Politics in games is a bit of a touchy subject sometimes. Bioshock Infinite received criticism from some commentators for having too much political focus at the expense of action, and Square Enix was adamant that there was no attempt to make a political statement in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Ubisoft ended up at the centre of a rather awkward controversy for being either too political or not political enough with Far Cry 5 depending on who you speak to. Ubisoft was keen to point out that the game was not intended as a political statement either way. No More Robots is quite happy to court controversy to make an impact however, even going as far as to publicly state in an interview that they hope the Daily Mail hates anti-Brexit title Not Tonight.
With more than a passing resemblance to Papers, Please, this is a pixelated simulation of the noble art of door security. The premise behind the game is that Brexit is complete, and anybody whose lineage isn’t wholly British over the last few generations is at risk of deportation. You play one such person, threatened with extradition for having French grandparents, but allowed to stay as long as you work your assigned job as door staff at various pubs and clubs. You’ll be checking ID for validity and matching photographs, verifying tickets, and as the game progresses you’ll be turning away people from particular nationalities or those who don’t earn enough. It’s a very bleak landscape, much like that indie classic that inspired it.
The trouble with aping a game like Papers, Please though is that it can’t possibly have the same impact. Whilst I still enjoyed Not Tonight, I didn’t get the same feeling from it. The story writing just doesn’t feel as impactful, and that claustrophobic feeling of always living hand-to-mouth isn’t there once you get the hang of it. Whereas in Lucas Pope’s breakout hit, you never really felt in control, you feel here like you’re being given a difficult, but not insurmountable task.
You spend the game juggling between earning money and avoiding burning out or getting yourself deported. Skipping work will keep your health up, but it’ll reduce your “social score”. Selling drugs to club goers will get you that all important money and keep you from getting kicked out for not being able to pay your bills, but it also reduces that score. Initially, this feels like it could be a hard balancing act, but then you realise that your health and social score jump up massively between chapters and realise that as long as you keep them above zero, everything will be fine.
Attempting to make a political statement in a game is something that I will always commend because it helps further the position of games as an art form. But like any other art form, the delivery will determine how much of an impact results. Honestly, I can’t see anybody’s opinion crossing the great Brexit divide as a result of Not Tonight, because the scenarios presented are so comedic and lampooned that even the most ardent of remainers wouldn’t agree they’re likely. In fact, I can see it working entirely the other way round, with those in favour of Brexit able to see it as a parody of the catastrophic scenarios that those who disagree with it have proposed.
In the end, it’s the political nature of this game which is its undoing. I agree with the author’s view that Brexit was an idea right up there with “Let’s make it so the new Xbox can’t play used games” in terms of being bad, but even I found this to be a little bit much. It’s not a subtle political stance, but one that is hammered home with gay abandon in a way that makes it seem a little bit forced. No More Robots has tried too hard and it feels like the actual game is secondary to the message. Add to this the fact that you can get Papers, Please on Steam for half the price, it’s hard to recommend Not Tonight, which is a shame as I like the idea. If the execution had been better, this could have been a great game. As it is, it’s a competent clone of a better game.
Not Tonight (Reviewed on Windows)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
Papers, Please in Brexit Britain, but at a higher price and not as fun. Feels like an opportunity wasted