Midnight Nowhere

Developer:  Saturn Plus
Publisher:  Buka Entertainment/Tri-Synergy (US)/Oxygen (UK)
Year Released:  2004

Review by Gordon Aplin (April, 2004)
Midnight Nowhere is a dark and somewhat sordid adventure game. It begins intriguingly enough with your character waking up in a body bag in a hospital morgue, not knowing who he is or how he got there. Discovering the answer to these questions is what the game is about. It had just enough going for it to make me play to the end which was a surprise because after the first few utterances by the unlikable anti-hero I immediately doubted the wisdom of helping him to even escape from the morgue.

Murder and mayhem
Set in 2019, the introduction charts the events leading up to the town of Black Lake being cordoned off by authorities because of the activities of a blood thirsty serial killer known as 'The Executioner'. The vaguely Kafka-esque atmosphere suggests a rigidly controlled society (conveyed in part by posters and magazines) that is suddenly confronted by the anarchy and seeming mindlessness of mass murder which police and military authorities are powerless to overcome. To an outside, and far from knowledgable, observer it is almost possible to see parallels with the break up of the old Soviet Union. Though I don't think any such interpretation was intended as the game is certainly not that sophisticated.

As you leave the morgue you find mayhem and destruction has left more bodies throughout the hospital and you remain trapped unless you can get to the exit. The first half of the game takes place in the deserted hospital and your solitary exploration largely revolves around finding keys or key cards or codes to unlock doors. You also have a couple of gruesome tasks to perform or you won't get anywhere. As you explore you will pick up many useful inventory items to help you overcome obstacles. For me, the most humorous moment comes as you finally leave the hospital with all its grisly corpses and you are picked up by the police. In your inventory is an axe, a scalpel and a gun ... try explaining that little lot away.

The next part sees you in prison where there are now living characters to talk to and, of course, to escape is once again your objective. But that's enough of the plot, you will need to play the game to find out what happens.

Workplace harassment?
Midnight Nowhere is a third person perspective, mouse controlled adventure game. It is obviously meant to be darkly humorous but far too many of your character's comments are incomprehensible and lose impact in the translation from the original Russian. What is not lost, however, is the juvenile 'bad' attitude, especially towards women. Photos of naked women stuck on the walls of a male prison cell may be 'realistic' in that context but are surely out of place in a modern hospital.

Finding a condom on a dead nurse who also keeps a sex 'toy' at work (yes, you do get the opportunity to play with it) is simply sleazy rather than exhibiting an 'enlightened' attitude towards sexuality. If you are in any doubt as to the context, your character's comments immediately make it clear that childish sniggering is the audience level for the game. So too his comments like "nice tits" on appraising a body in the morgue. Even in death she is still a sex object. Posters, books and magazines that you find all contribute to the feeling of obnoxiously misplaced sleaze. If I was to be generous I might be tempted to say that as this game is set in the future, and not a pleasant one, the attitude on show is meant to illustrate and warn against the society we are presently in danger of adopting in what some commentators are calling a 'post-feminist' era. Unfortunately, no such message can be gleaned from the arbitrary 'tackiness' that pervades the game.

Despite this I was still intrigued enough to play to the end. Not knowing who your character is or how he got into his predicament is a sure-fire way to maintain interest. Up to a point I quite enjoyed the exploration and overcoming the obstacles to progress though I must admit there was a 'sameness' to many of the puzzles and some of the information I uncovered wasn't always as enlightening as it could have been. Your character at least gives feedback even if it is sometimes grudging, sarcastic and occasionally incomprehensible. Although you do find and use a gun this isn't an action game, nor are there any timed sequences. And apart from starting off 'dead' you can't die. Most of the puzzles are logical and in context even if the explanation for them is elusive at times. For instance the first in-game computer password is fairly obscure with only an unrelated clue to help. Later on other passwords are easier to guess with office memos pointing to a lack of security. A puzzle involving some playing cards and riddles requires a little general knowledge from outside the game world (though you are not penalised for guessing) as does a single word of a crossword puzzle at the very end. A translation problem is also revealed here as the correct answer in English doesn't fit the available space nor match up with the letters already provided.

Looking around
The interface is fairly intuitive and easy to use. In the top left hand corner of the screen are your icons for 'look', 'talk', pick up' and 'use' and at some stage you will also get your electronic diary where important codes and clues will be noted. Though it doesn't pay to rely on this too much. I still had my own scribbled page covered in notes and codes by the time I finished the game.

The cursor generally defaults to 'look' (or 'pick up' when you open your inventory) but you need to be actively involved by choosing the icon you wish to use or you will miss small, and sometimes crucial, details. For example, using the 'use' cursor may get your character to identify that there is something in the pocket of a coat so you must then choose 'pick up' to get it. Also don't think that having found one item there is nothing else to find. A corpse may have something in their pocket, or hand or around their neck so it pays to be persistent. I was also held up for a time because I didn't use the 'use' icon on a mundane item in my inventory. When I eventually got around to doing this, lo and behold, the item suddenly turned into something much more useful. The 'why' of why it should do so only becomes vaguely explicable with hindsight at the end of the game. A right click opens your inventory where you can examine (and sometimes combine) the items you have picked up.

Dark world
When I first started playing Midnight Nowhere the screen was very dark on my system so I brightened it using the gamma settings. This made the gameworld easier to explore until I had to use the in-game computer screens ... then I couldn't read anything on them at all and had to reset the gamma back a notch or two. So you do need to be careful with the settings. Your options menu is a spiffy, stylised multi-function watch that you access by pressing the Esc key. Here you can save unlimited games, load and quit, and set sound levels and enable subtitles. The subtitles at times suffered from the usual translation problems but were still useful for making sure you understood what was being said. Your character's gruff sarcasm was suitably voiced and I must mention the use of some strong language though I didn't think this was overdone in the context of the game. Still this, and the 'attitude', made it difficult for me to like or care about the character and I largely tried to ignore his comments. Speaking of comments and conversations I noticed that sometimes I could click through them and sometimes I couldn't but I am not sure if everyone will have this inconsistency or if it was peculiar to my system.

The graphics are very good and the locations are interesting to explore but the characters you meet generally lack animation (and not just the dead ones). Even your own character is fairly wooden and stiff in his movements. The music and sound effects are also very good and are instrumental in maintaining an atmosphere of dark foreboding. You almost expect to stumble across 'The Executioner' bent over the body of his latest victim at any moment. Midnight Nowhere comes on two CDs and a full install enables you to play with just the second disk in the drive.

The ending does provide a clever and thoroughly modern twist and it is unfortunate that somewhere beneath the surface of this game there is a potentially compelling story struggling to rise above the bodies and the blood, the overt sexism, and the rather juvenile 'attitude' of the main character. The one thought that stayed with me throughout the game was that some (not all) teenage males will probably think this is 'cool'. Uncharitable of me, I know but the audience for Midnight Nowhere is one that sees 'attitude', juvenile humour, body count and scantily clad or naked females as a definite plus. Grown up adventurers may consider looking elsewhere for 'mature' and 'adult' content. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2004. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Minimum: Windows 98/Me/2000/XP, Pentium II 400 MHz, 64 MB RAM, DirectX 8.0 compatible video card with second-generation 3D acceleratorn 1.1 GB hard disk space, DirectX 8.0 compatible sound card. 8x speed CD ROM, keyboard, mouse.

Recommended: Windows 98/Me/2000/XP, Pentium III 733 MHz, 128 MB RAM. DirectX 8.0 compatible video card with third-generation 3D accelerator, 1.3 GB hard disk space, DirectX 8.0 compatible sound card, 16x speed CD ROM, keyboard, mouse.