Brexit is a mess. Thankfully, the game about it is not. Here's my Not Tonight review.
Papers, Please puts you behind the counter at a border crossing in the fictional dystopian Eastern Bloc-like country of Arstotzka. Oh, wait. Wrong game! This is Not Tonight, a paperwork-checking simulator set in a dystopian post-Brexit Britain. It’s the second game released in this genre, with Papers, Please being the genre-defining title1.
To say that Not Tonight is inspired by Lucas Pope’s 2013 title is an understatement. At first glance, Not Tonight looks and plays like a game that could have been a Papers, Please sequel. The mechanics are more or less the same, and Not Tonight also resorts to the pixel art style we’ve come to associate with indie games. You play as Person of European Heritage #112, currently residing in Relocation Block B. In order to stay in post-Brexit Britain, you have to prove your worth in your designated role as bouncer. If you don’t contribute, you’ll be booted off the island.
Same, But Not The Same
While the similarities between Not Tonight and Papers, Please are obvious, the former is a much more complex game. Your tasks as a bouncer start off quite simple. Check the punter’s ID to make sure it’s not expired, and that the person is old enough to enter. Then the difficulty gradually increases, and you’ll soon find yourself having to check valid tickets, visas, guest lists, VIP passwords, scan for contraband, and more. All this have to be done as you’re working against the clock, and you have to get a certain number of people inside the doors before the establishment close for the night.
Depending on how well you do on each job, you’ll earn money. You also have the option to earn a little extra on the side by accepting bribes, and selling various drugs. But watch out for undercover agents. If you’re caught doing anything illegal, that’ll affect your social credit score. And if that goes below a certain point, you’ll find yourself on the first ferry across the channel.
Money is important, though, and while you’re only staying inside your tiny apartment in Relocation Block B in between bouncer assignments, you’ll need money for bribes, bills, new equipment in your apartment, and clothing. Many of the items you can purchase are only cosmetic, but some have practical use. During the cold winter months, for instance, you should make sure that you have a good stove, or the cold could make your health deteriorate to a level where you can’t go to work. And that might be fatal.
Choices, Music & Bugs
Through your work as a bouncer, you’ll be caught in a web of mystery and intrigue. Some nights, you meet important characters, and the Resistance, in particular, will drive the narrative aspects of Not Tonight. Will you stay true to the British government, or will you join the resistance? In the end, your actions during the game will determine if you’re allowed to stay in Britain, or if you’re shipped off to whatever dark hole you came from.
The friendly post-Brexit administration will mostly assign you to work at various pubs, nightclubs, and similar water holes across Britain. One important part of a successful night spot is the music, which is something developer PanicBarn has taken very seriously. They have licensed a wide range of great tracks, many of which you can find on Spotify. There’s also an official soundtrack available. Combined with Not Tonight’s sweet, sweet pixel art graphics, this makes each and every scene a treat.
I played Not Tonight just days after it was released. It was mostly a smooth experience, except for the occasional freezes. The game would normally start working again after a minute or two, except for in one particularly annoying instance, when I had scooped up all the bonuses, and managed to shove an extra 8 people inside the doors. Not Tonight has received a couple of patches since I played it, though, so it might be that the freezes are a thing of the past now.
Yes, It’s Political
Mike Rose2 of Not Tonight’s publisher No More Robots, was pretty sure the game would be review bombed by the pro-Brexit horde upon release. That didn’t happen. The game is currently enjoying a “Very Positive” rating on Steam, and a 7.1 user score on Metacritic.
I can imagine that this bothering Rose, as a review bomb would have given the game a lot of attention. Take the Rome II female generals riot, for instance. That didn’t hurt sales of the game a bit, I betcha, it probably had the opposite effect.
Some early user reviews accused the game of being political, and thought Papers, Please was a much better game because it was not political. Somehow, I think these users might have missed a few key points from Papers, Please. So, yes, Not Tonight is very much a political game. If you don’t have the stomach for “putting politics into our games”, then you should skip the game.
Everyone else should go ahead, and purchase Not Tonight right now.
This review is based on 13 hours of gameplay.