Designer: Alec Holowka
Developer (s): Alec Holowka, Infinite Falls
Night in the Woods is a mystery/ adventure game following Mae Borowski, a disgruntled 20 year old as she returns home to her parents in Possum Springs, an old mining town. Maes intentions are to return to her previous “aimless” lifestyle: talking to her friends, band practice, doing crimes etc. But she soon notices that while she hasn’t changed, despite leaving and going to college (which she dropped out of), her friends and family have and so has the town. I would say this game is more of a graphic novel with a lot of focus on Maes own insecurities and mental health.
Visually, this game is stunning. It is simple, but the colours are beautiful and the style of the game is unique. The details are in the seasons changing, the weather, colour and the characters. The nightmare sequences are especially great for lighting and sound. They limit your senses by taking away the ability to see where you are going and only give you clues like a dim light in the corner of your screen.
The goal of the game confused me and maybe I was playing it wrong. Because it plays out like a book, its infuriating to play it as a game, where you want to figure out the mystery. The story also drags a bit, it’s hard to understand what you are doing and what your aim is, maybe this is to push you to talk to the games characters.
I believe there are multiple paths within what you choose to do with your day, you can go to the mall with Bea or smash up an abandoned car with Angus. But whomever you choose, you find out more about your old friend. The characters are great, they’re believable in their backstories and flaws. Same goes with Mae, she is so unaware of her surroundings and cannot read anyone around her, its so traumatic to watch her hurt a friend by saying something she wasn’t supposed to ( I made her hang out with Bea most of the time, because I am a fan of Beaaaa) but she makes it up to Bea (and you) by being painfully honest and genuine in her apology. The other characters, including the townspeople and neighbors are great! My favorite was the group of office workers, outside having a coffee and a smoke. Also the students in the neighboring town. The creator nailed the pretentious hipster student boys, that everyone wants to be for some reason.
If you have your own experience with mental health, I found that this hit the nail on the head, personally. I found how Mae interacted with people very hard to watch and I think her spiralling out of control was very well done and very realistic. You listen to her talking about herself or too herself and that is too. Maes personal journey is interwoven into the story line very well, so it’s not a drag to switch between the two.
I played on my laptop, the game only needs simple controls and you spend most of your time tapping the talk button (there is a lot of dialogue). It gets a bit tedious, travelling through the game to go to your next destination, but it pulls you back in with all the story sequences. The band practice was so hard! It was like guitar hero, but with 1,2,3,4 Keys. Maybe I am not dexterous enough (sigh).
I don’t know if I would play again, but I really enjoyed this. I literally couldn’t stop playing, it felt similar to the accomplishment one feels when they finish a book in 2 hours. It’s not challenging to play and there are times of tedium, but if you just sit back and get ready for a good story, it should be okay. The music and visuals are so enjoyable on their own, its worth it.