Not Tonight Review – Bouncer in Brexit Britain
Not Tonight17th August, 2018
Two weeks ago, when I covered the release of Not Tonight, I wrote an intro about how Britain is screwed. This introduction didn't go down too well. While it was somewhat exaggerated for effect, the truth of there being tremors from the Brexit vote still rings true. Not Tonight, by developers Panic Barn, is a game about Brexit and the potential effects on European nationals following Brexit. Particularly when the country is run by a far-right party,
It seeks to answer this with the sort of humour that you can expect from a Brit - Self-deprecation aplenty. You play as ‘Person of European Heritage #112' who was, of course, born in Britain. In my case, my bloke was born in Birmingham. Every time he tried to point out this fact, he was cut off by people proclaiming either how great it is that Brits and Euros could work together. That or some just proclaiming that the Euro's don't belong in the country.
There's little doubt that the subject matter is opportunistic, though it works - at least to an extent. The game takes much better shots at other elements rather than Brexit itself. Whether this is the horrendous possibility of the privatisation of the NHS, the precarious position of a migrant in an unfriendly country and the horrible position of having to scrape by just to survive.
The setting of a post-Brexit dystopian Britain isn't too dissimilar to ones you've encountered in many titles before it. The obvious link, in both setting and gameplay, is the outstanding Papers, Please. Only, instead of working in a border-checkpoint, you're working at gig-jobs as a doorman for a variety of pubs, clubs and other establishments. Sometimes even the government itself. All of this is arranged via the BouncR app on your in-game phone.
Your in-game phone pretty much acts are your guide and companion throughout the game. If you're not booking a job via BouncR, you'll be checking up on your health - measured by heat, hunger and tiredness. Of course, you can always spend the money you earn doing jobs on ShopR. Buy a skin for your phone, some new outfits and even upgrades to your house. Some key parts, like improved beds, fridges and heaters will help with your health. Don't forget to save some money, your ever-increasing bills rack up, ready to be paid using BillR.
Don't pay your bills? Lose social status and get deported. You lose social status by skipping work to catch up on that much-needed rest. You can also stray into the dark side, start breaking the law. Selling drugs is a fantastic way to make money, but you will lose social status. This is even worse if you ever try to sell drugs to the wrong person, the hit is massive. At my lowest, I was at 20 out of 100, very close to losing the game. Bringing it back was long and difficult.
It is a difficult game, that much is certain. From actually being a bouncer, attempting to perform what eventually feels like a myriad of checks in a very limited time. Outside of that, managing your health, wellbeing, money, bills and more against what is an ever more oppressive and racist environment. What compromises will you make, if any? Will you let somebody bully you? Will you stand up for yourself at the risk of making a powerful enemy? The game appears to offer a number of choices and branching paths as a result of them, making it one worth replaying.
One of my major problems with Not Tonight is that it's unfairly stacked against you. I completely understand ramping up the difficulty by introducing new checks. Starting with just checking age. Then if the ID is real or fake. Bumping up to valid tickets for events, guess lists and VIP passwords. Even further then when certain nationalities are placed on ban lists and you have to start scanning guests for concealed items and refusing entry to those with items on a ban list.
The problem then comes with the fact that you have a minimum number of people to let in, within a certain time limit or you've failed the gig. A bar wanting a certain number of patrons In, I can understand.
The great wall of London Thames flood barrier though? Makes zero sense. Those who don't meet the conditions don't count towards the number you've let in and they also count against you in another way. Let so many in, you get a formal warning. The second stage has you lose a portion of your wages. Finally, the job finishes early, you get no pay and lose social score.
No word of a lie, I once had a target of 20 people to let into the venue. This was on a 4-minute timer, at one point 7 in a row had to be sent away. Four of them took up essential time by whining at me and asking why they weren't being let in. Sometimes it's quite literally impossible to meet the bonus conditions of letting more people in than the minimum. For example, you may have a bonus #1 target of 22 and a bonus #2 target of 24. What annoys me more is that if you turn away somebody who could have been let in, it counts towards the failure score. Why hire a bouncer if the owner of the joint is omnipotent and instinctively knows who are valid for entry and who's not?
There are other small, niggling bugs and issues. For example, when you buy extra things from ShopR, you can't actually go back and use them once another item has been bought. So, for example, I was stuck using the second tier coffee machine even though I had the top tier. I couldn't revert back to a different skin for my phone. One time, when working the queues, I couldn't actually view the next guy's ID, nor would the game let me accept him in or boot him out. I was stuck. No way out but to either quit or let the level timeout. Aside from the items issue, other bugs seem very few and far between.
What should attract people more are the genuinely interesting stories that you encounter in the world of post-Brexit Britain. From underage drinkers with ever less convincing lies to silver-spoon toffs who just can't accept that a Euro like you told them to fuck off when they tried to force their way into an event. Ones who then threaten you and go running to daddy when you stand up for yourself.
It's the cast of characters and the stories that go on in the background that really bring the world alive. Other things that directly impact you - once you get injured and are footed with a medical bill - all get explained in the little snippets of news that pop up on your mobile. The NHS, for example, has been privatised after a £1 billion sale to US drinks manufacturer Doctor Spanky. Of course, medical bills are now extortionate and the advice to children is not to drink milk, but to drink pop. Also, being a Euro, your doctor is naturally a traffic warden. In a coat. You don't deserve an actual medical professional.
I do need to point out that Not Tonight is a joy to both look at and listen to. Characters have a funny Simlish voice which can be amusing in itself. The real joy, however, is the music. I genuinely want a soundtrack from this game - particularly to listen to the track from the indie festival. From a visual perspective, it's pixel-art at its finest. From the signs above bars, the shops on the high street and graffiti artists. It genuinely feels alive and you can see the changes in places as time passes by. Places become run down, less affluent as the Sterling collapses. The world reacting to the news that you read.
The only real problem with the visual design is that one of the things you have to watch out for is if a person's ID picture matches their face. It doesn't matter how zoomed-in the bottom corner of the screen is, it's incredibly bloody difficult to tell sometimes. Especially when some of the differences are so subtle and could be attributed to a woman having her hair up that day, rather than down.
The inevitable question is 'Do I like Not Tonight?' it's a simple answer, yes. Any complaints I have with how the game is unfairly stacked against you are quickly drowned out. The subject matter is interesting and the characters are surprisingly well rounded. Most importantly, it's a genuinely enjoyable and funny game. Even better is that the art is, simply, brilliant. Every area you see is so chock full of detail, it tells a story of its own.
Some people will inevitably be put off by the political overtones, especially those who can't distance their own political views from that of a video game. Hopefully, they'll look past that and enjoy what is a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging game. Those of you that give it a go, I can almost guarantee you'll be entertained and find yourself laughing with, rather than seething at the game.
Copy provided by the publisher.
Not Tonight is a surprisingly deep and engaging game that will suck you in. If you let it. Of course, the politics aren't to everybody's liking, but the game more than makes up for it with great wit, as it tackles - to an extent - deep subjects. The gameplay can be artificially difficult at times, but is still as engaging as the obvious inspiration: Papers, Please. Should you play Not Tonight? Yes, yes you should.
- Fantastic art style with impressive amounts of detail
- An excellent soundtrack that fits the theme of the game
- Genuinely witty and funny, while taking on quite heavy subjects
- Surprisingly engaging characters that have some great stories of their own
- Well developed world that changes over time, though you read the cause and often only see minor effects
- The game ends up being unfair due to what seems like the randomised nature of the people sent your way in-mission
- Sometimes nigh-on impossible to tell if somebodies ID picture is fake or not, adding an unfair penalty to an already challenging game
- A few nonsensical elements, where people who are rejected will repeat the same lines ad-nauseam
- A few minor bugs here and there