I never thought I’d criticise a game for being good, but Not Tonight 2 is almost too much fun.
It sees you road-tripping your way across North America, funding your journey by working as a bouncer at an increasingly bizarre number of locations. While Canada is still very much Canada, the USA has been split into two territories: one run by the hateful, xenophobic Martyrs, the other by the liberal (but slightly hatstand) Alliance.
If you’ve tackled the original Not Tonight, which was set in a post-Brexit Britain, you might have an idea of what to expect. But Not Tonight 2 dials things up to eleven and keeps going until the volume knob flies off and embeds itself in the wall. The document inspection gameplay, which sees your bouncer checking people’s IDs is an absolute riot, with each location featuring its own unique twist.
So you start off checking that IDs aren’t expired or forged (due the telltale lack of a stamp) but a few minute later, when you hit Canada, you’ve also got to squirt the appropriately-coloured sauce onto your would-be clubbers’ poutine. Later you’re firing arrows at wizards who are using balloons to float into a Medieval Times-style restaurant and later still you’re decrypting a secret code to determine whether someone’s allowed in or not.
What’s especially sneaky about the introduction of these new mechanics is that, in your brain, you put them first. So if you’re not careful you can let someone in because they had the right ticket, only to be informed their picture didn’t match their ID. Yes, it’s clearly inspired by Papers Please but since you’re not turning desperate refugees away (you’re only denying them the freedom to fall asleep in their own sick) there’s no guilt factor.
In fact, at the risk of making myself sound like the world’s biggest buzzkill, I got a real thrill out of turning people away. As Alice Cooper sang, it’s the little things and spotting fakes never got old. I may have been a poorly-paid virtual doorman but in my head I was Columbo, nailing the murderer and watching them crumble. You play as three different characters, each visiting a different string of locations, so you’ll find there are plenty of people to turn away,
There’s even a section where, echoing today’s pandemic, you can turn people away for not wearing a mask, which I found supremely satisfying. Throw in a healthy dose of humour, including several recurring characters and you’ll spend at least half your playtime time just grinning. Well, right up until the moment when your overconfidence gets the better of you and you end kicking yourself for not spotting an ID that expired in 2018.
Yes, Not Tonight 2 is a ridiculous amount of fun. The problem is that it’s too easy to forget the reason for the road trip, which is to rescue Eduardo, a friend who was bundled into a black van by Not Tonight 2’s MAGA-cops, and is being held in a gulag. Your job is to get his passport, proof of family tree and so forth to the gulag before he’s thrown in to an even deeper, darker hole.
And there are definitely moments where Not Tonight 2 gets quite dark. There’s a location where, if you don’t make the right decision (there are a range of narrative options) you’ll be killed, Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style. And you do run into people with their own grim stories, but not often enough. In Not Tonight, you were the one in peril, in danger of being deported if you didn’t obey the whims of a shady “security” officer.
Eduardo’s situation, on the other hand, is much less in-your-face. Admittedly, I don’t directly know anyone who’s been in such a situation (or at least I’ve never asked) and, as a white male, the chances of it happening to me are less than zero. Maybe if you’ve been harassed by the authorities, or been asked to step out of an airport line because of the colour of your skin, your ethnicity, religion or so forth this’ll resonate more. But I found it too easy to forget about Eduardo’s plight.
For that reason, Not Tonight 2’s story didn’t quite land for me, but the journey itself, laden with laughs, was absolutely worth taking. I won’t soon forget the sheer joy of arriving at an absurd new location, frantically trying to wrap my mind around the gloriously off-the-wall entry requirements, and the silly, smug satisfaction of doing a good job.
Not Tonight 2 Review – GameSpew’s Score