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    Not Tonight 2 review



    Need to know

    What is it? A paperwork simulator set in the death throes of the United States.
    Expect to pay: $20/£15.50
    Developer: PanicBarn
    Publisher: No More Robots
    Reviewed on: Windows 10, GeForce RTX 2070 Super, Core i7-9700 @ 3.00GHz, 16GB RAM
    Multiplayer? None
    Link: Official site (opens in new tab) 

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    Not Tonight 2 has one of the bleakest opening sequences in the history of videogames. A crowd of Black and brown twenty-somethings are protesting outside a bar in Seattle when an unmarked van pulls up and a modern-day American Gestapo tosses one of them into the back of a van. With your friend now incarcerated in a Miami “gulag,” you and your comrades set off on a rescue mission.

    From there, I expected Not Tonight 2 to send me on a treacherous journey across a violent, white-nationalist landscape. Instead, one of my first stops was North Dakota, where I found that an everlasting Renaissance Faire had taken up residence in the shadow of Mount Rushmore. (The presidents have been replaced by wizards.) The tension was zapped away in an instant. Not Tonight 2 pulls plenty of influence from the political zeitgeist, but delivers a colorfully crude pastiche rather than transcendent satire.

    (Image credit: PanicBarn)

    This is the sort of development philosophy I thought we shed in 1992, right around the time Zork made the jump to 3D.

    That lack of focus carries over into some of Not Tonight 2’s more ancillary design choices. When you’re not checking IDs, you’ll be staring at an atlas, moving from town to town, and managing your health and morale meters. If either drop to zero, you’re presented with a game over screen. The problem is the way you supply those pools is almost entirely random. There are a couple of vague, secret objectives at the end of each chapter which replenish your stats, and over time I was able to achieve those with reliable consistency. But what’s more frustrating is that a lot of Not Tonight 2’s plot is told through a series of choose-your-own-adventure text boxes, and those are replete with all sorts of early King’s Quest-style punitive bullshit that can terminate a run out of nowhere. Pick the wrong dialogue choice? Bam, lose 10 health. You have no way of predicting why; it’s just bad luck. At one point I was forced to reload an earlier save, and replay an entire chapter’s worth of content, because one of those chokepoints left my game in an unwinnable state. This is the sort of development philosophy I thought we shed in 1992, right around the time Zork made the jump to 3D. 

    I generally enjoyed my time visiting Not Tonight 2’s fallen America, and I even learned to love the heuristics of scrutinizing documents, awakening a furtive DMV fantasy within me. But to reiterate, this is a game about checking paperwork. That’s all you’ll be doing across its eight hours. I enjoyed Papers, Please, but I chalk that up to the game’s airtight aesthetic. You’re a border agent between two grim, newly-independent Eastern Bloc nations, and the brutal monotony of that existence pounds you into a pulp by the time you see credits. With Not Tonight 2, I was left unconvinced that a bouncer had the best vantage point to explore this fascinating universe—it’s too colorful, too interesting, and too macabre to be kept at arm’s length. Handing out tickets was fun, but I wanted to see the party for myself.

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