I really can’t keep the name straight
Violence in video games gets better and better as the years go on. I thought it was cool when you could shoot the hats off of enemies in GoldenEye and the guns out of their hands in Perfect Dark but now… wait, those things are still cool. Why aren’t they done more often?
Anyway, video games have done ballistic violence well for decades, but physical violence only seems to have gotten enjoyable around the time of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Or was it Assassin’s Creed? It’s that punch-parry-throw combat that makes you feel powerful and helps the action flow more cinematically. Maybe you’re just smashing buttons when the game prompts you to, but it feels impactful.
Midnight Fight Express is, concisely, that. It’s a beat-’em-up that features a similar combat system while adding a few twists of its own.
Thugs have taken over the city, and you’re an amnesiac protagonist who really likes the feeling of bone breaking against their knuckles. You’re guided by a drone that coyly tells you they know everything but tells you absolutely nothing. That’s okay! Who needs motivation when you have fists?
Midnight Fight Express is a level-by-level beat-’em-up. You know the type: you walk into a room, and all the doors get kicked in, signaling another wave of thugs. It’s probably better that they don’t knock since Midnight Fight Express is constantly judging you and will score you at completion. The best way to rev up your score is to keep your combo going. Mercifully, that isn’t a matter of avoiding pain but rather just keeping up a solid pace and not dying.
That’s maybe oversimplifying the overall design, but Midnight Fight Express isn’t a particularly deep game. It has its sights set on Hotline Miami and John Wick. It wants to be fast and messy, and it largely succeeds.
Midnight Flight Express
Each level presents something new. The locations are your typical city fighting spots, like subway tunnels and an airport. Gangs are swapped out as you proceed, so you go from fighting mutant rat people to corrupted priests. Some levels get a bit creative, and then some others get a bit annoying. There’s this one where motorcycle dudes drive in circles trying to run you down. They’re easy to take out if you have a gun, but if they run into a wall, they explode, potentially killing you outright. It’s just annoying and doesn’t tie into the combat system at all.
One issue with the combat is that a lot of it is locked behind upgrades. Most of the parries, for example. And it’s really unintuitive when you can parry somebody when they are unarmed, but not when they have a weapon until that ability is unlocked. You can never parry everything, which feels like it makes sense, but to have some of it merely locked away is unsatisfying. It also means that you need to go back to previous levels so you can get S ranks with your new repertoire of moves.
The skills also range from indispensable to detrimental. Finishers, for example, allow you to stylishly take down stunned foes. However, I stopped using throws pretty quickly because they can be easily interrupted and sometimes feel like they arbitrarily won’t work on some foes. Enemies back off while you perform a finisher, but grappling leaves you wide open. It doesn’t feel worth it.
Murder Fight Express
That’s not to say you can’t get into the flow of Midnight Fight Express. There’s definitely a learning curve here, and it feels rewarding to keep improving. Learning to cycle between dodging, attacking, and tossing weapons can lead to some great moments. Moments that Midnight Fight Express turns into gifs you can save after each level.
There’s also a favorite combat feature of mine: targeting priority. Some enemies carry the risk of dealing more damage than others, and you need to learn to deal with the most imminent threat. You need to spot enemies with guns and handle them first, or maybe it’s better to take out the little guy with the sledgehammer so you can better take on the bigger fish.
The point is, when Midnight Fight Express works, it really works. But when it doesn’t, it can be frustrating. Boss battles, in particular, really grilled me. A lot of your moves just don’t work on them, so you’re down to light attack, heavy attack, and dodge. If you’re lucky, there are weapons in the environment, but I always had more fun taking down hordes of thugs.
Fight Night Express
Speaking of getting grilled, the writing really got on my nerves. I’m already not a fan of the amnesiac hero angle, but then everyone acts coy with you for the entirety of the game. Yes, providing bits and pieces of exposition throughout the narrative is an effective way of storytelling. However, when the characters are constantly telling you that you don’t know the whole story, but they aren’t going to tell you, it’s easy to just lose interest. It doesn’t even really pay off that well in the end, mostly because you’ve got an amnesiac hero devoid of personality, so why should I even care?
Midnight Fight Express also leans heavily on references. References to action movies, other games, and to memes. I found them somewhat annoying, even though I probably didn’t even notice half of them. It just feels kind of lazy.
It also has heavy reverence for Hotline Miami, but then, everyone should. You can even get animal masks and wear a letterman jacket. There’s a group of dudes in animal masks asking if you’ve heard a payphone ringing. This feels most apparent with the soundtrack, which feels like an abridged version of Hotline Miami’s. Just maybe less weird and a little more cohesive. I don’t mean it’s bad, goodness no, it just feels really obvious.
I have mixed feelings about Midnight Fight Express. There are times when it clicked with me, and I tore through the levels, and others when I found myself sighing and hitting the retry button. There was no real middle ground. I was either entertained or completely annoyed.
Another pass of the floor polisher probably would have helped. There are 40 missions which equal about six hours of runtime with a lot of highs and lows. A tighter narrative wouldn’t have even been necessary if the moment-to-moment gameplay was a little more consistent. Midnight Fight Express is just a mixed bag. There’s a lot here to appreciate, but just as much is going to have you curling your fists.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]