by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
A match made in heaven?
Surrealism and horror are two of my favourite things, and the fact that they go so well together makes it a crime that more games don’t combine them. Between Me and the Night is a game that does combine the two, and although it creates a good atmosphere and has some decent art direction, it stumbles on its gameplay. It’s essentially a 2D adventure game, which transforms into a poorly conceived action game for brief periods. The majority of the game takes place inside a spooky house where you play as a young boy, and things clearly aren’t as they seem. I wanted to love it, but came away feeling frustrated.
A control scheme from hell
First of all, let’s talk about the odd control scheme. The keyboard and mouse controls were so obtuse that I didn’t understand them even during the tutorial when the game was explicitly telling me what to do. Switching to a gamepad made things a bit easier, but moving objects around is unnecessarily fiddly. You move around normally in real time, but to use an object in the environment or pick it up, you have to enter a special mode which brings up a cursor. This allows you to interact with things, but only if they’re within your close vicinity. For some reason you also have to keep the button held down while you’re moving the cursor around.
Picking an item up sends it to your inventory, but you’ve only got five slots, and even if you’ve got a slot free you can’t carry more than a few items of a certain size at a time. This is frustrating, particularly when you can pick up a good number of items in the game that are essentially red herrings. Thankfully, you can drop something from your inventory wherever you want, but if it turns out you did actually need it later, you’d better remember where you left it. Now, if you want to use an item from your inventory on something in the world, then you have to grab it in the special mode, drag it to where you want by holding down the Use button and your mouse or analogue stick. Why the decision was made to go down this road rather than just a traditional point and click interface, I don’t know. As it is, there’s just too much you have to do to perform a simple action.
Most of the gameplay revolves around solving puzzles in an adventure game style. And, as with most games of this style, it will often devolve into a laborious hunt for the exact item you need for the situation. It can be even worse here, as you are very rarely given pointers for what actually needs to be done. At one point clues dried up completely, so I ended up performing tasks that seemed to be doing something, but didn’t seem to actually progressing anything. The game is split into chapters, and they can get pretty long if you don’t know what you’re doing. In most games, if you get stuck, you can just quit and come back later. Bizarrely, Between Me and the Night doesn’t have a save system, and if you quit the game, you go all the way back to the start of the chapter.
Between Me and the Night’s style saves it somewhat. Visually it’s a fairly colourful, papercraft world, and although it’s 2D, there’s some depth to it. You can move furniture around and climb up on it to reach higher places, or you’ll reveal objects that are hidden behind others. The character designs are good, the protagonist with his shaggy red hair, shorts, and t-shirt, and his seemingly absent family cast shadowy figures as he explores the house. There’s also a fairly quick day / night cycle, which changes the look and feel of the house drastically in the few minutes that separate each time of the day. Lights will be turned on and off, and a dark creature stalks the hallways that you’ll have to avoid for fear of being sent back to your bedroom.
This enemy is a pretty scary the first time you encounter him, but as soon as you realise he’s pretty easy to outrun and outsmart, and that all you’ll really lose is time if he catches you, he becomes more of a nuisance than a threat. You’ll be able to hear him nearby as you move between rooms, but he seems unable to move between them himself. So if you spot him, all you have to do is run to the nearest door and go through it. Then you’ll simply tap your foot and wait impatiently for the sun to rise and for him to blink out of existence. There are other dangers you’ll encounter, and the more surreal ones of these are the most interesting part of the game, but they’re fairly few and far between.
No sign of paradise
In the end, it’s just some weird design decisions and the abstract nature of a surrealist game mixed with the obtuse nature of classic adventure games that let Between Me and the Night down. There is certainly some promise here, but it’s just far too frustrating to play, and the lack of a mid-level save is crazy in a modern game.
A good sense of style and atmosphere
Ridiculously fiddly control scheme, oftentimes too obtuse, no save system