As an adventure game, Midnight Nowhere follows in the inveterate footsteps of horror/adventure games past. All the usual staples are here; a solitary protagonist, the bloody trail of an unknown assailant, and the ample fortnights of free time needed to casually inspect every loose object in the known world. With a list as short and simple as that, the room for deviation becomes a margin of creative freedom as wide as a shoelace. But the formula works, as is evidenced by the adventure games that continue to get marketed on a monthly basis.
It seems that Saturn+ saw the need to tell another story in the formulaic periphery of the genre, but somewhere along the way they realized the extensive volley of clichÃ©s that went into games of this ilk. What blossomed in the development of their latest adventure is a contrast in the unbearable ugliness of a terrain of death and twisted dementia, and the calloused, sarcastic response to a conspicuously ridiculous situation. This is Midnight Nowhere’s lifeblood and charm.
The Gamer’s Hell preview of Midnight Nowhere initially questions the actions of a person who suddenly finds himself wrapped up in a body bag after an undetermined length of unconsciousness. Apparently, the end result is a cheeky re-emergence into the real world, regardless of the bloody, horrific surroundings. This is where you begin. Your unknown protagonist, whom I’m tempted to call “Ash” for reasons I’ll explain in a bit, wakes breathing heavily in blackness, and after a bit of fumbling, works the zipper free from the body bag he’s in. Once he’s out, the game is on.
I think that if the main character from the notoriously cheesy Evil Dead movies (Ash) had a distant cousin of ill-repute and luck, it would be the guy you control in Midnight Nowhere. My main source of evidence for this familial connection are the handy quips and cocky one-liners that slide from his mouth whenever he encounters something of note, like a syringe or a body with a bullet hole in its head. Some of my favorites come from his somewhat appreciative inspection of the various dead females in the hospital – a fact that also warrants some sort of mature rating for this game. I was initially pretty surprised at his blasÃ© commentary on the corpses with which he shared the morgue, or a brain in a jar that looked seriously manhandled. This flippant discourse quickly became the defining perspective in a setting of predictable strife and terror, and I soon found myself endeared to this jaded main character and his mockery of what he sees as a farce on the reality he’s exposed to.
And what a reality it is. The near future is upon us, along with the surreal idealism that accompanies any vision of our impending morrows as evinced by the posters adorning the hallway of the hospital, telling of miracle cures for pathological alcoholism and impotency. The surroundings our buddy must walk through are quite well rendered, and his character design is not all that inconsistent with the pervasive quality of the graphical backdrop. Unfortunately, item identification and grabbing become difficult in certain circumstances, making the overall task of acquiring key items (no pun intended) more than a little frustrating. The area on a person, lab coat, or tabletop can include several different zones of interest or item placement, and sometimes it’s hard to tell that you’ve already inspected one spot, while another goes untouched and may contain an important article or piece of info. Also, some of the puzzles are easy to miss, and great stretches of the imagination are required in places to use or combine items. A few times I caught myself feeling bad about myself and my problem solving abilities, until I realized how ridiculous and unconnected some of the solutions turned out to be. Self-pity turned to bitter spite rather quickly.
Differences in action can also cause a bit of trouble, though Midnight Nowhere has one of the better and more simplistic layouts for character direction I’ve seen in an adventure game. The four actions (Look, Speak, Grab, Use) are located in the upper left-hand corner of your screen as discreet, but suitable icons. The problem, as trivial as it might be in the majority of the game, is that in a given area, it’s sometimes necessary to manually switch between the different actions and troll over almost every square millimeter of mundane or mercilessly detailed scenery in order to cover all your discovery bases. Essential hotspots will automatically show the action needed to extract information (the Look icon may appear, even though you have the Grab action selected), but this doesn’t make up for what becomes an exercise in eye-squinting and hyper-accurate mouse/hand movement. A bit more of the action automation would have helped a great deal.
Aside from these items of deficiency, Midnight Nowhere retains a relatively high entertainment value. Unlike some other adventure games I’ve played, the character and the environment he’s in rarely seem separated from each other, and this is crucial for you, the player, to feel part of what’s happening on screen. I liked that the ambiance didn’t seem overdone, and that the morbid dÃ©cor was tastefully precise. There’s even a prurient dimension, which added bits of T&A around in the form of nudie posters and sex-fetish magazines – always a nice touch, if you ask me. The music was not necessarily in the background all the time; moving from one room to the next often yielded an abrupt change in the soundtrack, and this can be just as removing as a 10-polygon human figure on a finely-crafted pre-rendered backdrop. When all the superficial pieces are considered, they create a competently realized and presented environment of creepy human desecration and violent tumult – just the sort of stuff a guy could walk around in and ridicule relentlessly.
First of all, if I awoke in a body bag, I would quickly use up my limited oxygen supply by screaming myself hoarse. Secondly, if a game’s going to follow the preset rules for a horror adventure, a little self-deprecation here and there never hurts. In Midnight Nowhere’s quest to discover the bent mind (or minds) that carried out the terrifying destruction presented, it brings with it a cavalier smart-mouth to keep its ego in check. I marked the gameplay a bit lower for the occasionally inscrutable puzzle and persnickety egg hunt for items, but Mr. One-Liner never failed to keep me moving forward a little more, if for no other reason than to see what asinine phrase bubbled from his corny disposition around the next corner. If you’re in the mood for a sarcastic cerebral affair, check out Midnight Nowhere. You’ll chuckle through your confusion and frustration.