When it comes to adventure games, I just can’t get enough of not knowing who I am, where I’m at, and what I’m doing there. There’s nothing like a little atmospheric amnesia to move the wary sufferer deep into the bowels of the unknown to solve his own riddle. As a gamer, I can find few things more appealing than working through a complex, well-paced story in such a way.
As cliché as it is, what makes this such a reliable approach is the amount of latitude it lends the narrative – as long as it’s tied together in the middle, or the end; or somewhere along the way. So it’s no surprise that this plot device is used to jumpstart the horror-themed adventure Midnight Nowhere, created by the Russian developers at Saturn+ (the same folks who treated us to the less than stellar Jazz & Faust), and published by Buka Entertainment.
This isn’t General Hospital
A brief and terrifyingly apocalyptic introduction starts our mystery off, during which a narrator describes the apparent gruesome works of a prolific serial killer. A few brief scenes indicate an epidemic in fear, which results in a mass exodus from the city of Black Lake.
You awaken in the mortuary of a hospital, unzip the body bag you’ve been napping in, and emerge to a scene of grisly violence. Sure, you would expect to see the dearly departed in a mortuary, but it appears an eviscerated attending staff has recently joined them. Thus is set into motion your mission to find out what happened and how it relates to your amnesia.
For the purpose of keeping our mystery intact, I’ll skirt around the details of the plot of this game, and focus more on the mechanics. I’ll make the blanket statement now that the plot, though cliché, has an intriguing flavor that lovers of horror/suspense/psychological thrillers will definitely enjoy.
The main menu is the face of a digital watch, where you can load from an unlimited amount of saves, and other game options. If you have an older graphics card, MN allows you to de-select shadows, music, and other resource-heavy attributes. An active cursor tells you when you can look, speak, take, or take action – or allows you to select any one of these from the small, ever-present menu at the top left of your screen. Selecting an option other than the default will sometimes elicit a different reaction. A right-click of the mouse brings up inventory from which you can interact with using any of the four options mentioned. These options present a sort of puzzle of their own at times, for reasons I’ll mention later.
The dialogue in MN is quite a departure from what you might expect in a setting like this. The voice acting was satisfactory, as I imagine it would be easy enough to follow the directorial request to be an ass -- quite frankly, I thought the protagonist was a chauvinistic jerk with as little moral compunction as the purported serial killer. Most of his comments are delivered with the tact of a dull scalpel. I found nothing about him with which I could relate – never a good thing for the player character.
Yet his acerbically wry monologue eventually grew on me, and within the game’s setting and atmosphere, it’s at times a rather funny peccadillo. It never seemed appropriate however, and felt more like self-sabotage, like one of those movies that try to be sophisticated by being stupid: “Look at how smart I really am because I’m making fun of everything, including myself.” This tough-guy bravado will either alienate you, or grow on you, but it’s definitely different from the typical good-guy roles such as Guybrush Threepwood or George Stobbart.
Visually, the game is very appealing. All the backgrounds and environments are 2D pre-rendered and are incredibly detailed. Most scenes are cold and clinical but there’s enough of a contrast in the two primary areas of exploration that you’re not tiled to death. The feel of MN sort of reminded me of the old game D, back when polygons still wore diapers.
MN’s protagonist and few supporting characters are rendered in full 3D and look decent enough. Character animations are acceptable, but a little more work could have made them look more natural. The protagonist changes direction with the formality of a military about-face, and opening doors and picking up inventory items are a little too robotic as well.Continued on the next page...