Publisher: Tri Synergy/Buka
Release Date: Q2 2004
The backstory to Saturn+'s Midnight Nowhere is intriguing: What if you woke up in a body bag with no memory of who you were or how you had gotten there? Is it amnesia? Alien abduction? Mental block after watching "Gigli?" As you walk around, you discover that a) just about every door in the hospital is locked, and b) everyone else in the building is dead. There is a serial killer on the loose, and despite the increased attention from police and the military, people are being murdered daily.
At this stage in the game's development, the gameplay for this mouse-driven adventure is relatively simple but lacks consistency. The icons for all of the character functions (view, talk, grab, use, and read) are located in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, and you must decide which of these functions you would like to use on an item before actually selecting the item. The left mouse button selects these functions and the interactive objects, and the right mouse button brings up your inventory. Kudos to Saturn+ because the gameplay is straightforward enough that absolutely no instruction manual is needed before you can sit down and start playing the game.
While I understand the desire to create a completely mouse-driven game, the standard two-button mouse setup doesn't match up with your character's ability to perform five different actions. There is a lot of unnecessary mouse movement involved, as one must hover back and forth between the icons and the items in order to determine if they will be useful. I hope that the retail version will offer keymapping because it gets really frustrating when you have to do this for an entire game. As an example of the game's inconsistencies, while you're mousing around with the "view" function, your cursor will suddenly change from an eye to a hand as you hover over an object, meaning you can "grab" the item. If this happened all of the time — or only when the item is absolutely vital to solving the game — I would be a happy camper. As far as I can tell, however, there is no rhyme or reason to the sudden function and cursor changes.
Arrows guide the way as you advance through the game, but again, there isn't a set place in which these arrows will be located. For the most part, it can be found in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, but sometimes it's on the left, and on a few occasions, the arrow was located smack-dab in the middle of the screen.
There are also some inconsistencies with the game which are probably a result of linguistic differences. As you scavenge through a nurse's pockets to take helpful items, the "use" function (not "grab") is the one that yields results. That might be the proper usage of the word in Russian, but doesn't make much sense in English.
The gaming experience is definitely unique, as other adventure games don't require you to remove a battery from a vibrator to power another item or use a condom in a resourceful way. While this epitomizes the European "laissez faire" attitude towards subjects that Americans find taboo, the game should not contain such an overwhelming amount of nudity. It's very difficult to maintain an aura of sinister intrigue when there are naked breasts everywhere you turn (i.e., pornographic magazines, posters of naked women, XXX playing cards, etc.).
The backgrounds for each location are pre-rendered, and the artists' attention to detail is extraordinary. When you get a chance to view an item up close, be sure to take advantage of it because it is truly impressive.
For the most part, the only dynamic thing in the game is your character, who looks like a slightly unkempt Ken doll, but how good would you look after waking up in a body bag? His movements are not very fluid yet, as he sometimes has to spin around three times before getting into the perfect position to open a door or proceed down a hallway. I'm sure this will be fixed in time for the final build, or else the character might be dubbed "Mr. OCD."
It would be difficult to give a fair evaluation of the sound portion of the game, since this version has not been completely localized yet. In earlier builds, we had to contend with Russian voiceovers while reading English subtitles - an amusing combination, but slightly distracting. In the latest build, the Russian speech has been removed, and subtitles are being used until some English voiceovers have been recorded. One of the most pleasantly surprising things about the game is its sardonic dialog - very characteristic of the European attitude.
The background music in the game is slightly too dramatic, veering from one extreme to another and never quite befitting the atmosphere of the game. While you're in the jail cell, the background tune is very twangy and induces the urge to polka. No, I'm not kidding. In the hospital, the theme conveys a sense of urgency and suggests that an ominous threat is constantly around the corner. You keep waiting for the colossal scare, but it never comes … unless you count the fear of being "dominated" by the big guy in the jailhouse.
You aren't bombarded with sound effects at every turn, but the ones that you do encounter seem very realistic. I can't verify the sounds of a body bag unzipping, glass breaking, or elevator doors closing on a corpse, but I can imagine that they sound just like they do in the game.
Due out in Q2 2004, Midnight Nowhere is full of promise and will be a necessary addition to every adventure gamer's library, if the major issues are addressed. The character movement needs to be made more fluid, the music can be toned down a bit, and it would be a godsend if the menu navigation could be simplified. I've played through half of the game, and from what I've seen, the game has great potential to be a suspenseful thriller, with an eerie environment and dead bodies strewn everywhere.