Archives by Day

June 2023

Midnight Fight Express

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Humble Games
Developer: Jacob Dzwinel
Release Date: Aug. 23, 2022


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

PC Review - 'Midnight Fight Express'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 23, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Fight your way across the city in a brutal romp that mixes old school brawlers and fast-paced motion-captured combat.

It isn't easy making a beat-'em-up, but your perspective makes a big difference. If you're going for the 2D side-scroller, there are countless examples from decades ago that remain classics. A slew of modern titles also do a good job of recapturing that magic. For a 3D game, fewer strong examples exist, but they have been around for a few console generations. Midnight Fight Express forgoes the traditional 2D and 3D approaches in favor of something more isometric. In doing so, it has become a blueprint for what can be done well in this genre/perspective mix.

You play the role of Babyface, a former thug who has seemingly gone on the straight and narrow until a drone arrives at your seedy apartment. That drone, piloted by a person who seemingly knows more than you do, informs you that you're really a sleeper cell. Its presence awakens this in you, and you're now on a quest to search for and kill the leader of all of the gangs before they take over the city in the span of one night.

Story is usually something you can leave in the background for games like this, and that's usually fine. The police interrogation segments that act as prologues for the levels can't be skipped, but players can button-mash through the dialogue without missing anything important. Where the story bits start to become an annoyance is when the drone speaks. The game lacks voice acting, so all of the speech is done via text, but those text sequences stop the action until you button-mash through them. There's plenty of text in the game, as the drone seems to babble away after almost every fight. While the stuff being said is mostly forgettable, the fact that it interrupts the flow of the fight can quickly become annoying.

Despite the change to an isometric viewpoint, Midnight Fight Express faithfully follows the basic rules of a beat-'em-up. Enter a room, an enemy wave appears, you punch them down until they're all defeated, and you move to the next room to do it again until the level ends. Enemies carry weapons that you can pick up to use against them, and there are also weapons lying on the ground, all of which have limited uses before they break. That same fragility rule applies to the majority of guns that you find, as they have a limited number of bullets. You may not be able to jump, but you have counters that can be applied, and you can also charge up your punches to break through some guards and light shields. The game also intelligently points you toward enemies when you attack, so you aren't punching air when not manually in front of a foe.

At a base level, your character is quite adept at combat. Basic combos come out smoothly, and while it takes some time to nail down the counter system, it is satisfying when you pull one off. Dodging is quick, and the game makes most of the items in your environment plausible weapons. Throwing chairs and bricks is easy, and you'll be surprised at how much damage several cardboard boxes can do to an enemy's health. The button for picking up items might feel awkwardly placed, but it works well enough; briefly panicking and hurling everything nearby can get you out of a jam.

As good as you are, you'll take greater joy in the leveling system in Midnight Fight Express. No matter how well or poorly you perform in a level, you'll always get a skill point that can be applied in one of six different categories, such as attacks, counters and grappling. Some of those skills are locked behind level progression, but everything only costs one point. Not only can you swap point allocations, but you'll actually be able to fill out every skill tree by the end of the game. Even with only a few points spent, you'll notice a huge difference in your arsenal of moves. Suddenly, you'll get the ability to kick objects instead of just throwing them. You can disarm enemies or run at them before doing a sliding tackle. Get near the environment, and you can bash their heads against a wall or sink. It's versatile but also realistic, making the moves even more awesome to watch. The only exception to this comes from a special revolver that can be powered up enough to fire ice bullets or hypnotize enemies to briefly fight by your side.

Amidst this is a customization system that does a good job of playing both the serious and goofy sides of the field. Beating levels opens up different costume pieces and ink that gets paid for with cash. Everything is cosmetic, but you can make Babyface wear wacky combinations of clothes, such as a suit with a bandana or sweats with a fedora. You can even copy enemy outfits, which can be confusing and humorous if you go up against the same enemy type dressed as you.

The campaign sports over 40 levels, and that may seem like overkill for a beat-'em-up until you realize that each level can be finished in under 10 minutes. Some have you go through multiple parts of an area, while others are one-room affairs, but each one lets you play out brawling scenarios in areas that either seem perfect for a fight or lifted from big action movies. Fights can be in the streets or in clubs, expansive bathrooms, sewers, and even a game development studio. It isn't just set dressing; environmental hazards add to the danger, as snipers, falling crates, and moving subway cars can wipe you out. Luckily, you can also use that to your advantage. Enemies aren't immune to friendly fire, so part of your strategy can involve luring them into railings to get quicker kills. Like most beat-'em-ups, there are also vehicular levels to break up the monotony, and while it's fun to chase down people on a bike or speedboats, the perfunctory shooting makes you want to return to the brawling levels.

There are still a number of things to do beyond the main campaign. For those who want to practice their moves in a more freeform mode, there's the playground, where you can pit yourself against any of the enemies you've encountered before. Each of the 40+ levels have their own online leaderboards, and they also have different challenges, such as not getting killed, finishing under a par time, or killing enemies in specific ways. It gives you more than a few reasons to replay the previous levels, especially if you didn't gather up all of the gold teeth before.

The audio is very good. The highlight is the bass-heavy electronic soundtrack from Noisecream that puts you in a pummeling mood. Thanks to the numerous levels, the soundtrack variety is pushed, giving fans plenty of banging tracks to listen to. The sound effects stay with the theme of brutality; you can hear the power behind the hits. Meanwhile, gunshots sound a bit muted, so they sound less powerful. As mentioned before, there are no voices in the game despite one being heard in trailers, and while this is understandable considering that this is mostly a one-person project, it would've gone a long way to maintaining the pace and making the story feel more meaningful.

Graphically, you'll have to be fine with some of the design choices. When you get a close-up of your character as you customize and power them up, you'll notice that the face is merely serviceable, and the character model is soft. That would feel like more of an issue if it weren't for the fact that the default viewpoint pulls back and tilts the camera just enough so those things are no longer issues. The environments share some of that softness, but it's disguised with the nighttime setting and brief use of indoor light. That sense of a graphical "downgrade" makes it so that the game can sport a ton of enemies on-screen simultaneously without dropping any frames. The fight animations also get a ton of focus; each move is performed smoothly thanks to the extensive motion capture. The excellent transitions came through, despite the inability to zoom in further with the camera. Even if you can't see it all up close and choose to tone down the blood, it still looks brutal in action.

For those lucky enough to have a Steam Deck, Midnight Fight Express fits the device perfectly. Aside from the levels being just long enough to make for some quick gaming sessions, the default settings don't look like a major graphical downgrade for less powerful hardware. The native 1280x800 resolution means no additional letterboxing is needed, while the medium/high mix of settings keeps the game running at 60fps. There's only a minimal amount of pausing, and a battery runtime of over three hours on average, so the out-of-the-box experience is excellent. Further tweaks can only benefit the battery life performance. The cloud saves also port over the settings data between machines, so if you're thinking of playing the game on both your main gaming PC and Steam Deck, keep in mind you'll need to recalibrate those settings every time unless your gaming PC is running at similar specs to the Deck.

Midnight Fight Express is a solid beat-'em-up. The base move set is enough to make you feel dangerous, but a fully kitted-out character makes you feel invincible. The combat is appropriately crunchy, and the game doesn't wear out its welcome despite having a ton of brief levels. It fulfills that fantasy of being an unstoppable action hero, and it keeps that fantasy going thanks to the game's overall replayability. For fans of action titles in general, Midnight Fight Express is well worth checking out.

Score: 8.0/10

More articles about Midnight Fight Express
blog comments powered by Disqus