Between ‘Night Trap’ and ‘Sonic Mania’ it feels like I’m living in 1992 again. I have to admit, when this release was first announced I was shocked. As far as I was aware there was no major demand for this controversial cult classic to make a comeback, but I just had to get a copy for the novelty value alone. As it turns out there must have been some demand as the limited run of physical discs sold out within minutes.
For anyone out of the loop, ‘Night Trap’ is a FMV horror game which was deemed unsuitable for young audiences, despite it being sold in toy stores such as ‘Toys ‘R’ Us’. Being sold around the same time as the home edition of Mortal Kombat, these two games led to the implementation of age rating systems such as ESRB and PEGI.
The story surrounds an investigation into the disappearance of a group of teenagers. The group was spending the night in a large lakeside house and were never heard from again. A team of undercover agents infiltrated the home to discover a network of security cameras and traps all over the building. They hacked the security system and have handed the controls to you, the player.
The game begins as a brand new group of teens head to the house for a slumber party. Amongst the teens is an undercover agent named Kelly. It is your job to protect the civilians while Kelly conducts her investigation. Immediately after receiving your brief unusual events begin occurring. Creatures dressed from head to toe in black start to enter the house through doors and windows. In order the keep everyone safe you need to monitor these creatures on the cameras and activate the traps as soon as they come into contact with them.
As interesting and unique as ‘Night Trap’ was at the time, it did contain a few fundamental game play flaws. For example, in order to be good at the game you have to ignore distractions such as the plot and concentrate solely on channel hopping as fast as possible in order to not miss any monsters. If you decide that you want to learn more about what’s going on and watch the interactions between characters, then you are likely to miss too many monsters and will end up losing.
What makes life even more difficult is that you need to pay attention to the characters as at certain points in the story they will attempt to disable the traps. The residents of the house will occasionally talk about going to the basement to change the trap access code to a specific colour. If you miss which colour they mention you will lose control until you guess the correct one.
At face value, ‘Night Trap’ is presented as a camp B list horror movie with cliché overacting and cringy dialogue, which all adds to the charm. Having said that, on closer inspection this game really was a technical gem at the time. Considering FMVs were a fairly new thing, an impressive amount of effort went into how this game is structured. All of the camera feeds and character movements are completely synchronisation with each other, so it’s possible to follow characters around multiple rooms in real time.
A good example of this is a sequence where Kelly is speaking to her team leader over a radio. I later discovered that if you switch the camera feed to the outside of the house, you can watch her team leader hiding on the lawn and witness the same conversation from his perspective. It’s little details like this that really bring this experience to life. It’s incredible to think that this was all achieved in the late 80s when digital technology was in its infancy.
So what does this 25th Anniversary edition have to offer? Well, actually quite a lot. The most obvious difference is a large leap in picture quality. This version has the best resolution, frame rate and colour depth of any version to date. Do not expect full HD, but you can certainly expect something far easier on the eyes than the original Mega CD release.
One thing that is a bit of a shame is that the source of this footage isn’t completely clean throughout, as there are occasion spells of video interference. It doesn’t overly spoil the experience, it’s just a bit of shame. Also there was one short sequence where the size and resolution changed complete, so I’m guessing it was a lost clip that had to be salvaged from an earlier release.
Something that makes up for this occasional loss in picture quality is the inclusion of previously unused material, leading to brand new scenarios that can happen as you play. So far I’ve only uncovered two of these deleted scenes, but apparently there are four in total to find, making this the most complete version ever released.
The second major improvement is the inclusion of animated thumbnails for each camera. In all previous versions, each camera was represented on screen by a static icon, so you had no idea what was going on in a particular area unless you select that specific camera. If you wish to play this game the old fashioned way then you do have the option to, however by using the new thumbnails you can see what is happening on all 8 cameras at once. No longer do you have to constantly channel hop as you can watch out for monsters in the thumbnails and select a camera feed whenever you see a problem arise.
‘Night Trap’ can get a little repetitive, given that you get a ‘game over’ if you miss too many monsters or whenever a civilian dies. This can get frustrating as usually you’d have to restart again from the beginning. Thankfully, this new version now includes a check point half way through the story, so you’re no longer punished too severely for messing up towards the end.
To encourage you to play multiple times there are now a number of unlockable features. After beating the game once you unlock ‘theater mode’. Once unlocked, any story related scene you witness on the cameras is stored for you to watch at your leisure later on. This is a great way to find out what’s going on in the plot without being distracted by baddies. Another unlockable is a previously unreleased ‘Night Trap’ prototype game. It’s only about 5 minutes long and not nearly as impressive as the finished game, but it’s interesting to witness this early stage of Night Trap’s development.
A regular game of ‘Night Trap’ lasts around 25 minutes, and although the colour code changes are randomised, the timing and locations that enemies appear in is always the same. As a result, it’s possible to get good at this game by playing it repeatedly and memorising the order of which events occur. However, this edition now includes a fun new survival mode where sequences are endlessly randomised and you have to act fast to catch as many monsters as you can. If you let too many slip through the net then it’s game over.
Lastly there is a lot of behind the scenes content which I found interesting. This includes production stills, photographs, concept art, a peek at the script / timeline, up to date interviews and a short documentary recorded in the mid 90s. The documentary actually covers the controversy surrounding Night Trap’s release and includes interviews with some of the actors.
I’m sure ‘Night Trap’ will forever have a reputation as a bit of novelty. However to its credit, by playing through this latest version and watching all the related footage packaged within, I have gained a new appreciation for it. Sure, at face value it’s a low budget 80s horror film, but from a technical standpoint this was an impressive achievement at the time. To top it off, this has to be the best version. Although the video quality does dip occasionally, overall this is the best looking edition and I’m really pleased with all the salvaged parts that were never previously included. If you fancy playing something light and amusing then why not give ‘Night Trap’ a try. It’s available now on the American Playstaion Network and should be coming to Europe later this year (PS4 version reviewed, also available now on Steam).
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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