Impressions: Not Tonight – A Prettier Yet Clunkier Papers, Please

The political event known as Brexit shocked the world back in 2016, when the United Kingdom made the decision to leave the European Union, one of the most powerful alliances in history. Two years later, there’s now a game, Not Tonight, that explores a highly conservative, post-Brexit society… with nightclubs and bars serving as the backdrop. So far, the game has gained the attention of major YouTubers like Jacksepticeye and Kubz Scouts. Many players on Steam have compared it to the indie hit Papers, Please. Given its popularity as well as political relevance, I decided to check the game out for myself.

Not Tonight screenshot 1

The Good

The Stakes –  When I play a game, especially any sort of RPG or story-driven game, my motivations need to be clear. Otherwise, there’s not much point to playing the game, right? In Not Tonight, there is one huge issue at stake, which is your ability to stay in the United Kingdom. And in order to do that, you have to prove yourself. You can’t be caught in criminal acts, you must keep a high rep, and you have to pay your bills on time. In the first chapter, you have to earn $2,500 in order to get your residence visa, otherwise you risk deportation. This really put pressure on me as a player to do well.

Number of Choices – Players have an impressive number of options that they can explore, which will all have an impact on the story. You can choose to join the resistance, or keep your head down low and hope to avoid the conflict. If you need more money, you can choose to accept bribes from customers, or even sell drugs on the side. While I personally kept my nose clean, I love the fact that players can explore these other options.

Player Interface – The layout of the tools and overall game design are great. Up top, you can see the lineup of people that you have and also look at other aspects of your environment. To the far left and far right of the bottom half of the screen, you get to see the people in your queue. In the middle, you have all of your important items – your instructions, your VIP guest list, and your clicker – oh-so-neatly organized. You scarcely spend any time fumbling around to find objects or checking to make sure everything is legitimate. This makes for a fluid game play experience.

Not Tonight screenshot 2

The Bad

The Shopping App – Overall, I like the layout of Not Tonight. It’s really easy to find all the tools that you need and what you’re looking for. However, there are some aspects of the game, such as the shopping app, that I take issue with. When I was introduced to the shopping app in the first chapter, the character acted like I needed to buy things in order to help my position in society. So I bought a ton of things that I didn’t necessarily want or care for, but things that I thought would help. However, these purchases made no discernible impact on my gaming experience whatsoever. It wasn’t until the beginning of the second chapter that another key character informed me that if I bought nice things, it would help with my overall health. I understand wanting to make the game more difficult as the player progresses, but that just seems weird to introduce a mechanic in the first chapter, then explain the reasons for it in the second. I think it would have been better if buying expensive things, such as clothes, helped my social reputation.

Repetitive Action – Not Tonight relies on the player’s ability to memorize certain rules for different venues. For example, Neo’s Club won’t allow you to enter if you’re wearing beach clothes. At a certain point, you can’t let any French people into The King’s Head. Once you memorize these actions and get a handle for the game, this all becomes easy. As a result, I found myself less and less interested in the game as time progressed.

Unfair Aspects of Gameplay – Obviously, there are people who will try to break into the clubs that are either underage or have fake IDs. Part of your job involves snuffing these people out and kicking them out of the line. Meanwhile, you’re on the clock, and only have a certain number of hours to work and meet your quota, which is the minimum number of people you must let into the bar in order to receive a passing grade for the night. However, sometimes customers will try to bribe you with money to be let into the club. This means that you have to engage in more dialogue which takes up more of your time. A lot of times I ended up not meeting my quota because other people kept wasting my time. This doesn’t seem entirely fair to me. The player isn’t doing anything wrong by choosing to not let these people in, yet they’re punished for it. If you don’t receive a passing grade for the night, your reputation tanks, and it takes a long time to get it back up to an acceptable level.

Not Tonight screenshot 3

Preliminary Thoughts

So far, I like Not Tonight and its attempts to explain a complicated political situation that not a lot of players may relate to. But I’m also frustrated by some of its mechanics, which is detracting from my overall experience. I dislike having to compare it to Papers, Please so much, but given the strong similarities between the two, it’s difficult not to. I want Not Tonight to prove its individuality as a stand alone game, but I’m doubtful that it will. At the same time, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as clearly many Papers, Please fans have been awaiting some sort of sequel, whether canon or spiritual.

If you’re interested in playing Not Tonight, you can grab a copy of it on Steam. The developer also plans to release the game for the PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One in the future.

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