There’s been an interesting influx in “new” game genres in the past few years. Simulations of mundane tasks are seemingly hitting stores everywhere. In 2013 Papers, Please seemingly changed the way we look at games (or at least it did for me), showing that we don’t need over the top cinematics to have real and hard-hitting stories in gaming. Not Tonight takes this concept and puts an interesting spin on it.
Not Tonight takes place in a dystopian future, where the British public shockingly voted to leave the European Union, or Brexit as it’s dubbed. Obviously, this would never happen in the real world, but try to embrace the suspension of disbelief. Not Tonight shines a satirical and exaggerated light on the high level of xenophobia that seems to flitter about on social media in the UK at the moment.
You take on the role of a bouncer. Basically, you check ID’s and tickets to make sure the people who want to come into the pubs/clubs/events that you’re working at are actually allowed to be there. While the character you play is actually from the UK, with you choosing a background story while creating a character, you’ll always be referred to as “Euro”, as I assume you voted remain during the voting period. There’s a little comedic element that plays into this, as you never actually get given the opportunity to explain to anyone that you’re from the UK.
So let’s break down Not Tonight, shall we? The beauty of Not Tonight is that it’s disgustingly simple at a base level. All you need is a mouse and you’re set (there are upgrades later on that change this, but it’s true for the most part). While that may sound as a disservice to Not Tonight, it’s actually one of my favorite things about it. Because it controls so simply, with you mousing over to take an ID or flicking through a VIP list, it makes concentrating on the important aspects of the game, like checking all the key details of the items you’ve been passed so much easier.
Obviously, Not Tonight doesn’t stay so delightfully simple. As you progress through the story (which I’ll get to in a bit), the difficulty raises, with the inclusion of multiple queues, multiple tickets and of course, a few strange characters who might or might not have some ulterior motives.
It’s with these strange characters that Not Tonight‘s story unfolds. There are various interactions that happen at your shitty run-down apartment that are set to introduce various characters to you. Some of these characters will be introduced via a namedrop, whereas others will actually come to visit you and have a little conversation. I suppose storytelling would be a loose term, as a lot of the conversations are a little vague and merely allude to possible story beats.
Fans of Papers, Please will be happy to know that there’s a Jorji-esque character in Not Tonight. Once you clock who it is, help him!
Not Tonight can be difficult, though only on occasion. As I previously mentioned, you start off with just haphazardly checking ID that are thrown your way. If you’re familiar with Papers, Please (and yes, I know I’m making the comparison all the time), then you’ll know how the difficulty is set to escalate. For the uninitiated, you begin by checking expiry dates and birth dates. If you aren’t 18, you aren’t coming in! Naturally, fake ID’s begin to saturate the market, leading you to have to check more specific details of the ID’s as well as everything else. Further into the game, multiple queues are added for VIPs, leading you to have to check they’re actually on the guest list. Other mechanics, that I won’t be spoiling you on, get added that keep Not Tonight interesting, while still staying manageable on a basic level.
Sometimes Not Tonight can be stressful, especially when you’re managing multiple queues and also have “special” characters also trying to chat with you, but all you actually need to do to keep each queue happy is accept one person from it. It’s a fairly simple system designed to keep you from ignoring one queue, but before I realized that I only had to accept one person to shoot the queue happiness back up, my urgency did leave slightly.
Graphically, Not Tonight is your pretty standard pretty pixel art, you slowly start to recognize some unique characters appearing in your queues. The backgrounds are filled with nice little flourishes that manage to create the idea of a living world. Later on in Not Tonight, a club you work at introduces a dress code. Anyone not adhering to the code isn’t allowed in. For some reason, possibly due to me just being a bit dense, I really struggled to work out what was allowed and not allowed. Maybe there needed to be clear distinctions on what was a dress and what was shorts, but it ended up being “I see legs, you aren’t coming in”.
I feel I’d be doing Not Tonight an injustice if I didn’t mention the sound. Everyone talks in Simlish, basically, but that’s not why I’ve got a whole point about the sound. No, my actual love for the sound comes from a very, very subtle inclusion. When you’re sorting your queues out, all the background music is muffled. As soon as you allow someone to enter, the music comes through full force for a few seconds, before going back to muffled.
Why does this happen, I hear you cry? Because you’re stood outside the pub/club/event. The doors are closed, so you’re not gonna hear the music at full force. The reason it pops up when you let someone in? The doors have opened, so the music is going to filter out. It’s such a simple little mechanic, but it really stuck with me, for some reason.
Not Tonight definitely takes the great parts of Papers, Please and places a satirical spin on it. Whereas Papers, Please always felt drab, worn down and almost too close to a reality that could exist in an Eastern European dictatorship, Not Tonight isn’t so massively oppressive. Interacting with the same girl every 3 or 4 days because she finally thinks she’s got the right ID or story to get in is actually kind of interesting, even if it did stress me out a little when I’m trying to get my queues down like a good bouncer.
While the premise isn’t unique now, Not Tonight still succeeds in its delivery, aesthetic and story. It’s tightly polished, with sinister undertones. You’ll be constantly presented with various moral dilemmas, ranging from dealing drugs to “cheeseheads” in an effort to make some extra cash, freeing a saleswoman from a job that she truly hates, or giving a man hope that he’ll be able to dance again.
I’d recommend Not Tonight to anyone who is a fan of Papers, Please. Or if you’re just a fan of no traditional gameplay styles. As a medium, gaming deserves to be explored in as many ways as possible. We’ve seen storytelling in the style of Gone Home and the plethora of games that spawned from its success. Maybe it’s time to have a few more cleverly crafted stories like Not Tonight?