Not Tonight 2 Review
Papers, please just make it stop already
We all knew that this was coming. It’s been almost a decade since Lucas Pope created one of the best video games to ever release, and it was only a matter of time before someone tried to copy his formula. And while technically, 2018’s Not Tonight was the first notable game to make a Papers, Please facsimile, Not Tonight 2 is a much better example of what happens when game developers who don’t know what they’re doing try to copy a game that’s beloved by all. And by better, I mean worse, because unlike its predecessor or the recent Not for Broadcast, Not Tonight 2 is terrible.
Let’s just get this out of the way: Not Tonight 2 is not worth buying. It’s an awful game, and isn’t even so bad it’s good. While it has one or two redeeming qualities, it adds nothing to the medium and has some mind-bogglingly bad design choices. In its best moments it’s annoying, but at its worst it’s both literally and metaphorically painful to play. Anyone who’s considering the title should spend their money on 95% alcohol per volume liquor instead, because at least that way you’ll feel good after you feel miserable, and unfortunately the same can’t be said for playing this game.
The root of Not Tonight 2’s problems lie in its premise. If it wasn’t abundantly clear from the first paragraph, the game is a copy of Papers, Please. Instead of being a passport checker in Eastern Europe, though, you play as a freelance bouncer in a version of the United States that’s become un-united after whatever generic event always causes America to have civil wars in games. When one of your friends is kidnapped by the evil secessionist government and sent to an actual gulag in Florida, you’re tasked with going on a road trip to rescue them while continuing to check IDs at bars to pay for gas.
Doing that involves pressing the same buttons you did in Papers, Please. You need to make sure everyone who’s trying to enter the location you’re standing outside of is at least 21 years old, has a valid card and matches their photo on that card. You’ll also need to contend with different gameplay gimmicks at most locations that don’t really change anything, like doing a brief rhyme game-styled minigame before you’re able to let each person in, and each night there’s a minimum amount of people you need to get through to pass the level.
The problem is that, unlike in 2013’s title, this core mechanic never really evolves. Regardless of if you’re gatekeeping a bar in San Francisco or poutine restaurant in Montana, you will always check people’s IDs for the same exact things. While certain locations will make you scan additional documentation before you can allow people in, this task quickly becomes second nature after an hour, and doing it for six hours on end becomes annoying to say the least.
The rest of the gameplay also isn’t exactly enjoyable. In addition to checking IDs, you need to make “decisions'' along your journey about what roads to take to Florida. However, these aren’t really decisions, because most of the time if you choose the wrong option, you'll simply be killed and forced to reload a previous save. Sometimes, there’s context clues about what “choice” is the right one, but most of the time you’ll need to trial-and-error your way to the next city by continually reloading the game’s incredibly inconsistent checkpoints.
To say that this makes playing Not Tonight 2 annoying is an understatement, and ultimately the core gameplay of the title becomes frustrating after only a few hours. To add insult to injury, though, the repetitiveness of experiencing an exasperating existence isn’t even “the point” of the title. Instead, Not Tonight 2 is a game all about social commentary. If it wasn’t obvious from its setting, it spends its somewhat lengthy runtime criticising American politics. From the evil government that may as well be flying Trump flags to a bar that kicks people out for wearing masks, it’s clear that the developers want to say some things about the current state of the world.
But, to be clear, the game makes about as many valid points about American politics as the various subreddits on Reddit do. There are a handful of times in the game when it does make some noteworthy commentary, but the rest of the game provides as much insight as the newer seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale and has about as much subtlety with its political leanings.
And it doesn’t help that the overarching story isn’t well written, either. Without spoiling what happens, every major plot point in the game will likely have you letting out an audible “fucking seriously?” because of how, for lack of a better word, dumb it is. It’s metaphorically painful to sit through the game as a result of this, and after a certain point, you may find yourself just spamming the skip dialogue button while browsing your phone just to stay awake.
It’s also worth noting that, thanks to the game’s audio design, it’s literally painful to play, too. The voices of the various NPCs you’ll speak with sound like a combination of a Minecraft villager dying, a crying kitten and a Sim talking. There’s an astronomical amount of dialogue in the game, and hearing them “talk” can make your ears bleed. The game’s music, too, frequently alternates in both volume and style, so the only way to really play Not Tonight 2 is on mute unless you want your ears to bleed.
Which is unfortunate, because Not Tonight 2’s one almost-redeeming quality is that it looks pretty good. The game uses pixel art (because don’t terrible indie games always), but there’s a ton of variety in the environments and the colour palette. The NPCs’ limited animations are also fun to look at, and all things considered, the game is actually fun to look at.
However, that’s the only thing that Not Tonight 2 does right. Everything else in the game just doesn’t make sense. It’s literally painful to listen to, metaphorically painful to sit through, and on top of that it’s an insanely boring game to play. While there are a handful of moments in the game’s story that are interesting and it looks okay, Not Tonight 2 bungles its core gameplay so badly that it’s impossible to recommend.
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