In each of us there is another whom we do not know…
Initially, I wasn’t going to review At Dead of Night; hell, I wasn’t going to even buy it, for I am a chicken and can’t play horror games due to my cowardice. But when I saw that At Dead of Night didn’t have a single MetaCritic review despite Markiplier squealing his way through these haunted hallways to millions of viewers, I couldn’t let such an injustice stand. So, I put on my big brave girl face and played through the game in one long, jumpy night — asking my husband to sit by me for emotional support, of course.
Developed and self-published by UK-based dev team Baggy Cat, At Dead of Night describes itself on its Steam page as “part horror film, part horror game and part ghost hunt.” First published at the end 2020, the game recently caught the eye of YouTuber Markiplier and has since enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. Available for a friendly price of $14.99 with a playtime of 5 – 15 hours depending on skill, At Dead of Night is an entertaining way to spend the evening for both fans of horror and those who watch the genre through their fingers covering their eyes.
At Dead of Night opens up on a young woman named Maya checking into a remote hotel where her friends are already staying. The proprietor, Jimmy, tries to be amicable and welcoming but comes off as creepy, making Maya feel uncomfortable. As it would turn out, her sixth sense was correct — Jimmy has a murderous, psychopathic alter ego named Hugo who takes any perceived slight as a reason to torture and even kill others; Maya and her friends deciding not to watch Jimmy’s comedy act was all it took to set Hugo (Jimmy) on a killing spree. In an attempt to escape, Maya searched the front desk for a working phone or keys, only to stumble upon a strange device that allowed the user to commune with the dead. Curiosity got the best of her, and she took it upon herself to solve the mystery of Sea View Hotel before rescuing her friends and hightailing it out of there.
In her effort to uncover the truth behind Sea View Hotel, Maya utilizes several tools found throughout the building; first, the aforementioned device which she can use to discern ghost frequencies and either see their last memories or speak with them to collect more information. Next, a compass, which she leans on to direct her through the winding hallways to the nearest spirit. Finally, the scrying mirror, which allows her to see which hotel rooms house items of interest to ask the ghosts about. In addition to these items, she can also pick up keys found in desk drawers to lock Jimmy out of rooms… or in them. Uncovering all the spirits’ secrets is the key to exiting this ghastly hotel alive; it’s up to inquisitive Maya to listen to their stories and give them the closure they deserve before she and her friends can escape as well.
Roaming around the dimly lit hallways to speak with ghosts is spooky enough on its own; unfortunately, the task is made harder — and scarier — with Jimmy chasing after you. Using point and click mechanics, players will move through the halls incrementally, clicking forward moving Maya forward in spurts. Unfortunately for Maya, Sea View Hotel has a twisty, turny floor plan featuring plenty of dark corners, and taking a wrong turn can mean curtains for our brave protagonist. Jimmy likes to lurk in the shadows, lying in wait for Maya to walk past or following her as she investigates, clubbing her over the head, taking her things, and dragging her to a random room if he catches her.
Maya can avoid capture by moving to a different floor or ducking into one of the rooms and locking it if she has the deadlock key to that room. If she doesn’t, it’s entirely possible Jimmy can enter in the room as well, so it’s best to keep an eye on that peephole to monitor his movements throughout the hallways. Sometimes he’ll wander slowly by, while other times he’ll purposefully pop into view from below, scaring anyone watching from inside. On occasion, he’ll force his way in with a key of his own, forcing Maya to either hide in the bathroom or the closet; if you’re lucky, he’ll leave the room… if not, well…
At Dead of Night features some spectacularly spooky atmosphere. Poorly lit hallways and dated rooms make the environments feel heavier than they truly are, and the use of sound puts you on edge throughout the entire game. As most of the time is spent trying to move safely from room to room and avoid Jimmy, you’ll need to pick up on small hints to figure out his location. For example, staring down to the end of a hallway, you might see a shadow moving across the floor, or while debating on where to go next, you may hear a floorboard creak behind you. Getting on the elevator at the right time will reward you with a glimpse of Jimmy out of the corner of your eye as the doors close. You can also discern his general location by his taunts — if they’re muffled and hard to understand, he’s probably on the other side of the floor, whereas loud and clear calls means he’s too close for comfort. For those who need assistance, there’s an option that indicates how close Jimmy is by text that appears as a subtitle, which is a great option for those who require that extra step or who are super cowardly (like me).
When it comes to story, At Dead of Night is the thing nightmares are made of. A small girl who Jimmy used to torment recollects how he set her toys on fire and threatened her with a sword; a psychiatrist recalls being driven to desperate measures after being accused of “the worst crime possible.” I love that it’s done in jarring piecemeal, as you’re supposed to stumble upon an area with high energy to be jumpscared into the next part of the story. After you encounter each spirit, you can ask them about what you saw and connect it to items you’ve found in the rooms. Connecting the correct item to its matching story counterpart will cause the ghost to tell you the next part of the story, ultimately leading up to them showing you how they died. Figuring out how it all leads back to Jimmy is up to you — if you can survive the night.
On the game front, At Dead of Night unfortunately has some issues. For one, the compass is sometimes helpful, sometimes useless. From what I have gathered, it seems to point towards the direction of the spirit but doesn’t make a distinction for which floor you’re on; if you’re on a floor with no spirit, it will still point you in random directions which can be confusing if you’re coming back to the game after a break. Additionally, Jimmy’s sound mechanic could use some work — sometimes he’ll sound very far away, only to club you over the head as soon as you leave a room. And while we’re on the topic of Jimmy, he is one clingy guy. It’s really hard to shake him if you’re trying to exit a room, and moving to a new floor only gives you a moment before he’s on your ass again. Which brings me to another Jimmy-related issue: when you’re captured, he steals your device and other items, which you’ll need to collect again before moving forward. During this time, he can still club you and steal more items, which really limits your ability (and desire) to continue if it occurs too often. Lastly, the hallways are perhaps too dimly lit, especially on the second floor. I ended up walking around in circles for an hour at one point because I couldn’t see the way to the exit, as the entrance to the hallway blended into the darkness.
With that being said, At Dead of Night is one of the few FMV games I’ve really seen “get it right.” Relying too heavily on full motion video in gaming makes for an awkward experience — one where people don’t feel truly immersed and are basically watching a movie. In fact, when it comes to FMV, more often than not, less is more; having the FMV portions set the stage or move the story forward instead of being the focus makes for a much more immersive and incredibly realistic experience. Just like the early days of CGI, it has to hit a sweet spot — spare but not sparse — coupled with environments so lifelike that the blend between CGI and reality is practically seamless. This makes horror games a naturally great setting for such a mixture, as the genre relies on the creepiness of shadows and the reluctance to show the villain too much, allowing the brain to fill in gaps as needed. On the FMV front, At Dead of Night is a triumph.
Although At Dead of Night does suffer from a few minor game mechanic issues, it’s arguably one of the best FMV games ever created and a solid horror experience. Whether you’re a horror game veteran or a total coward, At Dead of Night will delight just about anyone who comes across the title. Had I known about this game last year, it would have certainly made its way on my top 10 games of 2020 list. Ah well, better late than never; be sure to make up for lost time yourself by picking up a copy of At Dead of Night on Steam today.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Baggy Cat; Developer: Baggy Cat; Players: 1; Released: November 19, 2020; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of At Dead of Night purchased by the reviewer.