Survive terrifying attacks while working late at the office.
PC Release: January 29, 2013
By Ian Coppock
Ultimately, Short Horror Week III might be just what I need to get my ass in gear again. I managed to write a few reviews over the course of the summer, but most of that time has been spent getting good at my job and dealing with a few things that, sans melodrama, have been resolved. Time to review again, and anyone betting on my return better believe that I’m not going to miss out on what has become an annual event.
For those of you unfamiliar with how Short Horror Week works, I review a short, usually free horror game every day in the week leading up to Halloween, culminating with the scariest of the bunch on October 31st. It’s a lot of fun for all of us; I get to share an obsession analogous to a serious drug problem, and everyone ranging from the curious story-seeker to the hardcore psychotic gets their fix. And on that note, let’s talk about the first entry in our new series: One Late Night.
One Late Night is a short indie horror game set in one of the dreariest of locales: working late at the office. Fortunately, working late at my company usually includes a lot of ping pong and beer, so I felt an immediate disconnect with my character, some anonymous pencil-pusher staying up late… and by himself… at the office.
Why this poor guy has to stay so late is not explained, but it does provide an excuse for you to be in a big office all by yourself. The first thing I’d do is blast metal music out of the speakers, but I guess this individual had productivity on his mind. Whatever.
One Late Night impressed me from the get-go. The graphics are exceptional for an indie title, and the game built up a steady drum of atmosphere with thunder clashes outside and the occasional hum of office machinery.
As I toured my space, ignoring the clicks of the fax machine and searching for that bubbly sound coffee makers make, I came back to my office and found a baffling message typed up on my screen.
As I continued exploring the office, I started finding items out of place and balloons where there were not balloons five seconds ago. These rearrangements were juxtaposed with such lovely jump scares as all the drawers in my office flying open simultaneously, and chairs rounding corners to hit me in the face.
It was only after a few minutes of searching for office keys and clues that my screen went all blurry and this freaking abomination revealed herself to me.
With this spooky lady as our nightwatchman, it’s small wonder we’ve never had a break-in! Now came to pass what I thought would be a mundane task: leaving the office. One Late Night‘s gameplay is a sequence of locked doors, keys, clues, and more locked doors. You have to make your way around the office floor looking for the path forward, all the while avoiding the gaze of this terrifying widow. She’s unpredictable, and angry, randomly lapsing in and out of existence to scour the office for you. If you’re not hiding under a desk or water cooler when she comes back, you’re dead.
As in most good horror games, you have no means of self-defense. The widow’s arrival is haralded by the screen going all flickery and a melancholic piano tune, letting you know that it’s time to hide. Typically the game will give you a chance to do this before she sees you, because if she sees you, she’ll slowly float your way and do what I can only assume is sucking the eyeballs from their sockets.
One Late Night has a solid atmosphere base and a monster that’s fairly scary, but it suffers from a few problems in the gameplay and context departments. The game’s frame rate absolutely chugged on my computer, probably because everything in this game is covered in enough lens flares to make it look like the USS Enterprise. Character movements are clunky; sprinting is literally running in slow motion, i.e. walking, and the items you have to pick up are tiny, necessitating turning down the mouse sensitivity to be able to get them. You can run, duck, hide under random objects, and grab items when you’re able to select them.
It’s also not clear what exactly you’re supposed to do in this game. Yes, you have to elude the widow monster and get out, but the logistics of this goal are left up to thin air. Ostensibly, you’re supposed to break into your troubled coworker’s office to get answers, but this took some sorting out. The most frustrating thing about this game is that items will spawn where there were no items before. That may not sound so bad, but it means tearing through the same office 4-5 times to complete different goals, and with the widow skulking around, this takes up a lot of time. If you’re patient, it can be done. But it’s not exactly fair to the player for items like batteries and keys to suddenly appear.
Still, for problems like these, the game does do a decent job of switching up your goals and using intricate item combinations to escape from the office. And, there’s a lot to look at. A lot of indie games are pretty sparse in the art department, but this is a fully decked-out environment that looks and feels like a real office. The developers’ meticulous attention to detail, from coffee mugs to computer manuals, is to be commended.
As far the story goes, well… there really isn’t one. I guess technically you can glean together some things from your coworkers’ panicked faxes and the things written on your mentally unstable coworker’s white board, but the focus here is on survival. The thing I didn’t understand is why this old widow would be haunting a suburban-looking office. It’s a question that has potential for a fascinating answers, since offices are rarely covered as the main environment in any game, let alone a horror one, but those answers never came.
I believe that what One Late Night set out to do was take a topic of utter boredom and turn it into something of fear. I jumped quite a few times when I saw the widow floating around the corner, and some of the jump scares, while cheesy, make for a solid 1-2 punch alongside the rearranging items. Yeah, we don’t know why the widow’s haunting this office or why items are appearing or re-appearing, but none of this occurred to me during the actual game because I was under a bit of duress. No one likes getting their eyeballs removed by a scary widow at 11:00 PM on a Tuesday. That’s just messed up.
Despite some gameplay problems, One Late Night is well-worth the 20 minutes I spent playing it. If you turn down the graphical settings and are willing to be patient with this game’s dolling out of clues, you’ll enjoy it. This, combined with the unpredictable arrivals and disappearances of the widow, makes for a solid indie effort. One Late Night is available on the eponymous website. And with that, Short Horror Week III has begun! Tomorrow’s game involves investigating a decommissioned Irish power plant. Unusual locations seem to be a recurring theme this year.
You can buy One Light Night here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.