Midnight Nowhere

2002 Buka / Saturn-Plus
Designed by Mikhail Seldemeshev, Sanan Ushanov, Lenochka Sedova, Aleksei Nikanorov
Reviewed 2004 June 26

Rating -5 Linearity wide, segmented
Reasonability reasonable Connectivity high
Difficulty pedestrian Relevance strong
Interface 3rd paned simple Real-time none

You wake up in a body bag in a hospital morgue, with, of course, amnesia. Everybody seems to have been slaughtered by some super-powered serial killer who has been terrorising the town to the point of invoking martial law. The hospital is locked up. You want to find out who you are and you want to get out.

Midnight Nowhere seems to have been inspired by survival horror games. Rather than make another one, they instead decided to wed all the intellectual challenge of action games with the finest pixel hunting excesses of adventure games. It might still have been enjoyable with a good story behind it all.

Unfortunately, while the story initially suggests it might go somewhere, it only just peters into a muddled mess. Some is probably due to bad translating (from the original Russian); some due to me missing something in the final cutscene because I couldn't distinguish the voices and characters sufficiently. However, the plot is sufficiently threadbare that there's not much room in those gaps to make for a notable story.

The setting and dialogue will be offensive to many. There is blood and corpses all over, and our hero makes good fun of them. There are also pinups of naked women all over, with matching comments -- this in a hospital and a police station. There's supposed to be an element of dark humour here, evidenced by various adverts and workplace posters scattered about, but it is too base and obvious to have much appeal.

The activity structure of the game is very good. It breaks into two segments, the hospital and the police station, and is wide ranging and non-linear in each. Too bad, then, that the challenges themselves are almost entirely devoid of creativity or difficulty. There are over 30 keys and (obvious) codes that you have to deal with. Play consists mostly of finding a key to a room, then finding a code and key in there which allows you access to some other rooms, and so on. I did say almost all: there are a very few well constructed challenges, and some nicely related clues. There are a few lapses, but generally the challenges are reasonable and relevant -- after all, rooms in public places usually do have locks.

The story and challenges are more deficient than bad. The same can not be said of the interface. The mouse is lazy, following behind your movements. The cursor doesn't seem to change to indicate an active object until it catches up with the movement command. This makes pixel hunting a real chore, making it very easy to sweep over an object and not see any indication that it is an interesting object. Compounding this, hotspots are frequently right next to each other, so that you can easily miss that there are two things there. But wait, there's more! Whenever you look or use something, your character steps right in front, blocking your view. If you look at the first hotspot before detecting another nearby, or if the other only appears after you look or do something with the first, you can't see the second at all -- it looks like it's still the first. The bottom line is that object/hotspot hunting is by far the most challenging aspect of the game.

The presentation is decent, although the puppet characters moved poorly. The lead character sways about and plods on like he's had a bottle or three of vodka. The dialogue is well spoken, but the script is often hard to comprehend. Sometimes it refers to things the character can see but you can't, sometimes it just seems like a bad translation. E.g., if you look at a door, he will make some oblique comment about the room, but since you can't read the sign (it's too small or fuzzy) you have no idea what he's talking about.

Midnight Nowhere is not completely devoid of entertainment, especially for those who like exploring and pixel hunting, provided you don't have a problem with the gore and sexism. You could probably find a worse adventure to waste your time on, but you could certainly find many better ones.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.