Even during a pandemic, Wales Interactive finds a way to produce more FMV adventure games. It's been their bread 'n butter since the mid-2010s, so there's no reason to stop. That frequency has harnessed audience expectations for this sub-genre and the same holds true for Night Book. But as with the inception of Night Trap during the 90s, these choose-your-own-adventure disguised movies rely on choices in lieu of any complex mechanics. Regardless of my respect for Wales and developer Good Gate Media making this under rough circumstances, the game proper still feels incomplete.
With her loving husband away from home, a comfortably pregnant Loralyn has just started as an online interpreter. The security footage on her laptop shows her afflicted father seemingly horrified by something in his room. He doesn't even want Loralyn to open the door to give him food. After being tricked into reciting part of an ancient book, she unwittingly summons a demon into her home. Could this be really happening or is this paranoia afflicting her?
Rough First Day At Work
The first thing to understand about Night Book's story is the production behind it. Since all or most filming was done while the world was aflame, no two actors are filmed in the same room. Everything occurring is through the lens of a computer, specifically through Loralyn's webcam and the motion-sensing security software on her laptop. You'll recognize this template if you've seen the Unfriended films or Searching: characters staring into cameras or phone screens, sometimes populating just a small window of someone’s picturesque wallpaper background.
The hurdles to wholly relying on pre-placed security cameras and phones are daunting. Is the juice even worth the squeeze? Since actors are often glued to chairs and action scenes will rely on one static perspective, filmmakers are kneecapping themselves. So, when Loralyn's father (Mark Wingett) is – supposedly – wrestling with an invisible demon it looks like an old man is trying to slap an A/C vent. A similar problem arises for the rare "action" scenes as well: someone off-camera slowly turning a doorknob, slowly opening the door, and Loralyn running over to secure it. It's tough to ignore these hilariously stilted moments. These oddities also seep their way into generic jump spaces, cheap sound effects and all.
The actors fare far better in these circumstances. To the developer's credit, they did a relatively decent job at acquiring talent. Julie Dray (Cyberpunk 2077) handles the lead role quite well, especially with respect to voice control. Her timorous cadence slowly getting more excited over time sells the singular good horror scene. The supporting actors are more of a mixed bag, with Colin Salmon being one of the positives. Despite these credits, it's still tough to get past how segmented some interactions feel. It says something when Loralyn's online exchanges appear more authentic than arguing with her father in another room.
Cheap Scares Over Genuine Tension
Removing these production qualifiers, it's still a basic story with a light sprinkling of schlocky fun mixed in. It relies on the generic-brand "never disturb sacred sites" theme, but that doesn't mean it's bereft of good ideas. The way language is incorporated here is one of those bright spots. Loralyn's job of bridging language gaps assists both regular people and... other mysterious entities. That emphasis makes perfect sense for this narrative.
What hurts it most of all comes back to the bulimic runtime. Given how one full playthrough is around forty minutes, there's not much time properly afforded to anyone. It’s more than strict bean-counting too. There's an intangible sense of missing backstory here, creating unearned emotional turmoil as a consequence. It focuses on one concept through unconventional story methods like a new-age Twilight Zone, but would safely be categorized as one of its lower-tier episodes.
For anyone familiar with Wales' FMV adventures, the "gameplay" typically comes back to making binary choices. Do you grind your father's medication into his food or not? Do you answer an unsolicited phone call or ignore it? Then, you make a decision and watch the next movie clip. Rinse and repeat. It's a simple setup they've followed with some minimal tweaks to the UI. This will be quite underwhelming for anyone expecting traditional mechanics.
What Night Book sells itself on is the plethora of choices and subsequent unique endings. After all is said and done, you get a nice flowchart revealing the consequences of your decisions. Although many of them are smoke & mirrors, Good Gate implemented just enough quality options and a fast-forward button to make it worth replaying once. Whichever interpreter job Loralyn takes still winds up with the same ancient book, but the dynamics between those conversations are different. This integral split route and subtler choices for various endings do a slightly better job of incentivizing another run than I Saw Black Clouds.
Over And Done With
Good Gate Media certainly had its back against the wall with respect to the pandemic. It's understandable to fashion a more modest horror story around these circumstances. My problem is this: why not even try to reflect this with a lower price than Wales Interactive's standard ($12.99)? Beyond the consumerist perspective, Night Book doesn't quite feel complete – as though a few middle pages from a short story are missing. From anemic characterization to bland scares, it rarely rises to the level of B-movie horror shlock. Ironically, it makes a better argument for replaying than starting it.
TechRaptor reviewed Night Book on Xbox Series X with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC, Nintendo Switch, Mac, & iOS.
- Julie Dray's Lead Performance
- Some Choices Feel Meaningful
- Sub-par Story That Feels Incomplete
- Noticeably Lacking Production Values
- Bland Horror
- Feels Like An Overpriced Cash Grab