Not Tonight 2

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Not Tonight 2 review
Samuel Corey


Papers Please but worse in every way.

Papers Please... But Worse in Every Imaginable Way

I had assumed that Papers Please, the excellent bureaucracy-simulator from 2013, would forever remain one of a kind. Sure, sorting through the paperwork of prospective immigrants to the fictional Eastern Block nation of Arstotzka was more fun than it had any right to be, but there was no great untapped well of possibilities in the genre. Indeed, Papers Please had already exhausted most of the artistic potential in the fledgling genre. That didn't stop developer PanicBarn from making their own Papers Please knock-off in the form of 2018's Not Tonight, and now that knock-off has a sequel of its own. In theory, this is fine, Papers Please was an excellent game and there's no reason why a game taking inspiration from it couldn't be just as great. The problem is that Not Tonight 2 not only fails to improve on Papers Please's formula, but it is also demonstrably worse in every area.

Take for instance the core gameplay challenge of sorting through people's paperwork. In Papers Please, each new government regulation is built on the existing bureaucratic red tape. First, you would let everyone in with a valid passport, then only people from the correct countries, then the game added entry tickets, work visas, national ID cards, and so and so forth. The result was a challenge that increased naturally as the game progressed. In Not Tonight 2, each level has its own one-off gimmick that is seldom repeated or expanded on in a meaningful way. So in one stage, you will need to prevent people dressed like wizards from entering the venue, and in another, you'll need to scan visitors to make sure they aren't sick, and in another you will have to play a crappy rhythm mini-game each time you scan a ticket. As a result the game never really gets more challenging, it just changes in superficial ways from level to level. Indeed, I breezed through nearly every level getting all the bonus objectives, and never had to worry about money.

Then there is the game's frustrating lack of a moral dimension. In Papers Please you were a border guard tasked with allowing or denying people entry into the country. You played a significant role in all manner of stories. Would you fudge the paperwork to let a pair of old lovers reunite? Accept a bride from a human trafficker to look the other way? Help the rebel organization topple the government? Each decision comes with a price, as following the rules is what keeps you paid, and breaking them could mean that your family would have to go without heat or food. The game is about the difficulty of doing the right thing in a world where every incentive pushes you in the opposite direction.

No scenario of comparable weight is present in the moment-to-moment gameplay of Not Tonight 2, because you're almost always just working as a bouncer at a bar. At best, all you can do is help some drunken twat have an enjoyable evening. There are almost no circumstances where you are asked to break the rules for moral reasons, and in the rare cases where you are, they are almost all trivial because your role is so unimportant in the grand scheme of things. It's downright mystifying to me: How could you possibly love Papers Please enough to make your own version, and still manage to be completely blind to all its charms?

A Nonsense World

Yet despite the game's significant failures in the gameplay department, the true incompetence starts to show in the nonsensical story and world-building. In Not Tonight 2, America has collapsed into a new civil war, once again divided between the North (here called The Alliance) and the South (which is ruled by the Martyrs). Naturally, the game is set in the not too distant future of... 2021? I have seen plenty of shitty sci-fi be made retroactively absurd by the passage of time (ahem 1990: The Bronx Warrior ahem). Yet this is the first time I've seen one release already defunct!

I suspect that 2021 was chosen as the year not because this year would make sense, but because you need to check to make sure each visitor to the bar is over 21, and this is a lot easier when you can just look to see if their birth year starts with a 19 or a 20. The game is even set in January 2021 to make this as trivial a matter as possible. Indeed, when you go to Canada for a level you find that the drinking age there has been raised to 21 as well. I've never played a puzzle game with so little faith in the intelligence of its player base before.

Yet even if we ignore the bizarre decision to set the game in a recent past that looks nothing like our actual history, Not Tonight 2's world-building is still completely stuffed. The USA has split into two separate entities that are extremely hostile towards each other, so it would be safe to assume that both sides are on constant lookout for enemy activity even if they aren't currently fighting a war. You'd be wrong, in the opening prologue of the game, Martyrs kidnap an activist from Alliance-held Portland and bring him to Florida. Why are The Martyrs able to operate with impunity in Alliance territory? No idea. Better question, why are the Martyrs kidnapping a rabble-rouser from Alliance territory at all? Surely it would be better to let him continue to destabilize their enemy. The Martys' actions make no sense. It's like if the German Empire during WWI launched a secret raid of Czarist Russia to kidnap the dangerous radical Vladimir Lenin, instead of aiding and abetting him as they did in real life.

Indeed, the game doesn't seem to know what to make of the Alliance at all. We're specifically told that they are the good guys standing for tolerance and democracy, but actually playing through the game suggests otherwise. Setting aside the fact that they cannot even protect their citizens from foreign attacks in their own territory, they have completely abandoned the Midwest to be ruled over by a fast-food company and allowed Canada to annex Montana! These are not the actions of a responsible government.

The nonsensical political situation is just the tip of the iceberg though. Global Warming has hit in force and the icebergs have melted but for some reason, only New York City has flooded (low-lying, swampy Florida is still entirely above water). A Pandemic ravages the United States, but only in the Mid-west (one has to wonder what the writers think the prefix “pan” means). Along the shores of Lake Michigan, acid rain is a constant problem, even though the problem of acid rain was solved decades ago. Again it's only a problem around Lake Michigan and, for some reason, every other body of water is just fine.

There's no reason why you couldn't make a game about America in an alternate 2021 ravaged by civil war, or flooding, or perpetual acid rainstorms, or widespread disease, or all of the above. However, in Not Tonight all these issues exist in complete isolation from each other, affecting only one little corner of the country rather than huge swathes of it. This is not a world that makes any goddamn sense. I suspect that the writers never actually spoke to each other as they were crafting the various scenarios in the game and when it was finished one poor intern had to desperately try to stitch together their ideas into a cohesive narrative.

An Insufferable Din

Boring gameplay and nonsensical story are grave sins for a video game to commit, but these can be chalked up to incompetence and forgiven with a shrug, an utterance of 'meh', and a 4/10 score for the review. After all, most games are boring nonsense and at least Not Tonight has the decency to retail for only $20 at launch. Indeed, in the age of Cyberpunk 2077 and Assassin's Creed Unity, a game gets partial credit just for not having any game-breaking bugs!

However, Not Tonight 2 has one issue that cannot be forgiven so easily: The audio. Obviously, this is a low-budget game and it cannot afford to hire voice actors to act out every line of dialogue. However, rather than keeping the conversations silent, the developer has opted for the Banjo-Kazooie approach and overlaid all the dialogue sequences with a different kind of gibberish for each speaking character. They really should have known better because this approach was pretty annoying in Banjo-Kazooie, and that was a game with hardly any dialogue! By comparison, Not Tonight 2 is practically a visual novel. Worse still, the first character you control has by far the most insufferable voice in the entire game. You will be listening to this schmuck's constant nonsensical whining for the first five hours of gameplay!

If that wasn't enough to make your ears bleed, it gets even worse when the paperwork sequences begin and you add the randomly generated babels of the guests to the cacophony. Worse still is the insipid pop music that every venue in 2021 America plays at ear-popping volume. To add insult to injury, the music gets momentarily louder whenever you admit a guest to the club, making it even harder to ignore. The result is a mounting annoyance that drove me to mute the entire game.


fun score


Nice pixel art, occasional engaging gameplay


World building makes no sense whatsoever, audio that ranges from grating to insufferable