One of the best things about writing game reviews is that it often gives me opportunities to try titles, or even dabble in entire genres, that I probably wouldn’t have touched otherwise. About 6 months ago I had the pleasure of reviewing such a game named ‘The Bunker’, which was a full motion video game from a publisher called Wales Interactive. I took note of this publisher at the time as I saw bright things in their future. Never before had I experienced an FMV that had been pulled off so well. It was the closest merge between watching a TV show and playing a game that I’d ever experienced. At the time I asked myself ‘is this title just a novel one off, or is this the rebirth of a genre?’ Little did I realise that a mere 6 months down the road, Wales Interactive along with developers CtrlMovie were about to release an interactive movie that would blow me away (note I use the word ‘movie’ rather than ‘game’).
Late Shift is a crime thriller set in London. The main protagonist is a student named Matt who parks cars for a living. He’s intelligent and lives his life by mathematics, studying the scenarios around him and making value judgments based on statistics. During what should have been a quite night shift, he stumbles upon some trouble when an armed criminal attempts to steal a sports car left in his care.
I’m not going to divulge too much more into the specifics of the story as I do not want to spoil anything, however this car theft is actually a small part of a larger operation. Matt ends up getting dragged into a night of sheer hell involving robberies, gangs, guns, torture and interrogation. As the story unfolds Matt finds himself in constant danger with a lot at stake, so it’s important as the player to aid Matt in making wise decisions. Is there any way that this night can end well, or is Matt doomed from the get-go?
The interactive element stems from CtrlMovie’s amazing engine which allows the player / viewer to make choices on the protagonists behalf when prompted on screen. What’s great about this system is that the transitions are seamless. The movie is never interrupted for a second.
As the story approaches a fork in the road, two or more choices will appear on the bottom of the screen along with a short timer, forcing you to think fast and trust your instincts. All that is required of the player is to make choices using the D pad and pressing ‘X’ to select, nothing more. If the timer runs out the game will make a choice on your behalf, resulting in you missing your opportunity to influence the story. The system is so user friendly that even my wife, who is partially disabled to a small degree and struggles with a lot of games, was able to play her way through the entire film and enjoy it with no issues.
From a gameplay perspective, this is about as casual as it gets, however in this instance I’m actually completely OK with it. In contrast to The Bunker’s point and click approach, the pace here never slows down for a second. As long as you appreciate the fact that this is simply an interactive movie with little to no traditional game mechanics, then there’s nothing to disappoint here. You can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. I actually played this game with my control pad in one hand and popcorn in the other. This was a straight up cinematic experience with the added bonus that I had control over the protagonist.
From a cinematic stand point, this is a fully fledged movie with professional acting, filmed on location with special effects, good directing, full HD, the works. ‘Late Shift’ has everything you would expect from a modern day crime film. The acting is all very authentic and really helps build up a sense of drama. It has a great story with a few decent twists in the plot to help keep things moving. You may be forgiven for thinking that because this is interactive it may not have the talent or budget behind it that a regular British film would, but do not be fooled. ‘Late Shift’ is a film first, and a video game second.
Depending on the choices you make, a typical play through should last approximately an hour and 15 minutes (although the total recorded footage and dialogue contained in the program lasts over four hours). Over the course of a run you will be required to make a lot of choices, some being more vital to your progress than others. As there are a number of different endings, some of the choices you make are vital, however many of them may just have minor implications such as the scene playing out slightly differently or there being some alternative dialogue. Since there is no indication of which choices are the vital ones, you have to treat every choice very carefully.
As for the soundtrack, there are a few pieces of original instrumental score which are pretty nice. I particularly like the ominous music that plays during the finale, which reminds me a lot of the Scarface theme. I did experience a strange error during a couple of the scenes where the volume of the background music increased to a level where it drowned out the dialogue. Fortunately this only ever happened for a few minutes at a time and thankfully I had the subtitles on so in didn’t spoil the game for me.
In my opinion, Late Shift only has one flaw and that’s for anyone who wishes to play the game through multiple times, either to make some alternative choices or to try and unlock all the achievements. This engine isn’t friendly as far as replayability goes, as there is no chapter select, no ability to skip dialogue and no option to speed up the scenes. In order for me to unlock all of the achievements I had to sit through the entire experience about seven times.
In conclusion, I found Late Shirt to be highly enjoyable and very encouraging. If you’re the least bit curious about this title my advice would be to dive in and get yourself a copy. It’s well worth the asking price. Not only does it get my seal of approval but I’m really looking forward to seeing what Wales Interactive & CtrlMovie have to offer next.
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