It has been a very long time since I’ve played a FMV game. A staple of gaming once upon a time. We’ve come a very long way since the likes of Night Trap, Dragon’s Lair and Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties!
The idea of short movies with players making choices to decide the outcome is not a new idea but it has certainly come back into vogue in gaming over the last few years. We’ve had the likes of Her Story, Quantum Break to some degree and Wales’ Interactive’s other project, The Bunker.
Interactive filmmaking, a grand idea but one that rarely results in a great game and Late Shift is no different.
If you’re in it for a slickly filmed movie with an interesting story then great, enjoy Late Shift. However, if you’re looking for a rich and rewarding game experience, you might want to look elsewhere.
The star of the game and the role you take on is of Matt Thomson (Joe Sowerbutts). A young Londoner working his way through university as a security guard in a luxury car park. It’s while working a late shift, Matt gets caught up in a robbery taking place at a London auction house. Forced to take part on threat of his life, the robbers plan to steal a Ming dynasty-era rice bowl that is worth millions.
Matt and his descent into the criminal underworld becomes the player’s choice. Every so often you’re tasked with choices and answers that will dictate just how far down the rabbit hole Matt will go. Will he become a co-conspirator or stay out of it as best he can?
There are a lot of choices to be made and they all have to be made quickly. Unlike many other FMV-style games, there is no idling here. Matt doesn’t stand around waiting for you to decide, you have a short timer and you need to be on the ball. This adds much more realism to the experience as you’re under the same pressure Matt is under. Snap decisions in the heat of the moment with no time to think about it.
Of course, not choosing at all is an option. If you don’t do anything the story will continue regardless, maintaining pace and making the ‘film’ feel more authentic. The heist story is thrilling but it gets a bit too heavy-handed as it nears its finale. It also pushes the boundaries of just what is believable especially with some glaring continuity errors.
You never feel like you’re really in a life or death situation though. Although some choices suggest things might go very bad for you, there is no weight to them as every decision feels the same.
Of course, this kind of game is reliant on its cast and most are pretty good. The highlight is Joe Sowerbutts who is believable and sympathetic even if some of his dialogue can be a bit corny. There are some inconsistencies in his character too, more noticeable as you get towards the end. It’s been a rough night for him but it’s hard to fully believe that the pacifist we met at the start would be happy to shoot dead an unarmed man by the end.
It’s also a pity that the focus has to be on him all the time though as a couple of side-characters could have done with a bit more development. That’s a complaint about the movie side of things though.
Ultimately, as a game it’s not got a lot going for it. You’re just watching and waiting for your next choice option to come up. At first it seems as though the whole ‘your choices matter’ thing doesn’t really exist. There is no clear indication that anything you say really matters in the long run. Until you’ve got to the finale and see just how many diverging paths there were.
There are 7 endings, 14 possible chapters and 180 decisions to be made. Some early decisions can see entire chapters missed and completely different paths followed. This does mean the length of the game varies. The longest variation clocks in at around 2 hours, the shortest about an hour.
It can be gripping and it can be interesting. It can even be fun but there is so little going on for the player that it’s hard to really come out satisfied. The high production value, the slick story, decent acting and wide range of choices does make it a worthwhile play if you can get it on sale.