While the FMV genre is still largely associated with 90’s games like Night Trap and Seventh Guest it has been going through a recent renaissance with indie titles like Her Story and the Emmy winning Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. In Night Book Wales Interactive seeks to continue that success with an occult horror spin on the choose-your-own-adventure formula. Available on Steam, Switch, PS4, PS5, X-Box Series X, and X-Box One it is readily available across platforms.

PLOT:

As a choose-your-own-adventure story exactly how the plot plays out is influenced largely by the choices made during play, but the basic story of Night Book stays the same regardless of these choices. Loralyn, played by Julie Dray, is an online interpreter who inadvertently summons a spirit, seeking to stop her husband’s land development project Le Pouce Island. This story is told via a combination of video conferences, phone calls, and security footage.

GAMEPLAY:

The gameplay is minimal in Night Book, consisting entirely of making binary choices. There are also tools to view previous choices, read documents, and skip through scenes that have already been viewed. These additional tools are useful, and become increasingly necessary on subsequent playthroughs but don’t make the game any more interactive.

PROS:

The biggest advantage Night Book has over other FMV games is its great cast of character actors. Julie Dray, Colin Salmon, and Mark Wingett are the sort of actors you might expect to pop up in a mid-budget horror movie, which fits in well with the game’s aesthetic.  The acting is overall very strong compared to most FMV titles, with Julie Dray giving a fairly straightforward but enjoyable performance while Mark Wingett plays his role as her possessed father over the top in an enjoyable B-Movie fashion.

It’s also an impressive feat of ingenuity, having been produced remotely due to the COVID pandemic. While there are some major pitfalls because of this (more on that later) Wales Interactive should be lauded for taking on the challenge of producing an entirely remote FMV game. The game’s plot is clearly built around keeping its characters physically separate, communicating almost exclusively through the internet. They also use the security camera footage for some effective, Paranormal Activity style scares.

CONS:

While it’s impressive that Wales Interactive was able to make the game remotely, the inability to have actors interacting with one another is one of its greatest weaknesses. While this works for most of the story, where it really becomes a problem is the interactions between Loralyn and her father. Her father is the most direct physical threat to Loralyn, as he is in the same house and has a deteriorating mental state. The in-game explanation for their separation is that he’s a shut-in who refuses to leave his room. As the story progresses and he becomes increasingly unhinged that illusion feels increasingly strained, killing that plot point as a source of fear and tension.

The game is also thematically weak. It presents plot points that deal with heavy themes but fails to really explore or comment on them. Early on the game seems to be setting up the relationship between family and mental health with Loralyn taking care of her father and showing concern that his mental illness will affect her unborn child. However, as the game progresses these plot points have little importance and the reveal that the father is possessed is taken at face value rather than working as a mental illness metaphor. In a similar fashion, the occult horror element is a surface-level nod to neo-colonial exploitation, but in the end, the spirits in the game just have a vague ecological message. These elements vary in importance depending on the route you take, but none of the paths I played through felt thematically satisfying.

VERDICT:

The seed of a good game is present, but Night Book consistently falls short of its own potential. Despite solid performances and fun horror ideas, the game never manages to come together into a cohesive experience. Wales Interactive promotes the game having 15 different endings as a major feature, they might have been better off cutting that number in half to focus on developing those stories. Having played through over half of these routes, they all felt under-written and unsatisfying. Hardcore fans of the FMV genre may find this a worthwhile entry but otherwise, it misses the mark. Night Book is available on Steam, PS4, PS5, X-box Series X, and X-box One for $12.99.

RATING: 5/10 CURSED BOOKS

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