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Impressions: Between Me And The Night

Usually dinner time

Out of Early Access and into our screens is Between Me And The Night [official site], a peculiar and sombre adventure that at least seems to explore a childhood. Or ghosts. Or weird freaky something. Look, I've been playing it for ages and I'm not sure.

There's something comfortable about being able to slow yourself down enough to play a bleak adventure game. It's not something people can do all the time, the patience needed for slow movement, the lack of instantaneous solutions, the peculiarity of esoteric design. Between Me And The Night falls perfectly for me at a time when something so sedately paced is ideal. And this is a properly interesting one, if a little flaky.

The game explains little, so I shall attempt to do the same. You're playing as a young guy, walking around your spooky 2D, mid-80s three-storey house, finding objects and working out whether there's anything to do with them. As the gloomy days rapidly turn to dark nights, keeping the lights on becomes rather important, seemingly your only defence against monsters that lurk in the dingy rooms. Why you're there, what you're aiming to do, and why ghostly figures seem to swim in and out of existence, are all very much questions you'll have as you play.

You can see how I'm avoiding specifics, and apologies for how that makes this more clumsy and less interesting. But I think it's worth preserving what I had when I played for anyone else who fancies picking it up. It's worth saying that it's never straightforward. You might assume that if there are a bunch of army men hidden around, and a thing with some army men-shaped spaces, you're going to combine the two - but why you're doing it will likely not be conveyed. Sometimes even afterward. And this particular aspect of the game seems to be at once its best strength and worst weakness.

Your inventory is very peculiarly limited, with room for one large object, one medium sized, and three small, but you're able to put anything down anywhere to make space. Some rooms are initially locked or inaccessible, and as you progress (by means that are not always clear) more becomes available. And this means that as you progress, you'll end up with vast collections of objects scattered all over the floor, and little idea whether they'll ever be used for anything. I love this, that rather than throwing in a red herring here or there, instead this is a game almost entirely made of red herrings, leaving you to apply a combination of common sense and unlogical leaps to figure out what's for what. But at the same time, the limited inventory makes things very fiddly in an already very fiddly control scheme. I'm not sure why it was done, nor what it's supposed to add.

The controls are strange. WASD to move, E to interact with doors and switches, Shift to run left or right. Then click the left mouse and the camera moves in slightly and that frame becomes point-and-click, but even here you're only able to interact with anything in the character's immediate vicinity. So to pick up an object from a table, you've got to be stood right next to it when you click into the cursor mode, and click back and forth between the two to then get something else a foot away. To further complicate this, you get out of the left click mode with a right click, but right click is also used for moving moveable objects when in movement mode... Like I say, fiddly. Adding the inventory oddness to that makes this a little frustrating. I got used to the controls, but it never stopped being annoying that I had to sort of relay race with myself to get objects between floors.

And then just when you think you're getting to grips with the situation, unravelling the mysteries (which are many and intriguing, despite being intimately familial and local), it suddenly changes. Again, not going to say when or how or to what, but it's certainly very jarring. And that's not before it's already thrown a few surprises at you, not least completely dreadful sequences in which you are apparently playing a video game where you must wave a sword at some enemy knights. They don't work, they're deeply annoying, but they're mercifully brief.

There's a lot going on, and the atmosphere is fantastic. It's evocative, sad, and gently creepy. Later in the game puzzles become much more involved (which only makes the limited inventory even more of a tiresome chore, sadly), and while your goals remain esoteric, how you attain them manages to convey itself despite the obscurity of the situations. This has really grabbed me despite its design issues, and the lovely 2D animations certainly help with that. And thank the Lord it's not pixels, but rather a paper-crafty simple style that's enormously pleasant.

I suspect a little while longer in Early Access wouldn't have hurt - I encountered a few bugs, most not serious, although one game-breaker. A book somehow lodged itself just outside of the limits of a room, and couldn't be picked up - the only fix was restarting the chapter. That was luckily right at the start of the second chapter, but could have meant losing hours of progress. Which brings me to how there's no proper save, and in hours-long chapters, that's unforgivable. You either have to start over a very slow and laborious game, or leave it running perpetually on your computer between plays. Ridiculous.

And that's the tale of Between Me And The Night - a game that makes enormous mistakes, but is interesting enough to succeed them. I've not finished it, hence this not being a full review, but I've played enough to know that if you've the patience for its issues, then your ten pounds will ensure something worth exploring.

Between Me and The Night is available now for Windows and MacOSX from Steam and Humble.

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