paper-under-the-door-poke-the-key-out-from-the-other-side-with-a-pointy-object "puzzle"!) You'll spend so much time looking for keys even the hero of the game will comment on all the locked doors. I think they should have called the game Doors to Nowhere or Key Hunt because that's how I felt after the umpteenth hunt for yet another key to open yet another locked door.
Oddly, movement in Midnight Nowhere is node-based - the cursor changes into a glowing green arrow - instead of the scrolling or panning usually associated with third-person games. As a matter of fact, there is no panning at all in this game. It's as if the game originally started out as first-person and somewhere along the way they slapped an avatar in front of the backgrounds. Literally. There were times I couldn't see where on the myriad bodies I was searching because our intrepid hero was always standing directly in front of whatever I needed to see, which brings us to the first nit to pick: hotspots.
Midnight Nowhere's hotspots are plentiful - some objects even have multiple hotspots - but they're not always conducive to helping you solve the issue at hand. Instead of the newer interactive cursor, the game is something of a throwback to "days of yore" in that it offers four icons that you manually choose in order to interact with your surroundings: look, talk, pick up, and touch/use. (Later in the game, you'll receive a PDA as a fifth icon.) What would normally be a good thing - lots of objects and bodies to search - is turned into a tedious click-fest due to the fact that if you don't have the correct icon selected, you won't get a hotspot "hit." There were a number of times where I knew what needed to be done, but the odd comments from the hero coupled with the icon issue invariably convinced me that my logic was flawed and halted my progress. In a couple of instances, not even having a walkthrough helped negate the problem.
I mentioned finding a PDA. Its purpose in the game is to record various clues as you progress through the rest of the game; however, be warned that it only records about 5% of the clues in the game, and whoever provided the handwriting for it used his feet and a fried chicken claw as writing implements. In one instance, the code for a door (what else?) is recorded incorrectly, causing all manner of violence on the part of this gamer. With another clue, at least one of the numbers appears to be written backwards!
Visually, Midnight Nowhere is ... pretty ... what an odd adjective given the game's sinister undertones. The prerendered backgrounds are almost photorealistic and wonderfully dark and foreboding. Gallows humor posters are prevalent throughout the corridors; rooms are shrouded in shadow, ransacked and bloodstained. In one room, a large blood smear went on for three screens, and I wasn't sure I wanted to find out what made the smear. Speaking of posters, I should mention that some of the posters are soft porn in nature, and I still haven't figured out why. I'm pretty sure in most metropolitan morgues, you won't find posters of naked women decorating the hallways, but I could be wrong. Was I offended? Not in the least; although I'm still trying to figure out what they had to do with the story.
Music for the most part is unobtrusive and pretty much in keeping with the dark, edgy story. I ran into a couple of places where the music was incredibly loud, drowning out all of the speech, and nothing I did would fix the problem. That's when I noticed that the music was on a short loop, and it got truly annoying. Good thing the subtitles are on as a default. Ambient sounds are appropriate and well done.
Voice work for Midnight Nowhere isn't bad. (One NPC does a horrible Edward G. Robinson imitation by ending all his sentences with "see?" He'd apparently watched the movie Little Caesar one too many times.) Considering our hero is suffering from amnesia and surrounded by death and destruction, the guy who voices the protagonist remains fairly calm. He even has the presence of mind to make bad jokes and tasteless comments. I don't know if the comments were lost in translation or it was just the strange humor of the developers, but it seemed as if a lot of the comments made were in answer to some unheard conversation.
Apart from the first paragraph, have you noticed that I haven't said much about the story itself? It's tough to talk about this game in specifics without giving away some of the story. When I wasn't fighting the interface, I thought Midnight Nowhere sported a decent narrative. Sure, it had plot holes big enough for a double tractor-trailer truck, but it still had a twisted, gritty slant to it. No talking rabbits, visitations by aliens or slackers looking for love in all the wrong places.
Unfortunately, having to battle the interface made the game tedious, and I lost interest about a third of the way through. Taking several days' break from the game didn't improve my experience any, as I'd lost what little curiosity remained. And that's a shame, because Midnight Nowhere started out with promise and then slowly fizzled into a dud. Luckily, the pretty graphics and curious plot line helped the game.
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