By Mason Quah
NOT Tonight 2 is a game that presents itself as a critique of American Politics.
The first thing I saw upon booting the game being a DD/MM/YY date system made me question this authenticity, but it managed to regain my trust by joking about British teeth.
The game’s subject matter, of American immigration policy and enforcement, is a topic that’s fallen out of public perception now that the bad orange man is no longer sitting in the oval office and the UK has approved an entire several dozen visas for the 1.7 million refugees fleeing Ukraine.
The focal character of the story is an American citizen black-bagged at a protest and told he’ll be deported unless he can provide proof of citizenship in one month. You play the concurrent storylines of three friends scrambling to get his documents to him in time.
The setting portrays these real world issues and concerns in a parody United States where the South seceded, the North was annexed by Canada and the statue of liberty is a giant robot. The metaphors can feel a bit detached when presented this way but they hit more often then they miss.
Your cross country road trip is funded entirely by zero hour contract work you able to find along the way, working as a bouncer. The gameplay harkens back to 2013’s Papers Please while putting its own spin on the formula. Some levels will have you alternating between two lines, handing out complementary poutine or refusing entrance to anybody whose renaissance faire costume isn’t good enough. Other level specific mechanics bring the game back into the current year when you are instructed to deny anti-maskers from entering restaurants.
The choice to put you as a functional border guard while on a quest to save a friend from border guards is used in the narrative, but not to its fullest. At several points you will be given choices to look the other way in order to help people, and the game always incentivises you to take these choices. This can take away some of the impact of making difficult decisions, since you are always rewarded for doing the right thing.
The gameplay can quickly get frantic, with new mechanics and checklists appearing every few levels to ensure you never get too comfortable. It is simple enough to check the age of people coming in and making sure their documents haven’t expired, but you’re always encouraged to work at a fast pace that even the simple levels have a sense of urgency. There are alternative difficulty settings to help people with slower reading speeds or who are just interested in the story.
The often light hearted presentation may not vibe for everyone. There are other games that approach serious political content like this with a greater level of severity.
Through the Darkest of Times places you as a resistance cell in Nazi Germany, with no room for jokes and careful attention given to setting the tone.
Suzerain, while including character focused scenes keeps these moments of levity separated from the narrative core. Games which place radical politics at the front and centre are still broadly relegated to the indie scene, but represent a growing genre.
Not Tonight 2 does an important job in reminding us of a serious problem that has by and large been relegated to the backburners.
It may not take the form of government agents in SWAT gear black bagging people of the street but there are a great many people who have to live in fear that the life they’ve built will be swept away by a government that chooses not to acknowledge them.
Featured Image: Panic Barn/No More Robots
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