Review: Not Tonight – The Best Post-Brexit Papers Please

Not Tonight bouncing at the tiki bar

Not Tonight is a game set in an alternate history where the nationalism behind Brexit went completely unchecked and brought in a fascist state in denial and decline. Released two years ago, it was made at a time when there was great uncertainty and fear of what Brexit would bring. Critique of Brexit and nationalist political ideals are at the forefront of the game. Some may think that the England of Not Tonight is an exaggeration or a parody. However, I felt it was a realistic imagination of one potential natural conclusion of unfettered nationalist political ideals.

In this world, the far-right wing parties have taken control and begun a program of deporting “dirty Euros” back to the mainland. Well, except if they can prove their worth by working gig jobs and “generate value” which is swiftly removed by special taxes and bills. Guess that is what happens when a country decides to rid itself of a large section of its workforce. In addition, the economy is collapsing, increasing the gap between the wealthy and everyone else, and things are just turning bad.

Welcome to Not Tonight.

Mechanically, the game draws heavily from Papers, Please to the point where it could almost be a reskin. Instead of checking papers at the border, you are a bouncer for hire in the ever expanding gig economy checking IDs. In this England, however, its not just spotting fakes and checking birth dates, but other factors come into play as well. Some establishments don’t want people from certain nationalities, or who dress a certain way.

If you have played Papers, Please, there is not much new here in this part of the game. Not Tonight has a slow mechanical progression and does not introduce new things to check or do during this process in every mission. I felt it was easier than Papers, Please in some ways but the core stressful experience differs slightly. In Not Tonight, accuracy is important but almost more so is volume.

If you don’t get the bonuses from letting a certain amount of patrons into the bar, you don’t get as much money. Later in the game, you need this money to pay bills that keep piling up, including such things as a work tax, and foreigner tax. In Papers, Please, I remember being more stressed that I was getting everything correct. Quantity was still important but the screens between days were not as involved as Not Tonight’s.

It is in this area that the game takes a departure from Papers, Please. Between your days being a bouncer and checking IDs, you have an apartment to take care of, neighbors to talk to, and English officials to be threatened by. These parts of the game work similar to a visual novel. Characters will introduce themselves and if you give them the right items or accomplish tasks, their narrative branches will open and the story will continue.

Not Tonight is Papers, Please with Story

This is probably my favourite part of the game. The dialogue is well written, the characters and design are charming, and with a few simple lines I found myself drawn in. It is also humurous in places, with quips and jokes coming out unexpectedly, giving a bit of lightness to the dystopian England the game is set in.

But I am not sure this is the best way to do it. I almost wish the story was added to a different game mechanic. You will spend a lot of time bouncing people from pubs, with very little variety in what you actually do, that these sections felt like work. Which means I lost concentration, which means I did not score high on some jobs, which means the story line I wanted to follow closed to me.

I don’t like it when games do that but I understand it’s sometimes a necessary evil. Perhaps keeping your concentration is part of the challenge, making this game a test of your endurance and concentration. Fine, if that is what it is, but I feel the game could be tighter, with less focus on the mechanical part and more focus on the story parts without sacrificing any of the gameplay.

There is a lot of care that went into this game. The pixel art is nice, the writing is for the most part superb, and the world is fully realized. I want to send a special shoutout to whoever is responsible for the music because each bar has a different musical style and the songs slap hard.

If you are undecided whether this post-Brexit world is for you, I’d say if you love the mechanics in Papers, Please and want more, then this is a must get. It is more repetitive, and the theme may be too close to home for some, but it takes what you like and expands on it.

If you thought Papers, Please was just OK, or if that game is enough for you, I have a hard time recommending this game. Not because the game is bad, it most definitely is not, but because so much of what you will be doing is checking IDs. While Papers, Please was tough, runs were short and restarting was not a huge deal. Not so in Not Tonight, which can be frustrating when you get to a situation later in the game where you lose if you can’t pay your bill, but you are not in a position to get enough money in time. If the theme and world intrigues you, it may be enough to see past this.

Despite being a mechanical reiteration, Not Tonight still is a very unique and lovingly crafted experience.

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