Adventures of Keith Night: After a Shadow review
That's where Adventures of Keith Night: After a Shadow starts, as our hero finds himself out on a dark, rain-splattered night with no memory of how he got there. A practical man, he doesn’t waste time wondering, and instead starts wandering, seeking clues to his fate in bushes and broken streetlamps by the forest road. A quick exit left brings up a map, and the first destination of the game: the office. It’s been ransacked, but the shoddy thieves have conveniently missed the pistol and the lockpick, though they did manage to make off with his most important case file.
Hmm, case files. Yes, Keith Night is a detective, and he’s been investigating the recent murder of his best – and only – friend, Walter Stillman. This provides a possible motive for Night’s abduction and subsequent abandonment in the woods: the killer wasn’t willing to stop at Stillman to keep his secret safe. Night continues his investigation with a visit to Rose's Bar, the shockingly clean establishment where he’d met Stillman. Rose’s account of the previous evening confirms his suspicion that he was targeted for his investigation of the murder, but the two burning questions remain: who killed Stillman, and why?
After a Shadow is a traditional point-and-click adventure created by a one-man development team from Finland, Tero Tapio Kerttula (aka Canardo), as part of his Bachelor’s thesis, with the intent to adapt the style and visuals of the ‘noir’ genre of films into a game scenario. In that, the exercise succeeds. The screens are a stark black-and white, with basic line art, sparse landscaping and hand-drawn characters and props. A continuous drizzle adds to the dreary moodiness. Night sports the ubiquitous trench coat-and-fedora attire, and his featureless face and scowling black eyes are rather disturbing when he looks straight at the screen.
The whodunit is fairly interesting within the limited scope of the game. Night’s quest requires him to interact with three non-player characters: Rose, the finicky proprietress of the bar; Bulk, the aptly-named watchman of a warehouse; and the menacing, shadowy villain whose identity is revealed in Stillman’s hidden diary. The brief conversations all have their high-points: Rose’s exasperation with Night’s debts, Night’s exasperation with Bulk’s daftness, and the villain’s exasperation with Night’s threats to expose his crime. All are suitably downplayed with bland, noir-style humor, of course.
The mechanics are straightforward, as you’ll left-click to look at objects, right-click to use them. Hotspots are sparse and easy to locate, and rolling over the top of the screen reveals the inventory. Selecting an inventory item changes the cursor into the object’s shape, which can then be combined with other items or used with on-screen hotspots. Once an object expends its use, it is discarded, keeping the dreaded 'inventory bloat' at bay. Inventory objects range from the usual suspects like a hammer, a peculiar key, and a pistol (with just one bullet – ha!) to weirder items like the ‘Knockout Cocktail’.
There are no standalone puzzles, only inventory-based solutions, and most of these are obviously logical. The lone exception requires complicated lateral thought atypical of this game, as the clues suggest a course of action completely different than the actual, rather arbitrary solution. For pushovers, a quick consult of a walkthrough might be overwhelmingly tempting at this point, while more scrupulous gamers may need a few extra cups of coffee to fuel the trial-and-error efforts needed to push past this point. The conditions also change unexpectedly when a certain hotspot located at the rear of the screen becomes clickable only when Night walks towards it, exposing more of the screen. He does mention the need to take a closer look, but this abrupt change from static to moving screens may have gamers scratching their heads for a few minutes before they realize they need to walk around, including front to back.
The nifty map, which expands sequentially, allows transportation between six confined locations: the woods, the office, the bar, Stillman’s apartment, the warehouse where Stillman worked as a night watchman, and the villain’s hideout. While linear overall, the game increases in complexity over time as more locations become available, giving Night greater freedom to explore. Some tasks can be completed in different order and certain scenes must be revisited for fresh clues, but there are no possible missteps in this game, and eventually all paths converge to the conclusion.
Sound like ordinary adventure game fare? It would’ve been, if not for two superlative performances. First: the crusty, cynical, grizzled private eye Keith Night, uncharacteristically willing to lay down his life (if necessary) to bring his friend’s killer to justice. He carries the game with an élan that belies his claim that he’s no hero. His monotonous soliloquies, which give us glimpses into his lonely world and motivations, are laced with self-deprecating irony, as are the comments he makes when prompted to do tasks. At one point, he confesses to hating hugging, even pillows, while asking him to wash his hands earns a terse, “I like my hands dirty.” The second key element is the music that permeates the game: a haunting, compelling sound for the dark tale, which compensates commendably for the lack of sound effects. Composed and played by Canardo himself, the piano and guitar pieces are even available for download separately at the game’s official website.
Unfortunately, After a Shadow isn’t glitch-free. The problem I encountered was that Night’s text comments and conversation lines often appeared only for fractions of seconds and were unreadable in full. While this didn’t render the game unplayable, it was annoying when it happened. But such issues are minor in the big picture that is brightened by numerous small touches. Night’s voiceovers, heard during narrative cutscenes that offer his outlook on recently-concluded events and move the story forward, are spot-on, as are subtle visual effects like the light moving off his face as he steps into shadows. It’s also fascinating how smoothly Night walks for a man with two detached ovals for feet, even turning to face the direction of movement.
Adventures of Keith Night: After a Shadow isn’t about frills or fireworks. It’s the labor of love of one individual, a bittersweet tale of good and evil that unravels at a quiet, languid pace. It's uncomplicated, but not puerile. Short, but not on talent. And it’s well worth an hour or two of your time, with the hope of more to come, since Night’s adventures are just beginning; the game ending with the promise of a sequel in the works.
The game can be downloaded from the developer’s website.