Monday, December 18, 2017

Night in the Woods Review (PS4, XONE)

Night in the Woods features a cast of anthropomorphic animals and the main character is a cat, which means of course I had to play it. The game is more than just an eye catching art style, however, as the game underneath is pretty phenomenal too. This 2D platformer / narrative driven adventure (it’s a walking simulator) has a fascinating story to tell and genuinely enjoyable gameplay all wrapped up in absolutely incredible presentation. It doesn’t pay off quite like you’d hope in the end, and probably lingers a bit too long overall, but the journey more than makes up for the unsatisfying (and confusing) destination. Night in the Woods rocks. Continue reading our full PS4 review, now updated with info on the Weird Autumn Update and Xbox One version.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Finji
  • Developer: Infinite Fall
  • ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
  • Genre: Narrative Driven Adventure
  • Pros: Amazing art style; awesome music; relatable characters; fun “slice of life” activities
  • Cons: Unsatisfying ending; repeated dream sequences; too long overall
  • MSRP: $20
In Night in the Woods you play as a 20-year old cat named Mae Borowski who suddenly drops out of college and returns home to Possum Springs. She hopes that returning to small town life with her old high school friends in her hometown will, somehow, get her life back on track. Possum Springs isn’t the same as it was when she left, however, as the economy has taken a tumble and familiar businesses are now closed. Her friends are different now too, as they have had to face reality and find jobs and grow up. The bulk of the game is about hanging out with Mae’s friends to try to rekindle those old friendships while also balancing the responsibilities of being an adult.

What is fascinating is that Mae actually isn’t a particularly likeable character at first. She is selfish and insensitive and often has the subtlety of a jackhammer. It turns out, however, that she isn’t just a crappy person and there are actual valid reasons for not only her behavior and personality but why she dropped out of college as well. The game does a great job of building up to this reveal after dropping hints of some sort of dark period in her past and it is really neat to be able to put all of the pieces together to get the full picture of who Mae really is.

There is more to the story than just Mae and her friends, though. On her first day back in town the group finds a severed arm just lying in the street and a few weeks later Mae sees a mysterious figure seemingly kidnap a kid. Mae also starts to have weird dreams and hallucinations during this time as well. Her friends don’t necessarily believe Mae’s story of the kidnapping or her dreams, but they agree to help her investigate anyway. What they ultimately discover is a remarkably reasonable explanation for everything. Plus Cthulhu. The ending sequence kinda sucks, to be honest.

The actual gameplay in Night in the Woods is pretty basic overall. It is a 2D platformer where Mae can run around and jump on stuff, but the platforming aspect isn’t really needed all that often. Instead the game is really about a repeated daily routine where Mae wakes up (usually in the late afternoon), checks the internet, talks to her mom in the kitchen, ventures out into the town to visit her friends, hangs out with one of them for the evening, comes home and talks to her dad, checks the internet one last time, and then goes to bed. You can only hang out with one friend each day – either Gregg the fox who is a troublemaking anarchist or Bea the goth but responsible alligator – so you can’t see all of the story or experience all of the activities in one playthrough. The activities you’ll do are things like going to parties, helping Bea fix an old lady’s furnace, going to band practice with the whole gang, causing trouble with Gregg, and many more. Along the way you also slowly reveal Mae’s backstory and strengthen the relationships with her friends.

For the most part Night in the Woods’ daily routine is really enjoyable. It fills out the story at a fairly decent pace and helping Gregg and Bea with their problems, and helping everyone understand what Mae is really going through, is fantastic. However, even though the game is only 5-6 hours long, it stretches itself pretty thin by the end. The routine becomes too repetitive and becomes a chore instead of fun. I want to say they could cut a few days of hanging out from the game, but those interactions are too important to the story to just cut out. What the real problem is is that the game is intentionally slowly paced in a lot of areas that drag sequences out for far too long. You just get tired of it after a while. Also, there are several dream sequences where you have to do some platforming as Mae in a crazy dream world that are all pretty much the same thing and don’t really add much after the first couple of times you see them.

Night in the Woods absolutely knocks it out of the park when it comes to presentation. The graphics look sort of like construction paper cutouts and are absolutely stunning and great looking and very distinct. The sound is also phenomenal with a great soundtrack. There isn’t any voice work, but Night in the Woods doesn’t need it. Though, I guess if you hate reading a lot maybe it won’t be for you.

Weird Autumn Edition Update

The launch of the Xbox One version of Night in the Woods also brings with it the Weird Autumn Edition update that adds a few things to the game. If you already own the PS4 version it will be updated to the Weird Autumn Edition for free, though it is suggested you start a new game rather than trying to continue playing as the new additions might not play nice with old saves.

What exactly does the Weird Autumn Edition bring to the table? Not a ton of huge changes, but enough new stuff it may be worth a look, especially if you only played through the game once. Some conversations will have new options, there are a couple of new characters that flesh out some side stories a bit better, and there is now a bass guitar in Mae’s room so you can play the music minigame any time you want. It also adds the Longest Night and Lost Constellation standalone games that the team released during development of Night in the Woods. They add some interesting extra depth to the characters so they’re definitely worth playing through.

Xbox Impressions

The release of Night in the Woods on Xbox One gave me an excuse to play through the game again so I jumped at the chance. It is interesting playing through the game a second time because I’m actually playing more thoroughly than I did before as I didn’t really figure out how everything worked until late in my playthrough on PS4. Now I’m taking my time, talking to everyone until all dialogue is exhausted, and really exploring. I don’t think there is a “right” way to play, however, as I’m enjoying the game in totally different ways than I did before, which is fun. That sort of rushed and awkward playthrough in the Spring has made this run in the Fall even more fun, I think.

Something else that is making it more fun is that I’m playing the Greg route this time after being BFFs with Bea on PS4. Hanging out with Greg is a lot more fun, honestly, though Bea’s story is better.

As for the Xbox One version itself, everything seems fine. The game runs fine and looks great, though there isn’t really any reason to expect otherwise. It’s still an absolutely awesome experience overall that I can’t recommend highly enough. If you didn’t play it on PS4, or if you did and just want to support the developer, I absolutely recommend you buy it. Night in the Woods is awesome. 

Bottom Line

All in all, Night in the Woods is a phenomenal experience that I can’t recommend highly enough. It starts out somewhat slowly and it takes some time to really get into the routine, but once you do it’ll be all you can think about until you finish it. And then you’ll keep thinking about it for several days afterward. It does have some issues with pacing and repetition, but it’s worth it. Walking simulator haters and people who think videogames are required to have guns and action and high scores might not like it, but if you’re in the mood to meet a great cast of characters and experience a fantastic story, Night in the Woods is highly recommended. Buy it. 
Disclosure: A review code of the Xbox One version was provided by the publisher. The PS4 version was purchased ourselves.