One Night Stand - Brutal Backlog
Brutal Backlog is a semi-regular feature where the JDR team plough through some of the unplayed games on their shelves (both digital and physical), disregarding their age or the technical limitations of their era. Only the very best games will stand up to scrutiny today.
Right then. I’m just over two weeks into whole family isolation during the great COVID-19 crisis of 2020. For the last three days I have been self-isolating from my family on top of that. In one room. I have some symptoms and really want to avoid passing them on (or if I do, at least staggering my illness with my wife’s, so that one of us is able to look after the children!). I’ve watched a myriad of films, but now I have access to my Steam library. I’ve come across One Night Stand, which, after a brief Google, I’ve learnt was released in 2016 and can be played through in a couple of hours. Sounds perfect for me in my current state.
Let me please be clear, though. There is no way I’d be playing this at any other time. So my expectations are low, then, giving the game the best chance to meet or exceed them.
Ten Minutes In
It’s a visual novel! Lovely stuff – nothing too taxing for my something-addled brain. The character I’m playing is in a worse state than me though. He’s woken up feeling terrible and remembering nothing. At all. Like, totally zero. After a few minutes it became clear to him that last night involved a shedload of alcohol and apparently a hook-up with a lady of indeterminate nature, i.e. neither he nor we know who she is yet. My character and she were both in bed, naked, and a condom wrapper is clearly visible on the floor.
She has just woken up too, running out of the room, giving me a chance to look around a bit more. When she came back in we had the most awkward conversation and I still have no idea about what happened last night or who she is. This novel is a slow-burner, it seems.
The visual style is pretty cool. Images are static with some looped animations. For example, as I look at the lady I woke up in bed with her hair moves around, but during the conversation it’s otherwise just her standing in the same place, perhaps moving her arm from question to question, or as dialogue moves on. The colour palette is all whites, light browns and faint yellows, giving this particular story a distinctive look and feel. Whilst the colours don’t appeal to me, the style is an intriguing one that’s well owned by the developer.
Twenty Minutes In
I’ve managed to move the conversation on a fair bit, to the point that she’s about to tell me what I did last night (at least the bits she’s aware of). You see, I apparently can’t even recall the first place I went with my mate Gary. So had I been drinking beforehand, or have I just got proper amnesia due to events in the night?
Although things are early the quality of writing isn’t suggesting anything surprising will come from this. If I were a betting man I’d suspect this nice lady brought me home and I fell asleep before anything happened, and I have just no memories because I was drinking. I think the developer is a developer and not a writer, which is fine, but it doesn’t exactly leave me with high expectations for the culmination of this visual novel.
Thirty Minutes In
She was no help. We met at a bar, we talked and then her memory got fuzzy. Neither of us know exactly what happened and now she wants to get to know me a bit more, suggesting this isn’t actually a one night stand.
The writing is passable but lacks flair, meaning I’m just clicking very quickly to see what happens, rather than enjoying the actual narrative. There’s no gameplay at all, save for clicking on a few things around the room to try and build the backstory. It’s a visual novel, so I don’t expect gameplay, but I did want to make it clear for those at the back.
Thirty Five Minutes In
Game over! Well, that was sudden. It appears an early decision has backfired and the girl, despite wanting to get to know me, kicked me out and the game was over. Right, let’s go again, and this time I’ll try not to mess up so I can actually learn something about last night…
Ten Minutes In, Again
So thankfully there is a fast-forward button meaning I don’t have to read the bits I have already read. I’m making different choices, which leads to little tangents in the overall story, but then I seemingly come back to the original and main path I was on before. I imagine the choices will have more impact at the endgame, when nearing one of the multiple endings. Yes, that’s right, there are multiple endings and it seems the developer wants you to replay the game to see them all. That’s why we have fast-forward, different achievements and more.
Whatever I actually think about the game I am being compelled to play through it a second time already. So something is working…the gameplay loop – in a bizarre twist of fate given I said there was no gameplay – is incredibly compelling. It’s like the run, shoot and jump loop of Destiny in visual novel form.
Fifteen Minutes In, Second Time Around
Bloody hell, I’ve screwed it again. I wanted to actually get some information, so I looked through her wallet against my better judgment (I hate playing games as a baddie when you get the choice – I’m too good). I learnt her name and when I called her that, automatically, she worked out I’d been sneaking around where I shouldn’t have as that wasn’t her name (fake ID?). Game over, again. Dammit, I want a proper ending. I’m going again.
Ten Minutes In, For The Third Time…
It’s occurring to me now that this game is really weird. I get that the objective is to piece together the night’s events, but the only way to do it is to search this lady’s room and snoop. Or, ignore it all and hope she doesn’t get upset at you for knowing nothing. But it’s written by a lady, so maybe my perspective is wrong. Or hers is, given the protagonist is male.
Twenty Minutes In, Round Three
For the love of..! I got a different ending but still not one I’m happy with. I’m going again. This game, it sticks its claws into you and it does it really well because you can skip through things meaning all the pain is gone and you can just try and change the outcome this time. Dammit. I think I like the bloody thing.
I have played this game what, five times now, six? I’m going to have to consult a guide. I need a good ending before I can sever ties. Spoiler alert: It’s obviously worth playing even though this brutal backlog hasn’t finished.
Oh, I forgot to check a guide and just played through it again. And again.
I’ve just spent around two hours playing through – and replaying multiple times – a visual novel. Despite my feelings early on, it’s clearly a delightful way to spend a couple of hours. It’s a compelling game, oddly. The story is not the best written, nor the most surprising, but it has a hook which works, centred around the fact I wanted to get the different endings and get the ending I thought was best. I’ll probably keep going to be honest, and be a completionist around this. It’s dug its claws in that deep.
Upon reading up on the game I’m even more impressed. The talented developer Lucy Blundell made this with a friend as a result of a Game Jam, and it was her first. I’d love to see what she does next (Memories is on its way soon) as if she made this in those conditions, I’d expect something truly special.
A hidden gem that many will likely be unaware of, I can’t recommend One Night Stand highly enough. It’s short, fun, engaging and with a style of its own – Blundell took footage of herself, rotoscoped it and turned it into the images we see onscreen. Wow. What talent, creativity and ultimately, what a gameplay loop. It grabbed me. It will grab you.
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