[Review] Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition – Nintendo Switch

Written by Richard Strachan
  • Developer: Panic Barn
  • Publisher: No More Robots
  • Release date: 31/1/2020
  • Price: £19.49/$24.99
  • Review code provided by No More Robots

Not Tonight Satan!

2018, what a year that was for me, person of European Heritage #112 as I’m now known! After the rise of the Albion First/Conservative Coalition, I was placed into the European Citizens Relocation Block in Yeovil. Despite being born and bred within earshot of the Bow Bells, it turns out I’m no longer considered British. My French born Grandmother surrendered her British Citizenship years ago following her divorce. Albion First’s new citizenship policies mean I was stripped of mine!

I spent most of 2018 slogging my guts out, doing bouncing jobs around London and the Southwest. Things were pretty difficult, I had my probation officer breathing down my neck, demanding two and a half grand for my work visa! After that came the higher tax rates I had to suffer, thanks to my newfound status. Then came the big shock of the bill for my NHS treatment after my accident.

Money was tight and I was down on my luck, so I decided to start slinging pills to the punters in the queues to make an extra few quid, keep the wolves at bay. That was when the old-bill came knocking and I was finally deported. Everything I ever knew, all gone! They said they were taking back control. I never thought it would come to this!

Papers Please?

This cheerful little tale is the story of my first play-through of Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition. The game is set in a post-Brexit version of England, where Brexit negotiations have collapsed and the UK has broken up. England is ruled by a Conservative/Albion First coalition and European citizens are routinely rounded up and placed in Relocation Blocks, pending deportation. It feels like a stark warning as the real life UK leaves the EU and moves into the transition period and the delicate negotiations that will crowd the headlines for the months and years to come.

You start Not Tonight by creating your character and choosing their backstory from one of three equally sad options. Each ultimately involves your character having some form of European heritage and eventually falling foul of Government policy which places descendants of non-British Grandparents at risk of deportation.

The game plays like a very modern take on Papers Please, with your character eventually forced into work as a bouncer, checking ID’s and guest lists outside pubs and clubs. Very early on you realise the parallels between your role in deciding the fates of your patrons and the bigger picture of the crackdown on European citizens in game and the decisions they face at the hands of the immigration system (your character included).

If your name’s not dahn, you’re not coming in!

The basic flow of the game involves you deciding which jobs to take, before heading off to a pub, club or even the London Wall (or Thames Flood Barrier as your integration officer euphemistically terms it). Each job involves checking the ID cards of each person in the queue, ensuring they are still valid and they match the person in front of you. You also need to keep track of various other factors as determined by the venue you are working. These range from things such a ban on French, Italian and Irish citizens, following an alleged attack by a group of European extremists, to scanning patrons for weapons.

Each job is a race against the clock to get as many punters into the venues whilst ensuring you meet the particular criteria of the job. You find yourself juggling a mental list of criteria whilst eyeing the queue for signs that someone may be hiding a weapon (or bendy banana), or even eyeing potential customers to make a few extra quid through more illicit means.

As well as trying to get as many people in as possible, you need to ensure you don’t allow anyone in that doesn’t meet a venue’s criteria. The game has a specific target minimum for each job and also provides cash bonuses for even higher scores. Each venue also allows a small number of patrons to be admitted incorrectly before you receive a warning, then a fine before finally failing the job and being stripped of your pay if you perform badly enough.

Things can get pretty stressful when you realise it’s near closing time and you are nowhere near your quota for the job. It can be tempting to let a few people in without checks as you cross your fingers and hope they weren’t carrying a knife or using an expired ID.

Home is where the hatred is

Between jobs you spend time at home, juggling the normal day to day responsibilities of paying bills and looking after yourself. The game also introduces a cast of characters, from Officer Jupp, who gleefully turns up at your door to hound you for payments toward your work visa, to members of the resistance who want you to join their cause to bring down the Government. The overarching story is blackly funny and is absolutely spot on in terms of the number of different satirical references to events in the UK over the last few years. Anyone who has been keeping a keen eye on the Brexit saga will find plenty to laugh at, and maybe a bit to cry at too!

Balancing your responsibilities starts off easy at first, but rapidly becomes a stressful juggling act as your health deteriorates following months of work without a night off. The sections between jobs give a brief respite in the early game, but as it goes on you find yourself having to decide whether to take a job to get enough cash to pay the bills or take a day off to try and recover your health.

Cash can also be used to upgrade your home with better heating, a fridge to store food or a nicer bed to get a good nights sleep. All those things help offset your ailing health, but make it very difficult to pay the bills.

Failure to turn up at work or pay bills on time will affect your social credit score, which will ultimately lead to your deportation. Your score can be positively affected by doing well on jobs, paying your bills on time and generally being a nice obedient subject. Involvement in more illicit activity like accepting bribes and selling drugs can have a serious effect on your social credit, but when that NHS bill is hanging over your head and you have three weeks to scrape together the money for your work visa it becomes a game of risk vs reward. You realise the entire system is rigged against you and the real difficult decisions begin!

Uber stressful

In the scenario I described at the start of this review, I found myself struggling to get the money to pay the bills after a few bad jobs. My social credit score was ridiculously low and another few days of unpaid bills was set to finish me off. I decided to start selling CheeseR, a form of illegal drugs available in the game. CheeseR affects your social score, but only by one point if you sell it to someone who uses. Get it wrong and it has a huge effect. I made a few incorrect choices of who to sell it to, meaning my social credit took a massive dive and the boys in blue came knocking the next day.

Another run saw my character’s health take a huge hit as I failed to upgrade my apartment. I already had a pretty low social score, but I had to take a few days off work to try to recover my health. Each day from that point on became a case of trying to assess whether I could afford the loss of social score by skipping work, then having to do a days work to try and rebuild my social score at the expense of my health. Eventually my character succumbed as I literally worked him to death in an attempt to avoid deportation.

The developers make their political leanings very clear throughout the game. Ultimately it plays out as a dark satire with digs at the whole Brexit process and the perils of the gig economy. How much you will get from the game will partially depend on your own political persuasion. There are a lot of laughs to be had, but it can also be very stressful and quite depressing.

There has never been another game that felt more to me like it had its finger on the pulse of what is happening right here and now in the UK. It lifts a lot from Papers Please, but drapes it in a story that is so current and so sharp. That it launches on 31 January 2020, the very day the UK leaves the EU, makes it all the more poignant.

Final thoughts

Not Tonight presents a story that is so current and so relevant. It manages to be both funny and sad at the same time and manages to make the monotony of working as a bouncer engaging and satisfying. The feeling of a job well done is a huge relief and keeps you driving forward to see what the story offers. The game has a range of possible endings which you can influence depending on your decisions made when interacting with characters.

The game looks great, with a lovely pixel-art style allowing for some amazing detail in the backgrounds. It paints a grimly-realistic picture of the dying UK high street with parodies of some well known retailers. The music is great, with the various venues focusing on different styles. The way the game filters the music in and out as the doors open and close is a cool little effect and really does convey the sounds of standing outside a pub or club as you hear the music banging away inside.

On top of the main story, the game also includes the One Love DLC which was released separately on Steam. This follows the story of one of the side characters as they move to Paris after the events of the main game. Dave, the owner of the game’s King’s Head pub, opens his new venture – Le Rosbif and tries to find love in a new country. He inevitably ends up falling for a dating website scam and caught up in a similar predicament to the main storyline as he tries to earn enough to get by and work his way out of the hole he ends up in. I didn’t find this as engaging when compared to the main scenario as I preferred the dark satire of the alternative timeline UK.

I found very little to dislike about the game, but one big issue I did notice was that Joy-Con drift, no matter how minor, would cause my character to walk away from a patron whilst checking their ID, causing me to lose a few seconds. The game is so tightly balanced that this sometimes made the difference between passing and failing a job, and most likely contributed to my overall failed runs at the game. 

Given the prevalent issues with drift, I feel more devs should tailor their games to allow users to customise a dead-zone to offset these kinds of issues. In some games the effect can be minor, but at times the drift made it impossible to successfully complete a job in Not Tonight. I was able to sort this out by using a pro controller, but it meant playing the game on the move was impossible at times.

Pros

  • Darkly funny parody
  • Resource management proves stressful in the best way
  • Working jobs is extremely satisfying

Cons

  • Joy-Con drift can make game unplayable

Verdict

Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition paints a blackly funny picture of a post-Brexit UK. The game offers a hilarious and scathing take on the last few years of the Brexit process and proves equal parts funny and poignant. The compelling gameplay loop proves addictive and the story keeps you engaged ’til the very end. Highly recommended!

4/5

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