Think whatever you want, I really liked Midnight Nowhere. If anything, the weird posters in the hospital did it for me.
First published on Just Adventure+ in April 2, 2003.
It’s dark. You can’t breathe. You start moving your arms frantically but something is holding them back. Something that surrounds you — thick, limiting your movements… a bag? Searching it, you find a fastener and pull it. You finally step out of the bag and proceed to examine your surroundings. A room. Cold. Noisy. And with a horrific smell – possibly due to the alarming number of decaying bodies lying around. But wait. You can’t remember anything. Who are you? What is this place? What are you doing in here? You think to yourself “No, not this again, not another amnesiac character”. Yet something seems undeniably attractive to you – something that urges you to solve the mystery behind Midnight Nowhere.
A NICE PLACE TO TAKE A NAP
Having a look around will bring you to two major conclusions: 1) You’re in a hospital. 2) Something is very wrong. Not only is the hospital completely deserted but someone wasn’t pleased with the service as all the personnel is murdered. It’s a captivating beginning of a story that, at first, it might seem clichéd but it turns into a complex and intriguing plot. The story, which progresses at a slow, suspenseful pace, is primarily divided into two parts – the hospital and everything that comes after you leave it. The two parts have a different “feel” and their own problems, which I’m going to discuss later. You mostly learn about your character and past events by reading notes, diaries, terminals, etc. Yes, while it’s not that much, reading is required to advance in the story.
Since we are dealing here with a game of which most of the charm of its plot relies on not knowing anything about it, I’ll not say the name of the main character. But, since it’s quite annoying referring to him as “he”, “the main character”, “that guy” and similar terminology, I shall call him, for the purpose of this review, “Buddy”.
Buddy is a cool character. He’s not one of those characters that you’ll remember fondly after you finish the game – he’s not going to be your “best friend”, if you know what I mean. Which is great, actually, because having a character with too much personality can ruin the experience of this kind of game. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Buddy is a lifeless puppet – most of his witty comments are really fun if somewhat obscure at times. Some might find this kind of humour ruins the dark atmosphere but, personally, I throughoutly enjoyed it.
I’d love to reveal more details about the story but I can’t without spoiling it. All I’m going to say is that there is a bloody murderer involved who is terrorizing the city and Buddy is suspected of the crimes.
MORE THAN ACCEPTABLE LEVEL OF CREEPINESS
The atmosphere is clearly the highlight of the game. Overall, the settings are very creepy and oppressive, for instance, the hospital – you can almost sense something evil lurking around the corner. I’m not saying that hospitals are creepy but the developers twisted the images to make them look creepy. Actually, if you were alone in a hospital I’m sure you would feel at least uneasy. Add the decaying bodies and you’re scared to death. Bathrooms – same with the bathrooms. A bathroom “per se” isn’t creepy (well, you should see mine) but the artists managed to make it look really scary – you know there’s nothing there but you want to leave as soon as you can. You can appreciate in the screenshot what a creepy bathroom looks like…
Graphics are, for the most part, crisp and detailed. The scenes are pre-rendered images that look realistic – Buddy also moves realistically through them except maybe when he stops walking abruptly — this needed a bit more polishing. Only a few scenes lack the quality of the rest of the game. The excellent graphics and the moody soundtrack are what make this game a truly scary experience. If you have the guts, play this one with the lights out.
I have learned to really appreciate the presence of a good soundtrack in any type of game, as I believe it can greatly enhance the playing experience and thankfully, the soundtrack in Midnight Nowhere is fantastic. As you know, in this type of horror game, a soundtrack can be a double-edged sword as it can ruin the atmosphere but instead of being intrusive, the moody soundtrack in Midnight Nowhere masterfully accompanies the creepy scenery. At times it feels menacing, as if something is just about to jump at you. Overall, a pretty good job.
Cut scenes, while there are very few of them, are well done and short. For instance, the introduction sequence, which I described in the beginning, lasts only a few seconds and then the game puts you in the initial room with all the dead bodies and other charming stuff. It feels like a slap in the face – very effective.
One detail that adds immense value to the atmosphere is the weird imagery that can be seen through the game in form of advertisements, pictures, magazines, etc. But specially the advertisements – almost every single one of them have nothing to do with the story, they’re just there for fun (a bizarre, otherworldly sense of fun) for you to read. They’re frankly some of the most bizarre images I’ve seen in a game. I don’t know if the developers intended them to be funny or scary because they’re basically ordinary advertisements with the people’s faces disfigured (like with that software, Kay’s Powergoo). They’re scary and very grotesque. Perhaps the best way to put it is that they make you feel uneasy. What can I say — I loved them!
Enough talking about the atmosphere – it’s top-notch.
While Buddy is well modeled and detailed, other characters that appear through the game don’t have such quality. It’s a shame really, because they “break” the harmony of the game. They just don’t measure up to the quality of the backgrounds and Buddy. There aren’t many of them though.
I think it’s time that I note something important – this game isn’t for kids. Not because of violence and blood, which is actually very sparse, but two details. You get to see lots of naked women in photos (well, no real problems there) and there’s a… um… female “pleasing” device that you must fiddle with. Well, it’s not necessarily only for women… and you don’t need to fiddle with it that way… you know what I mean. OK, OK, there’s a dildo but no, you don’t have to use it!
As I said before, Midnight Nowhere progresses at a slow pace and I meant this both in terms of story and game play. This means that Buddy also walks slowly through the scenes which is not bad and it almost seems mandatory for horror adventures. Still, he’s an Olympics runner when compared to, say, Kate Walker.
To give you a quick idea of how the game looks and feels, think of Resident Evil (or Alone In The Dark for that matter) but with a point and click interface. Before you purists hit the Close Window icon, allow me to clarify that there aren’t any action sequences in Midnight Nowhere. Not a single one, not even a timed puzzle. There, there, put the mouse away.
Speaking of mice, the interface of the game feels slightly different and I welcome the fact that. It consists of the usual selection of actions (Look, Talk, Take, Use) and a notepad that is only accessible later in the game. The difference resides in that you can’t interact with most hotspots using all the actions. For instance, you’re able to “see” most things but you can’t even try “using” them, as the Use cursor won’t be enabled. So it requires thinking a bit more about your next move as you can’t frantically click on every little thing seen on screen. This also makes for some interesting puzzles. Since most of the hotspots are clearly defined objects, in a sense that you understand what you’re seeing on the screen, this is a clever feature.
Some might find the size of the cursors a little big but it’s not that bad except for a few occasions, when you have to examine bodies and need to click on different parts of them (i.e.: neck). In these occasions, the size of the cursor was slightly intrusive and it made it difficult to the pinpoint those particular parts.
Also, I found that some of the scenes had the exit hotspots in unusual locations. You would expect them to be in a place that makes sense but you have to move the cursor around until you find them. Some of the scenes even go as far as having a hotspot in a very tiny location! Thankfully, this didn’t happen too often.
Perhaps the only real problem I found in this game is in some of its puzzles. In the first half, the hospital, several puzzles rely on finding a key and unlocking a door which has two drawbacks: 1) It doesn’t make sense because (as you learn as the story progresses) everyone left the hospital in a hurry – just why would they take the trouble to lock every single door? Buddy does comment about this when you reach a point in the game but it’s not that satisfying. And 2) it gets tiresome after a while.
The other problem I found was, or could be, as I’m going to explain, a bit more serious. When you reach the part of the game when the second episode starts, there’s a sequence in a jail room where you have to work out some puzzles in order to advance in the game. One of your jail mates, the leader of the gang, will ask you to solve a few riddles for him to gain his trust and, in order to solve them, you must find several poker cards that are scattered or hidden in the room. Some of them contain the solution to his riddles. I found this sequence to be fun. Why do I say that this could be a problem then? Because these puzzles have absolutely nothing to do with the story. Still, I enjoyed them. If the rest of the puzzles in the game weren’t story-related, I’d be disappointed but they are and this sequence was a sort of “break” from the story. I found it fun but others might find it very annoying. It’s not that long either so it’s really not necessary to make a big deal out of it.
Probably the biggest drawback in the game is the final sequence where most puzzles are very uninspired when compared to the beginning of the game. Some of them rely in fetching an object for someone and gives the feeling of being there just to make the game longer. The last puzzle feels quite dumb really but I don’t want to give any more details – I’ll say that it was clever by itself but out of context.
Despite the problems I mentioned, Midnight Nowhere was an immensely satisfying adventure. I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome which was a very unconventional ending – this one will leave you with your jaw dropped and mentally revising the interwoven parts of the story for a while. Something about the setting or maybe the despairing soundtrack, especially the main tune, reminded me of a David Cronenberg movie. Definitely worth trying for any adventurer out there but specially good if you’re a fan of horror stuff – if you like adventures with spooky atmosphere, haunting storyline and creepy bathrooms, add a plus to that final score.