American Laser Games Reunion Tour ’18
Live-Action FMV games are mostly a relic of an age where games wanted to be narratively dense, but the gameplay would be sparse in comparison. There were some that handled both well, like Wing Commander III, but most skewed heavily towards telling a story – usually accompanied with hammy dialogue and cheesy acting. Most of these games look dated now when you go back and play them now. But there is something to be appreciated by how ambitious each one is as a production, despite the execution leaving something to be desired. In recent years FMV games have made a considerable comeback and are now being used as a serious storytelling medium (see Her Story, Cibele) and developers now know to make gameplay that serves that story in the best way possible. Late Shift is a fun experience that deserves to be recognized as a pioneer of sorts in this new wave of modern FMV.
Late Shift puts you in the role of Matthew Thompson, a student working a “Late Shift” (*nudge* GET IT? *nudge*) as a security guard for a car park. Things quickly get a little dubious as an injured man breaks into the parking garage and forces Matt to drive him out at gunpoint. From there Matt is put into an admittedly dubious set of circumstances where he is thrust into a criminal caper and dealing with the consequences of his involvement after. I usually use “you” or “the player” when speaking about the protagonist of a game, but in this case, it feels inappropriate. That is because Late Shift isn’t so much a game as it is an interactive film. There isn’t much input from the player other than how to react to dialogue from other characters. Matt has his own personality, an intelligent yet aloof youngster, but it is up to the player to decide how he approaches the crazy situations he is faced with. Most of these are dialogue choices but you will often have a choice of actions to take as well. One humorous choice is whether or not to high five somebody, their reaction to a rejected high five is one of such devastation to the point that now I feel obligated to high five everyone just so I don’t feel as bad as I did in that instance.
“Y’know what this crime story needs? Triads.”
It is hard to talk about this game in detail since this is entirely a story-driven experience and there isn’t much to talk about when it comes to how the controls feel or how the game “plays”. You get about 180 decisions to make which are all on a timer. This definitely helps in making you feel agency in the happenings on screen, even if those paths don’t diverge as much as you think they should. I played the story through to get most of the endings and the game hits each plot point in a familiar fashion. It often felt frustrating in that I felt that any agency I thought I had in the plot wasn’t actually there. Matt can also be unnecessarily hostile towards a few characters at some points no matter how you choose to respond – none of what I seemed to do for a majority of the game seemed to matter.
Late Shift does have certain dialogue checkpoints that determine your ending, the game smartly does not telegraph these to the player, but there are only 4 endings that actually feel different. Seeing these endings and how you go about getting them does add some replay value, however, your mileage will vary depending on how much you enjoyed the hour and a half of story leading up to those endings. In gameplay time that doesn’t seem like a lot. When you are going through the same storyline for the seventh time trying to get that last ending though, it feels like an eternity.
The writing is also quite rough in some spots. A love interest is shoehorned in such an awkward fashion, the crime clichés on display are so obvious that anyone with even a passing familiarity with crime drama will be able to pick up on what the inspirations at play here are.
Despite these shortcomings, there is a lot to like about Late Shift. The production quality on display is almost on par with high-budget TV in some spots and you can really get a sense of the effort and care put into wardrobe and location shooting. There are a few re-used locations that are conveniently worked into the plot, but the tension in some of these scenes isn’t lost. I’d highly recommend playing this with friends and giving the controller to someone else to see how they react to these timed choices, but beyond that, if you have already played through it – Late Shift can’t offer you much more beyond its short narrative.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, PC; Publisher: Wales Interactive ; Developer: Wales Interactive; Players: 1 ; Released: April 26, 2018 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $12.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Nintendo Switch review copy of Late Shift given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.