Linked but not combined.
I’ll get it out of the way — it’s Brexit Papers, Please.
But, at the same time, it’s also really not.
Let me explain.
As the story goes, Papers, Please was inspired by developer Lucas Pope’s many experiences through airport immigration. The monotony of the tasks in real life made for a fascinating pixelated tale that took place on the border of Arstotzka and Grestin (East and West Germany). Through the lens of an immigration inspector, players learned about the political strife between neighboring countries, heavily leaning into real world history throughout. The mechanic of checking passports and travel documents helped to weave the stories of socio-political tension happening at a boiling point in this world’s history, the two critical elements working together in harmony — even though that harmony was bleak, cold, and likely ended in death (Glory to Arstotzka!).
Papers, Please became a beloved, critically acclaimed example of indie games at their finest, which lead to others taking inspiration and utilizing the mechanic in their games and ultimately birthing a subgenre of its own.
This is where Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition comes in, both successfully replicating the mechanic we’ve come to know and love while not-so-successfully tying it back into the storyline.
Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition takes place in an alternative Britain where Brexit talks have collapsed and the most right-wing of right-wing parties has taken control of the government. This doesn’t bode well for those “Euros”, who have been forced into dumpy apartment blocs while they await forcible removal from the country. In their haste to get rid of all foreigners, the eager English were quick to label second and third generation Europeans as outsiders despite the fact many of them were born and raised in the country. Xenophobia at an all-time high, players take on the role of a person with European heritage in the midst of an unconstitutional purge. Awaiting deportation, there’s a chance you can escape being forcibly removed from the only country you’ve known — raise £2,500 by the end of the month, or get out.
So, you know… you become a bouncer.
I don’t mean to sound harsh, but with a setup like that, I really, really wished Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition could have tapped more into the exact immigration mechanic that it set out to replicate. The ties to Brexit and bouncing are tenuous at best — linked, certainly, but not combined — that I can’t help but feel the most obvious opportunity was missed here. In a world where European-born citizens are being forced out, why not take on the role of an emigration officer shepherding “Euros” back to “where they belong”? Perhaps a bribe or emotional plea could convince the player to fudge some paperwork and allow European-born citizens to stay, risking the safety of their own friends and families while learning about the political climate as time progresses?
As it stands, both the storyline and the mechanic — each a slow boil that ultimately become fun in their own right — don’t necessarily make sense when mixed. Sure, the whole point is that the player is a Euro and must do the best they can in what amounts to a gig economy, but certainly there are other gigs aside from bouncing? Demanding the player download the BouncR app as their sole means of income in these trying times makes the mechanic feel arbitrary and forced. Of all the options the government could have said were available to Europeans on their way out, they landed on bouncing?
Maybe it was explained somewhere and I didn’t get it (entirely plausible), but as it stands, I’m missing something.
As far as the mechanic goes, Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition definitely nails that Papers, Please task-based gameplay. Check IDs, look for fakes, expiration dates, and birthdates as you let people in to party, earning your meager keep. You’ll be asked to hit certain goals, such as letting 14 people in for the night, but exceeding the base goal and hitting bonus goals means you can earn a mega-bonus (note: the mega-bonus is surprisingly small). Don’t make too many mistakes, though, as it’ll be curtains for your bouncing career and life in the UK as you know it.
In the same way that the mechanic sledgehammered its way into the storyline, the storyline provides little organic context in the way of the mechanic. Taking out the overarching Brexit storyline wouldn’t have affected the gameplay too much; in fact, giving the game a unique dystopian cyberpunk setting may have taken it in an exciting direction. Papers, Please, on the other hand, used storyline to organically drive the mechanic forward. And while Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition attempted the same, it felt… again, arbitrary and forced.
All of this — all of this — can be forgiven by the audience that favors gameplay over storyline, however, as it really is a great homage to Papers, Please while still making it uniquely its own. For one, the pixel art is absolutely DIVINE and is exactly what drew me to Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition in the first place. The music blends perfectly with the aesthetic; one of my favorite aspects being when players open the door to a patron and the music volume increases ever-so-slightly, only to return to a muffled thumping upon closing the door. And the character design, while limited in facial features, are expressive and vibrant, helping to build individual personalities that grow over time.
When it comes to the Switch version, the controls work well when its urgent and could use a little TLC everywhere else, but everything’s overall serviceable. I did find myself wishing for bigger text in certain areas, but I think the layout works really well on the Switch, all things considered. I was missing the ability to use it as a touchscreen, but it’s definitely not a deal-breaker. Of course, this version also introduces the One Love DLC, which follows fan favorite character Dave from the original game as he travels to France to find love — or else.
At such a pivotal point in Britain’s history, I found myself wishing for depth on the subject matter in a game that looks so deep and gritty at first glance; instead, I got a very, very, very good reskin of Papers, Please at the club, Brexit occasionally hitting players over the head from time to time. And while I can’t argue with that from a gameplay perspective, it’s that aesthetically pleasing club setting that ended up taking away from the Brexit arc. Where some games are able to discuss a powerful topic through the lens of a seemingly unrelated situation, Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition instead felt burdened, trying to appease three separate masters in one gorgeous, pixelated package.
When all is said and done, Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition offers fans of the niche yet impactful genre a great new gem to pick up on their Nintendo Switch that is definitely worth the price of admission. Its gorgeous aesthetics, great soundtrack, and masterful replication of an underused yet always appreciated mechanic is worth all the praise. If you’re able to ignore the forced Brexit narrative and pretend Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition is a dystopian cyberpunk bouncer title on its own merit, you’re really going to enjoy yourself here. For everyone else who is interested and associated but not absorbed, consider watching a let’s play or two before plunking down the pounds.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC, Switch (reviewed); Developers: PanicBarn; Publisher: No More Robots; Players: 1; Released: January 31, 2020; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher