Full Disclosure: I’ve never played a Telltale Games-style adventure game before.
The closest I think I’ve gotten to said genre is Full Throttle, a point-and-click adventure game, developed by LucasArts and released back in 1995. Full Throttle had a linear narrative with only one possible outcome for the story and its characters, which is a contrast from the branching narratives of Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” or “Tales from the Borderlands”. Two games which touted many narrative choices and outcomes. Due to my child-like attention span, these games just weren’t really my bag. However, after being exasperated by the gaming industries bloated AAA offerings, getting an opportunity to play through and review “Dark Nights”, a game outside of my normal taste, seemed like a welcome one.
3rd-Person Cinematic Action Game
Developed by D’Avekki Studios, “Dark Nights” is an FMV, or full-motion video game, with 6 episodes in total. The word “episodes” is intentional, as the studio describes the game as an interactive TV series, comparing itself to David Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS, and “THE X-FILES with humor and chemistry”. It’s very similar to Netflix’s choose-your-own-adventure film, BANDERSNATCH, where you choose the actions of the main character at key points in the narrative. One could argue the semantics of calling “Dark Nights” a video game, given how little “gameplay” there is, but I’m reviewing this title on my Xbox, so a video game, it is.
The game’s two protagonists, John “Poe” Pope, and Ellis “Munro” Munro, are radio show hosts in the fictional town of August. Their show “Dreams and Nightmares” is a program where they interpret the dreams(and nightmares) of the listeners that call in to the station. Right away, you’ll notice that the chemistry between the two leads is palpable. They bounce well off of each other, and the editing of their dialogue exchanges is well done. Poe and Munro delightfully over-act, which feels appropriate due to the campiness of the script. Most of the characters our heroes come across are well-acted as well, despite some unevenness in performances. If you’re hoping for high-budget production values and blockbuster CGI, you won’t find it here, and that’s not to its detriment! Less is more, and the actors do a fine job elevating the stories. That being said, if someone gets stabbed, there should be blood on the knife that stabbed that person.
The humor mostly lands, and there’s innuendo to spare, with Poe and Munro often having cheeky dialogue exchanges. There’s also some meta humor about the age-old philosophical debate of free will versus destiny, which feels appropriate, if a bit too on-the nose, given the mechanics and narrative branches of the game.
When it comes time to make a possible narrative-altering choice, the game goes into a split-screen view of your possible decisions, reminiscent of the television show “24”. These “decision points” as I’ve dubbed them, can affect what actions our heroes take, how the characters interact with each other, and even their fate. These decision points are a bit glitchy, and given the urgency of making a decision before the timer expires, the cursor is sometimes unresponsive. The UI does try to remain unobtrusive, but at the cost of clarity in what decision you’re actually choosing. There are meaningful deviations in the narrative based on your decisions, which encourages multiple play-throughs, but the stakes for our main characters ultimately feel low. Each episode is always engaging and well-paced, even if the pay-off doesn’t always feel satisfying. One of the chapters is a complete departure with regards to structure and perspective, and the change is a welcome one.
At the end of each episode, you’ll see how your decisions compare to other players. I suggest taking a screenshot of your selections and replaying the episodes with different decisions to see how much each story changes.
As an aside, you can enable “freeze trackers” in the options menu, giving you unlimited time to make your decisions. If you’re playing with friends or family, you can weigh your decisions without pressure of the timer.
End Scene, Roll Credits
If you’re looking for something different that can also be enjoyed with friends, and you can’t decide between watching Netflix or playing video games, get a bit of both with “Dark Nights”. Enjoy it in small bursts. Sip, don’t binge.
Dark Nights with Poe & Munro$12.99 MSRP (USA)
- Engaging stories with good pacing
- Endearing cast with two leads who delight in the cheese
- Meaningful narrative deviation based on decisions.
- Buggy, unresponsive UI
- No indication on what your decision options are
- Despite B-movie charms, some inconsistency in production values