Developed by: Ctrl Movie
Published by: Wales Interactive
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Steam.
N.B – This Review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of Late Shift
Hitting my ‘gaming puberty’ during the mid-nineties when PC games transitioned from floppy disks to CD-Roms, I have a real fondness for those point-and-click adventure titles that dominated the PC marketplace at the time. While animated adventures like Broken Sword, Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle have a place in my heart, titles that made use of Full-Motion Video (FMV) were my favourite genre, especially ones that made use of this cinematic technique in the game itself. Black Dahlia, Toonstruck and 7th Guest are all firm favourites of mine, rooted in nostalgia because of the cinematic gaming experiences they created. Although, as technology and graphics have improved, games have moved away from including real actors and FMV in favour of making use of ‘in-game graphics’ to tell the story. So, when I heard that there were titles revitalising the FMV format, I was intrigued to find out more.
Late Shift is not a game in the truest sense of the word, despite appearing for download predominately on videogame app stores. It is exactly what its developer Ctrl Movie advertises it as: “the world’s first cinematic interactive movie”. If one was so inclined, you could let the whole movie play out without any input and the game would make choices on your behalf, directing you towards one of the seven endings that lie in wait for its hapless protagonist. There are no puzzles, no item collection and no conversation threads to mine for information – each moment of audience interaction consists of two or three options that drive the narrative further into different directions. As a result, the total gameplay experience lasts about ninety minutes, depending on choices, and is best suited to be viewed as a movie with a bag of popcorn and an open mind.
The game’s plot revolves around Matt (played by Joe Sowerbutts) – a mathematics student who moonlights as a security guard for a car park. Surrounded by expensive vehicles and a life of luxury just out of reach, he is thrust into a potential life of crime when he is forced to take part in an auction house heist. Whether you help or hinder your newfound criminal allies is entirely up to the viewer, and the story branches out into plenty of unexpected twists and turns depending on the choices you make. The first time we played through it, my girlfriend took the controls and directed poor Matt into a rather downbeat ending. With the benefit of hindsight, I took control the following night and attempted to achieve a more uplifting conclusion but instead ended up with several bullets inside of me and spluttering a bloody “fuck you” to the game’s villain. With five more endings left to discover, I can guarantee we will be playing it again to find that elusive happy ending for Matt.
When you think of FMV sequences, you often think of B-movie level acting such as, Tim Curry’s over-the-top scenery-chewing in Command & Conquer: Red Alert’s cut-scenes. The acting on display in Late Shift is top-notch with much of the kudos going towards the lead, Joe Sowerbutts. Sowerbutts manages to infuse the character of Matt with a likeable charm that has the audience rooting for his success despite the increasing odds against him. One particular scene where Matt is being tortured for information had me grimacing at the screen, struggling to click the button on-screen which would result in more tortuous pain for the character. Every character is played to absolute perfection by the cast, in what must be one of the most challenging types of acting roles, since each actor must ensure that their performance maintains consistency with the many branching options available. Rather than a standard linear role, the actors are playing varied iterations of their characters based on the choices made by the viewers.
Unfortunately, the multitude of narrative combinations available does mean that there can be some issues with the plot at times. Depending on the choices made, Matt can sometimes display a knowledge of events that he shouldn’t actually be aware of. For example, Matt seemed to know that the car thief in the initial chapter had injured his arm from falling from a distance, although I hadn’t actually discovered that fact due to the options I’d selected. There are a few other instances of these discrepancies, but they are not that noticeable. Another side-effect of the branching narratives is that players can advance through the story without having the whole story explained, leaving some gaps in the tale that are only filled in on a second, or third, play-through. This isn’t a problem for me, and adds to the depth of the tale but it may frustrate some viewers who prefer the standard cinematic experience and plot structure.
Late Shift shares similar DNA to recent ‘cinematic experiences’ such as Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, albeit with a reduced emphasis on player interaction. Ultimately, I think this format is actually a better fit for the genre – while the Quantic Dream games offer an unparalleled feeling of interaction and immersion in the game’s narrative, Late Shift simplifies things to appeal to non-gamers and offers an experience more akin to the classic “Choose Your Own Adventure” books than a videogame. It also has high production values with over four hours of beautiful high-definition video taking viewers throughout the experience. Filmed in London, Late Shift has a distinctive voice that can only come from England’s capital, infusing the experience with a unique tone and atmosphere. Clearly influenced by the work of Guy Ritchie, Late Shift is far less cartoonish than the likes of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, but captures the same London criminal underworld vibe which made those two films so popular.
It is important to stress that this is not a traditional game, and players are best to treat it as an interactive movie and equate the cost to that of renting or buying a movie than purchasing a game. I wonder if Wales Interactive have plans to release the title on Blu-Ray eventually as I think it would definitely do well with non-gamers and in a physical format. The problem is refining the technology on Blu-Ray disc so it doesn’t cause delays in the viewing experience – something that the app format allows players to do. Ctrl Movie, the trail-blazing studio behind the game, has also actually shown the film in cinemas, allowing movie-goers to play along with the game using a mobile app, using a majority vote to dictate the events. I truly hope that the innovative nature of this film leads to more examples as it is definitely where movies should be heading in the future. No longer would you be screaming at the movie screen when a character in a horror film makes a dumb decision, it would now be your own fault! Forget 3D and VR – this is the real future of cinema!