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Late Shift

Late Shift


    The title screen.The title screen.
Developer: CtrlMovie
Released: 2017.04.18
Genre: Mystery
Graphics: Full motion video
Perspective: Third person
Gameplay: Interactive film









It's a very typical plot pattern in films and later in games that somebody is in the wrong place at a wrong time, and somehow becomes drawn into some criminal activity. Very traditional, indeed. That is what happens in Late Shift, a modern FMV game, too. Matthew Thompson is a mathematics student, who works the night (as in late) shift in parking garage. The thing that happens is that somebody drops in (literally!) and tries to steal a car for even more complicated criminal schemes.

These criminal schemes mean stealing an old Chinese rice bowl, which for some reason has incredible value and importance, even though it seems to be much too small for any real use, to actually be used for serving rice. In any case, the protagonist is in the middle of all that, and the player who guides the poor fellow must choose what his fate is going to be like.

Matt, the protagonist.Matt, the protagonist.
FMV games have a long, and somewhat notorious history. When the games of this type first were introduced during the multimedia era of the 1990's they showed much promise - games could tell branching stories with real live actors. It soon became apparent that many FMV games were looping the same video clips with bad, unknown actors almost endlessly when the player tried to find which button was the right button to push to advance the story. Late Shift deliberately tries to be a new generation title of FMV games, with no looping at all. And no real puzzles either.

The way Late Shift works is that there are choices that the player must make by clicking one of the given options. Clicking nothing works too, then the game will choose something for the player. Indeed, there is no looping. No matter what the player does, the story goes always forward. There are branching options, of course, whether there is going to be a chapter with torture, a chapter with romance, a chapter with police interrogation, or something else, until the game comes to one of its seven possible endings. There is no way to play the game right or wrong, although many might consider the ending where the protagonist dies a bad ending, and some other ending a good ending.

Making choices.Making choices.
It is impossible to know, at least during the first couple of playthroughs, which choices trigger which paths. Most choices in the game are completely useless, choose this or that, a slightly different video clip may follow, but it won't make any difference for the outcome. In the bigger picture the player can choose whether he tries to stop the crime and alert authorities, or become a true criminal even to the point of killing other people. It all begins when a sports car is being stolen from the garage, but can end very differently for different playthroughs, with an ending where (almost) everyone survives, or an ending where (almost) everyone dies, or something else.

Overall the story is an intriguing crime story, although there are some plotholes which are big enough to drive a stolen sports car through them. For instance, in the very beginning the protagonist sees the car theft in the CCTV monitor, with another witness. At almost any given time later on the protagonist could go to the police, with the surveillance camera recording and a witness to prove his own innocence in the matter. But, well, supposedly it would be a bit too strange game if the protagonist would simply give a statement to the police followed by a game over. So some suspension of disbelief is required, but at least it's done for an entertaining story.

Fast cars and dangerous situations.Fast cars and dangerous situations.
Acting in the game is good throughout, so one of the biggest problems of the ancient FMV games is avoided this time. The another one, looping, is avoided on individual playthroughs, but if someone tries to examine all possible paths and endings, it's even worse than looping: there are no save options in the game! The game autosaves in the beginning of each chapter, so the game can be resumed later on, of course all choices made in that particular chapter are lost. But otherwise there is going to be a lot sports cars stolen from that garage, when seeing the same story introduction each and every time. There are some tricks to work around that, but in the game itself, there's no way to start the game from chapter four, as an example.

Late Shift is not a perfect game, but in the FMV category it's one of the best. There are clearly good production values in the game, the cast is good, the audio is good, the game is easy to play. From the adventure point of view, there should be more real puzzles to do. Even one would be a nice start. Now the game goes through no matter what, the 180 decision points affect the story somewhat, but don't offer any real way to challenge the player. Seeing different endings is good, but is it good enough? That depends on the player. Also, it should be mentioned that each of the seven endings is a bit disappointing. They all end abrubtly without any real epilogue to the story. It is understandable that seven different epilogues would mean much more filming to do, not to mention it would make the distribution size of the game much bigger. But in all of those endings the true consequences of the protagonist's actions are not shown, walking away or lying dead is dramatic, but not a real closure to the story arc.

Matt seriously thinks Late Shift is a nice game.Matt seriously thinks Late Shift is a nice game.
Otherwise the story combines the best features from films, such as suspension and action, with the best features of adventure games, such as entering places which are not allowed to enter, pretending to be someone who you are not, and so on. Whether one sees Late Shift as a film with some added interactivity, or an adventure game with no puzzles, it works both ways. It is also one of those games which show why and how FMV games can be great, regardless of many counterexamples in the history of video games.

No one who likes adventure games should be afraid to try Late Shift. Not everyone will like it, but there are a lot of good things in it, so most people will probably end up liking it to some extent. Interactive story with good production values, there's so much to enjoy here. The few issues with the game design don't spoil the experience. But the most important thing that everyone learns from this game is: buy your rice bowls from IKEA! Cheaper, more practical, and better quality too.



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