Review: NightCry


Basically unplayable

It seems lately we're in the Renaissance period for nostalgia and reimaginings of successful properties from the '90s. NightCry is one such game among this movement, the spiritual successor to the Clock Tower horror series which garnered over $300K on Kickstarter a little over a year ago.

A little over a year you say? What a quick turnaround for an indie Kickstarter with a decent budget! I thought the same to myself, and after playing through it, the timing seems to make so much sense now. It's clear that NightCry is not in a good state, or really, any playable state at all.

NightCry (PC)
Developer: Nude Maker
Publisher: Playism
Released: March 29, 2016
MSRP: $24.99

Before we get into the nasty bits, let's review what this game is about. Something strange and horrific is afoot on the cruise liner Oceanus, and three daring passengers work to escape the horrors of scissor-wielding monsters and other creepy occult happenings. Players control a different character during each chapter, wherein each one must be navigated in the right way to make it to the next, with multiple endings scattered throughout the game.

Gameplay consists of exploration via point and click, and light puzzle-solving mechanisms via an inventory system. Monsters appear at various points, which you must hide from or avoid to progress. Mini-games can also trigger during these moments, in which the player needs to move or click their mouse as indicated on-screen or face death. For the most part, NightCry relies on your ability to solve puzzles, grab certain items, run from monsters without losing stamina, hide from them, and avoid getting caught by other enemies.

Despite several post-launch updates, NightCry is still largely unplayable. In my first attempt, I couldn't even access my inventory -- I had to repeatedly restart until it finally triggered. The game also crashed in the second chapter, causing me to lose a huge chunk of progress. Even if the bugs were smoothed out, the basic mechanics are a huge wash. The general pacing of everything is too slow, from the dialogue to the movement. And it's riddled -- just insanely riddled -- with bad mechanics and bugs.

Because NightCry is a point-and-click game set up in an intricate 3D environment, the controls are almost impossible to navigate. Its unique camera angles and spaces are designed for explorative movement, but in the same stroke provide a barrier for the control scheme. The way this is set up causes your character to make unexpected turns and pause mid-movement, which is a huge roadblock in a horror game designed to make you run, hide, and avoid monsters as the central mechanic. Many, many times when I was fleeing, my character would freeze up or turn in the opposite direction, causing instant death. It's beyond frustrating, and makes the experience practically unplayable.

It's a shame the controls are so shoddy, because I actually really enjoyed the different perspectives and camera angles. Sometimes it would show the scene from up high, or from a ground angle, which gave the game a deeper, more cinematic feel. Sadly, because it's not guidable by the player or implemented well with the mechanics, it caused invisible walls that hindered me from moving about rooms or running from monsters. In one scene, it took over 10 times to escape because the clicking wasn't registering from a certain angle, preventing my character from getting to the next room. I eventually made it through but only because it finally restarted from a different camera angle, allowing me to progress.

Item management is also quite frustrating as it forces you to drag and drop items into the environment to solve puzzles, instead of clicking the item onto a specified area. This normally wouldn't be a huge complaint, but it was broken -- half the time, the dragging didn't register which caused the game to think I was trying to just "use" the item in general, causing my character to annoyingly state "I can't use this here." Attempting to drag an item up to three or four times before it actually worked and hearing that phrase over and over again was quite a charming experience.

The other main gameplay experiences are quite enjoyable by comparison -- when being chased by a Scissorman, the flagship monster, you can utilize a reverse camera which shows exactly how far behind said monster is. If captured, the game allows you a chance to escape via clicking on a certain area of the screen extremely fast, and when hiding you must match your mouse movements to a heartbeat icon to avoid being found. I also enjoyed the smartphone mechanics -- while playing, you can choose to open up the smartphone to call people or receive calls, as well as look at your social media page and post updates. It's not fully functional (i.e., you can't just post whatever you want or whenever you want), but it added some interesting flavor. These moments are properly executed and fun to play but sadly are too few and far between to shine any light on an otherwise negative experience.

I had originally thought that the lack of voice acting was a bug, but after restarting a few times, I realized this was intentional. Only cutscenes deliver actual voice to the dialogue, leaving the casual scenes without any vocal performances. This normally wouldn't be a huge deal seeing as it's an indie game, but it delivers the text visually as if it's being spoken out loud -- it's paused, slow, and the characters still go through their hand motions. This doesn't just create an unpolished experience, it also makes the dialogue drag on. The characters' facial models don't even move their mouths with the dialogue, regardless of whether or not it is voiced, so I'm not sure why they even bothered to have voice acting in the first place. The acting isn't exactly top notch, and coupled with writing akin to Deadly Premonition, it's more of a mockery than anything else. This isn't necessarily a bad thing if you enjoy that style of horror game, which I do, so I delighted in the weirdness of it all.

There are loading screens everywhere in NightCry -- from the menu pages (including the sparse options page) to minor in-engine cutscenes. They're unavoidable and bog down the experience, which is a shame when it comes to horror games as there's an element of environment and atmosphere that should be maintained. This is further drawn out every time you die as you have to reload the last save point, which is almost always before a cutscene, forcing you to wait through multiple load screens before resuming. And because the controls are so hit-or-miss, it's nearly guaranteed you won't make it through on your first, second, or third try. Welcome to die!

There are also many convoluted dead ends you can encounter in NightCry, which would normally be interesting to experience, but become a huge chore and disappointment due the game's core issues. From choosing the wrong hiding place, to entering an area without having a particular item, to even just opening a door, you never know what will actually net you a game over -- and it's not based on any particular logic besides "don't do that thing you just did again." I once hid in a dryer to escape a monster, and he promptly turned the dryer on which splattered my guts everywhere. Hilarious? Yes. Frustrating? Even more so, because of the aforementioned save state, loading times, and control issues.

Practically all of the puzzles I encountered were not intuitive at all. There are moments where NightCry wants you to clearly take an action but it's hard to tell if you should be running, or sitting still, or using an item -- it's totally arbitrary and based on a lot of guesswork. This is furthered by the fact that the actionable areas on the screen are indicated by tiny circles which do not appear at all until moused over, and are extremely easy to overlook or miss. I had to look up guides for practically the entire game to make it through as a lot of the mechanisms to move the plot forward aren't connected well.

General progression in the game is akin to reading a janky book. Sometimes you have to talk to an NPC two, three, four...sometimes five or more times for something in the plot to just click and open up before you can move forward. The same thing goes for items and areas, so if you see something on the ground and click it, the character won't necessarily pick it up that first time. Sometimes you have to click it twice or three times for them to grab it, which causes confusion as to whether or not that item is important or is even usable.

In order to make it to the end, you must complete certain small but key events -- for example, finding a particular item or sending a message through your smartphone. Not discovering one of these things will lead to your demise, sometimes hours after you didn't trigger said event. Due to one of these requirements and a game-breaking bug, I wasn't able to complete NightCry in its entirety as one of the pieces I needed to find was undiscoverable throughout my gameplay. This lead my game to end abruptly at the end of the second chapter, hours later. Despite restarting the entire thing again, the bug persisted, making it impossible to progress through the rest of the story.

Even if this bug wasn't present, there are major issues with the fact that NightCry even allows you to progress through when your game has already clearly ended due to a mistake made hours earlier. Some would argue that this is the point of a title with multiple endings, which I'd normally agree with -- however the endings don't really seem to be tied to any of the triggers you're meant to hit early on, coupled with the fact that they're fairly short and absent of any real substance. Regardless, NightCry is too clunky and difficult to play multiple times to warrant the "replay to achieve different results" style it's aiming for.

Some fans may point to my critiques and wave the "but, nostalgia!" flag. I am here to tell you, as an avid nostalgic game mechanic supporter who has reviewed other titles facing similar design critiques, this is no excuse for NightCry. The basics just don't work as designed. There is no "trick" or older gameplay mechanic to get used to -- it's simply broken. Perhaps if the mechanics were smoother, more responsive, less janky, and less likely to do the opposite of what or where you clicked, it would be forgivable. But none of these things are true, not even really half of the time. The struggle is real here, and no amount of nostalgia can cover that fact.

It's a shame that there are so many fundamental gameplay issues, because NightCry really does have a lot of potential. There are definitely promising concepts with the plot, multiple endings, and unique horror gameplay elements, but it's all overshadowed by the bugginess of everything else. As one Steam reviewer eloquently put, "it needs more time in the oven."

At it stands, I can't recommend anyone play NightCry unless you have a steel resolve, unlimited time on your hands, and a penchant for terrible physics and animations straight out of the PS2 era. If some of the major issues are resolved via patches, I would personally love to give it another go, but for the rest of you, I would wait a while until the game is more fleshed out (the developers truly seem to be working hard on the bugs as seen in the Steam forums). Or hey, make a game out of it and see which of your friends can make it to the end first without throwing their keyboard.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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NightCry reviewed by Caitlin Cooke



Any good they might have had are quickly swallowed up by a plethora of issues. The desperate or the gullible may find a glimmer of fun hidden somewhere in the pit.
How we score:  The Destructoid reviews guide


Caitlin Cooke
Caitlin Cookebzzt clck whrr   gamer profile

Dtoid's sporadic review, preview, and events writer. "Without the looming consequence of death, is this even science?"  more + disclosures



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