Should’ve called out
Full motion video games combine two of my favorite mediums in a fun way. But the combination admittedly makes it hard to tackle with a critique. Do I approach with the intention of critiquing it as I would a film, or would I need to focus on the aspects a game review would pinpoint?
Luckily with Late Shift, I didn’t have to think on it too much. With slim inclusions of what could be conventionally considered “gameplay,” I had no choice but to really dig into the near-cinematic narrative…for better or worse.
Late Shift (PC, Xbox One, PS4 [reviewed])
Publisher: Wales Interactive
Release: April 18, 2017
Matt (Joe Sowerbutts), is a parking lot attendant obsessed with mathematics, probability, and game theory. On what seemed like a typical night on the job, he’s threatened at gun point when a thief botches a robbery and forces him to drive the getaway car. Matt then finds himself wrapped up in a story with the Chinese triad, an auction heist, the mysterious May Ling (Haruka Abe), and many other rough situations during this very long night. It’s up to the player to decide how to proceed through these endeavors, and each choice can theoretically lead to a “good” or “bad” end.
In terms of actual gameplay, there isn’t much interactivity to be found here. The minimalist presentation works well to emphasize the story in progress, but it unfortunately downplays how much work went into the cinematic presentation of the video. It’s jarring to see how high the video’s budget is in some places when its juxtaposed with the game’s option-less menu. In essence, playing through Late Shift felt like I was watching the Final Destination 3 DVD’s “choose your path” feature where I’d occasionally press a button here or there and see events unfold. Though choices pop up more frequently than you’d find in a cheap home video extra, the lack of pop hinders their necessity. Doubling on this, there is no punishment for inaction as the video will just choose an option for you if you either can’t make up your mind in time or just flatly refuse to.
The option to watch Late Shift as a feature film is nice, but it also highlights my main issue with it. As much as it touts its multiple endings, choices often don’t have a major effect on the narrative. During one of my three playthroughs I intentionally tried to sabotage Matt. So basically, I made all of the worst decisions possible to test how far Late Shift would let me go. Unfortunately, the narrative follows the same beats regardless of how Matt gets there. There are the deviations from the norm but, to callback to the DVD simile, it felt as if I were watching extended or deleted scenes cut from the final product because they didn’t work so well. Rather than earn multiple endings as a reward, it often seemed like I stumbled upon them.
Late Shift‘s narrative moving to the same key points, regardless of choice, wouldn’t have bothered me so much had the production held it together throughout. The plot is a bit disjointed, and never quite gels together. This is further encumbered by its characterization. Some choices will make Matt act wildly different from the rest of the video, so it’s a bit hard to build an interest with this main character when his personality is so directly influenced. This also isn’t helped by the video’s pointed dialogue. For example, some scenes Matt thinks to himself about the nature of decision making and it definitely took me out of the moment as no normal person would speak that way, video game, film, or otherwise.
On one hand, Late Shift is an interesting foray into a genre little explored now, is well-acted, and doesn’t overstay its welcome, but on the other, its disjointed nature makes it hard to really dig into it.
This is especially tough to accept as Late Shift begs for multiple runs, but doesn’t make it easy to do so. With neither an ability to skip scenes you’ve already seen, nor to select specific chapters, you’d need to be fully invested in the video’s story in order to push through to see it all.
Late Shift is interesting enough on its first go around, but without reward in its narrative or punishment in its gameplay, there’s not enough reason to go back.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]