Thursday, April 26

Review: Late Shift [Nintendo Switch eShop]

You wouldn’t necessarily know it now but there was a time when full-motion video (FMV) games were all the rage. With the capacity of CD-ROMs and the availability of computers and consoles powerful enough to load and run the movie files with reasonable speed the stage was set. Throw in the fact that the games weren’t typically very demanding and another driver for their appeal was the fact that more casual players could enjoy them. Of course the genre finally collapsed, probably because casual players moved on to other things and generally the games were just middling in quality. Now, with the indie gaming scene bustling FMV is set for a comeback. Though your degree of control in Late Shift, the second title in the genre to hit the Switch, is a bit limited it is the production quality and the seamless experience that really make it quite impressive.

Without getting too far into the details of the story you’ll play the part of Matt, a student who is moonlighting as a parking garage attendant at night. Ready to simply show up for an easy night of catching up on his studies it doesn’t take long before things begin to happen that will immediately set a foundation for what happens for the rest of a game. A suspicious man is in the garage and appears to have his sights set on stealing an expensive car. Will you confront him? How will you approach it? While there are some elements of the story that appear to be a bit unavoidable, throughout the few hours you may experience the game even small decisions can have later consequences, the question is how much of one. This is especially true since once you’ve come to one of the game’s 7 conclusions (guess how many of them are less than desirable) you’ll immediately begin questioning every choice you’d made before.

From a technical standpoint the easiest way to point out how well Late Shift does is to contrast it with The Bunker, the other FMV game available on the Switch. Make no mistake, the stories and what makes both games compelling in their own right is different, just Late Shift feels like a more evolved and possibly better-planned affair overall. The main, and most impressive, quality the story has is its seamlessness. Between the processing power of modern systems and the fact that the video isn’t being loaded off of a slow disk there’s no delay in seeing what happens when you make a decision in the game, and in fact a big part of your challenge is that the game won’t wait for you… once you see your options before you there are only a few seconds to make a choice or the game will essentially make one for you and keep moving. Add in the removal of the admittedly awkward low-quality action-esque sequences from the mix as seen in The Bunker and the result is what pretty well feels like an interactive movie. In the press materials the claim is made that the game has a total (bearing in mind that a given run will only hit some portion of them) of over 180 decision points and I’d believe it. The question is which ones carry greater consequences outright and which ones just may tip the balance little by little? It is that question that cleverly drives the replayability of the title, and it is a pretty brilliant move.

I must say that on pretty well all levels Late Shift is an amazing exercise in interactive storytelling. While I’d imagined it would be a lot like The Bunker, sharing quite a bit in common with the likes of laser disc games ala Dragon’s Lair and its ilk, it instead has made an appropriate generational leap ahead. Nothing will change the fact that your ability to interact with and control the events taking place in the game is limited, but it is all handled so deftly, and without hesitation, that you get much more immersed in the story. The fact that the production values and acting are easily on par with even middle of the road TV and movies then pulls you in even further. I think that Late Shift really represents the future vision people dreamed about when they were making those original FMV games, and that if more titles at this level of quality continue to be made it is a genre set for a comeback.

Score: 8

  • A compelling and well-acted exercise in interactive storytelling
  • Over 180 collective decision points are possible leading to 7 different endings
  • The video is pretty well seamless as decisions immediately move you forward without delay
  • A surprisingly high replayability factor

  • Though any decision you make differently could lead to new sequences and choices the lack of ability to fast forward or at least speed up elements you’ve seen before would have been nice
  • If you’re looking for some action or more interactivity than making quick decisions between 2 - 3 options you’ll be disappointed