You're driving your car along an empty road in the dead of night. From out of the ether, a ghost tells you to find the light to bring back the sun. You flash your highbeams to uncover the secret fire in a ring of moths and a kickin' 80s electro-rock riff shreds the truth of your victory in defiance to all the ghosts of lost drivers on this forgotten road. How is this not a Led Zeppelin song? We're talking air-brushed-on-the-side-of-a-van levels of ♥♥♥♥♥in' and righteous in that order.
So as you can tell, I love the idea of this game. How much do I hate giving this game a negative review then? A lot. A real lot. I really hate reviewing games like Night Shift: games that have got a full tank of new ideas, but lay on the gas and they explode long before they reach the promised land. Watch a "Red Asphalt" video and you'll have an idea of what I mean when I say NIght Shift is poorly executed. And it's unfortunate that it is, since that makes this review one of those back and forths where I have to praise the game, telling diehard fans of the genre "NO PASSING" on this one and, out of the other side of my mouth, damn it for its many faults and tell most readers, "DO NOT ENTER."
Alright, alright. Let's shift this thing into gear! What exactly is wrong with the game? Chiefly, it's more cryptic than a hearse doing doughnuts in a mausoleum. Night Shift starts being exactly that obtuse right from the start where it (one can only assume) deliberately obfuscates how to play the game. Not only is there no tutorial, but if you decide to get clever and go to the menu to try and find the keys from the rebinding options, be prepared for disappointment. There's no such option. But, hey, this is basically a 2.5D FPS in layout, so W, A, S, D, Space, and E are pretty much the holy gospel of game design, so maybe we can give it a pass?
Maybe, but the game continues to be as impenetrable as an ice queen in barbed-wire panties with the layout of its many puzzles. To find one, you drive around aimlessly for long stretches of minutes until hopefully you stumble backasswards into one. And god help you if you should leave the puzzle because you decided to test the problem by moving just too far out of the puzzle's bounds or you got momentarily frustrated. You will have a lot more aimless driving ahead of you as you try and guess how the handful of landmarks are related to each other or if they are at all. You know those RPG type games, like Zelda, where sometimes they have a screen that will repeat if you don't exit it from exactly the right direction several times? It feels like that, except after a ton of random wandering you hit a puzzle.
So I found driving around in the dirt without a clear sense of direction really frustrating. But this is a game about driving at night and the atmosphere is great, it's a major draw, and this lets you experience it. Fair enough. The actual puzzles and how they relate to the controls are pretty dodgy. Quite a few of the puzzles rely on you flashing your high beams at things, but the time between when you hit the button and when the beams flash is very sluggish and they only affect objects that are an annoyingly precise distance from the car. This makes hitting the enemy ghost cars and other puzzles that rely upon timing your flash a teeth-grindingly grotesque experience. And, for some reason, you can only flash your beams while completely stopped, which badly breaks the flow of driving through the night. If real cars worked that way, I wager I'd have a lot more speeding tickets, if you know what I mean.
Just like in real life, you can get a single sentence hint for some puzzles by running over a nearby ghost. And there are a few other clues like the activity on your radio and the descriptions for the game's achievements (yes, I needed to use them to figure out how to solve a couple of them). But, overall, the puzzles are wickedly unclear. To give you an example: there was one puzzle that gave me the victory music after I wasted some ghost cars, but after pulling about a million U-eys looking for my prize, I finally gave up driving in the manner of my Polish heritage and continued into the night where the victory music died, right into another half of the puzzle that I accidentally solved while trying to return to where the music was. There were at least two puzzles I still don't know the logic behind but I solved them somehow in a crowning moment of "huh, I guess I was supposed to do that?"
That said, I did solve all of them by myself in less than three hours, so they aren't impossible. But that brings us to the last nail in the coffin that was at some point meant to be a favorable review for Night Shift: it's short. There are only seven puzzles in the game. Yeah, they'll take you a while, but only because the game is stick-a-paper-bag-over-your-head levels of opaque and there's so much driving around lost in the dark to get to the puzzles. And while the game's atmosphere is thick and rich like a seven layer chocolate cake, the story is more like a single chocolate chip. There is really no more than the blurb on the store page:"The sun has disappeared from the sky! Darkness chokes the land, depriving it of all things good. Now it’s time for you to figure out how to bring the sun back! Get behind the wheel and find the sun in Night Shift!"
That's really it. No further characterization of you or the task at hand or the world around you.
So that's my long list of grievances with Night Shift. And I'm sad to have it. The ending to the game was easily the most radical thing to happen since the 80s ended and the overall tone and idea behind the game are great! How many adventure games exist where you play as a car driving on a 2.5D haunted highway practically reinacting the song "Radar Love?" Night Shift. That's it. And that's why I can still recommend it to long time veterans of adventure games who have legendary patience and can put up with logic that's been filtered through glue sniffing. But to everyone else: sorry, you'll find more frustration than fun. And even to those adventure gamers who will stick around for something new, there's really not enough here to be worth the cost of an entire gallon of gas. There are meatier indie games with better puzzles and more character for the same price. Wait for it to go on sale.