It was gonna be just another night: raid the liquor cabinet harder like Eliot Ness once the Sun escaped from the venetian blinds. Proofs in the double-digits wouldn't suffice. This wasn't like most nights. Some two-bit hustler, goes by Wild Sphere or something, proffered a distraction before blacking out this time. Didn't know anything about them, but figured it’s worth a shot. They'd been desperately pushing the "PS5 exclusive" marketing, but I respect the hustle. Though its film noir vibe initially caught my attention, the further I dug into Timothy's Night the stranger my investigation became.
As the top gangster of Little Fish City, Timothy is a man to be feared. He makes that clear from the opening cutscene: warning another mobster with a gunshot right past his ear. Having been abducted by friendly aliens as a kid warned about a hostile alien invasion, and gifted with strange powers, Tim's used that exclusively to look out for #1. Now, as said prophecy is being fulfilled, he's the only guy capable of stopping these malicious creatures and saving his city.
Noir Meets Alien Invasion
Both in story and visuals, it's a combination of mid-20th century film noir and alien invasion movies – with a heavier emphasis on cheesiness. The end result is more of a genre mush than a blend. There could've been a balance between Raymond Chandler-esque rejoinders and a campy Mars Attacks! tone; instead, the limited dialogue is often basic and objective-oriented. There's no room for an interesting femme fatale or namely any 3rd-party enemy that spices up the monotony of shooting goopy aliens with scary faces.
Where's the style, the punch, the flavor? I grew to dislike taking a bite out of this tale. It's like a cookie full of cardboard. Even the story's framing of Timothy doesn't inspire much interest. Here's a scoundrel who was bestowed a supernatural gift of bullet time by kind aliens, purely uses it to his own selfish ends for years, and then this new situation vaults him to just being the same brute against extraterrestrials. Were it not for the invasion he’d deserve some brass rings to the gut. Games have been delving more into anti-heroes for some time, but this is one of the most confused & generic ones I've seen.
Less immaterial to the game proper, its design still has rough blemishes. The core gameplay is an open-world 3D shooter/platformer. Little Fish City is a surprisingly modest spot, with a few areas treated as level segments (example: the sewers). Combat fundamentals don't stray too far from an arcadey strafing-shooter; more Alien Defense Force than Gears of War. Sometimes there's an option to take cover, but it's effectively useless.
The Creepy Crawlers
The first problem with critiquing Night's fumbles is where to start and what I'll miss. You ever try shooting Swiss cheese with a tommy gun?
One of the most perplexing issues is the inconsistent framerate between indoor and outdoor locales. Among the most-advertised features, 60FPS was emblazoned on its press release. Although that's true inside the sewers or elsewhere, the fluctuating framerate outside is heavily dependent on the amount of action on-screen. It's hard to expatiate how it's so noticeable, but once it's in your hands it's easy to intuit something's really off. This is exasperated by a jittery camera whenever unloading your weapon; it's crazy how sporadic it acts when unleashing hell with a machine gun. So many of those little cogs contributing to shooting, from sound design to game feel, feel unpolished.
Beyond technical frustrations the team – oddly – had with new hardware, I'm also at odds with several design decisions. One of Tim's most powerful weapons isn't his arsenal but his gait. Running acts as a means of quicker traversal, destroying breakable boxes for cash, and stun-locking enemies. The third ability is weird since it effectively means you're untouchable to melee-only aliens so long as you're running. It's theoretically possible to kick past every enemy grunt and avoid combat outside of the few bosses and forced arenas. Strange as it is, running also offsets those annoying moments of alien minions spawning behind you for cheap hits. Outside of a few safe areas, you can always count on spawning aliens disrupting casual exploration.
It's a shame since Little Fish is one of the rare highlights too. Less so for being something beyond an indie team's budget, but more in how world design compliments platforming. Rudimentary on its own, sure, but the emphasis on verticality for main missions and collect-a-thon extras occasionally kept my attention. As meddlesome as the shooting feels on-screen, the DualSense implementation is surprisingly well-done. Those tactile feedback moments like when a fly collides with a streetlamp, instantly becoming embers, or a car engine's rattle sell this place better than the game design. Between haptic feedback, quality trigger tension, to the controller mic, Wild Sphere isn't far behind current PlayStation Studios' tricks with it.
Stumbles & Successes
Oddly enough, those positive outliers only ensure I didn't actively dislike my time with it – to a point. When looking at the skeletal structure therein, Night's platforming and open world are rudimentary and let down by insufficient combat. Even ancillary qualities like clumsy driving mechanics and unbalanced weapons add to its list of expanding annoyances. Occasionally obnoxious, oftentimes dull, and infrequently interesting.
Similar to the mix-n-match of different gameplay genres, Night's audio/visual presentation is balancing identities too. It may try evoking the film noir backdrop, but camp is emphasized once these gaudy aliens arrive. It's for the better anyway, since the cartoonish character models and lack of voice acting don't exhibit a hard-boiled attitude. It's also annoying how... visually confused it looks too. A strict black-and-white world would've made any color pop more than this sepia visual filter; plus, some world objects have color while others don't with little rhyme or reason, like an unfinished coloring book. The jazzy soundtrack is where its attitude remains consistent. The most rudimentary of tasks feel more engaging when someone's playing the hell out of their saxophone.
Value is a more interesting topic here than I initially thought. The hourly valuation for the oddly-priced $21.99 title probably won’t reach your subjective threshold, especially with a three-hour campaign (if generous). What’s stranger, this is essentially a paid re-imagining of Wild Sphere's own Timothy vs. the Aliens. I haven't played a second of it either, or that’s what I thought until watching the trailer. To their credit, at least it's not a pricey upgrade version of the exact same game; however, it begs the question of why QA seemingly got less attention than controller gimmicks, modestly expanding the world, or adding another irrelevant enemy type. It straddles that line between soft-reboot and remaster to a point I doubt original fans will want to double-dip.
A Night You'll Likely Forget
A new console generation tends to gather a share of recycled content, be it remasters, ports, or otherwise. So, I'm not principally against anyone trying that with an intense zeal over the PS5's DualSense features. But you'd think a new title and expanded features would inspire more critiquing on the original's core design as well; instead, I'm mostly experiencing the new-gen version of Timothy vs. the Aliens. Through that lens, Timothy's Night is a one-trick pony with a nasty limp.
TechRaptor reviewed Timothy's Night on PlayStation 5 with a copy provided by the developer.
- Great Implementation of DualSense Features
- Fun Jazzy Soundtrack
- Decent Personality in its World Design
- Lackluster Shooting
- Distracting Framerate Issues
- Needlessly Repetitive
- Flavorless Story
- Clashing Visual Identity