That grandiose term ‘interactive entertainment’ has been bandied around for decades, usually rolled out when the word ‘game’ feels too throwaway or restrictive. Sure, it’s highfalutin, but sometimes it’s simply a more accurate descriptor. FMV release Late Shift is a case in point – it’s likely to garner criticism with people asking, "well, where’s the game, then?" However, by eliminating puzzle mechanics, developers Wales Interactive has doubled down on creating tension and maintaining the pace of a thriller.
You play as Matt, a student who moonlights as a valet/security guard in the underground car park of a swanky London residence. The titular night shift gives him time to ponder (via voiceover) the chaos and probability that govern our life choices as he lusts over the luxury motors that fill the garage. One night in the guard’s booth, while brushing up on some light algorithmic game theory, a disturbance leads to him being co-opted into a robbery from an auction house. From there on out, the story twists and turns as you race around the city getting involved with the police, the Triads and all manner of shady individuals.
Or not. You see, Late Shift is essentially a choose-your-own-adventure book. Every so often a choice will appear on screen with a short countdown timer – stand still or run away? Act cool or protest? Flirt with the pretty girl or give her the cold shoulder? Highlighting your choice and hitting 'A' sends you onwards down a narrative branch. The game is split into chapters and, while certain story points and locations will always come up, your choices inform how the scenarios play out. Should the timer reach zero, a decision is made for you and the story carries on regardless.
Matt’s personality is revealed by the choices you make – aggressive options will inevitably lead to violence; play as a goody two-shoes and he’ll run to the police at the first opportunity. On our first playthrough we took the ‘charming rogue’ route. The point is you shape the protagonist, and therefore the story, through your choices. This has the potential to become incoherent and incongruous very quickly, but Late Shift is impressively seamless, whichever route you take.
It’s a slick production. From the introduction you’d be forgiven for thinking the whole story will play out in the underground car park – a contained, controllable environment to set the game – but soon you’re cruising around London in beautiful cars to all sorts of locations, day and night. The scope is a significant step up from The Bunker, a recent FMV title published by Wales Interactive.
Arguably, it’s this scope that necessitates the removal of puzzle elements common to the genre. There are no keys to manually collect or documents to comb through for hidden passwords here. Pleasantly, this means there’s no awkward backtracking or looping dialogue either. By jettisoning environmental puzzles entirely, no laborious keycode puzzle can disturb the narrative’s breakneck pace.
Cast performances are universally strong and it’s quite possible to sit back and simply let the movie play out without your input – the writing and production values are solid enough to entertain on their own. It’s snappily edited, too, with no unnatural pauses or jumps in the soundtrack. The countdown timer keeps things moving consistently.
Late Shift looks great on the TV, and thanks to the simplicity of the controls – the left stick and a button – you don’t feel disadvantaged playing on the telly. Touch controls work perfectly in handheld mode but the cinematic presentation feels at home on the bigger screen. One practicality to consider is the size of the download – indie eShop release this may be, but all that high-quality video takes up a whopping 6.9GB on your hard drive.
Your progress is saved every chapter and upon completing the game you’re presented with a screen showing how many decisions you made, how many chapters you’ve unlocked and how many of the thirteen endings you’ve witnessed. You’re unlikely to replay the game thirteen times, but you’ll certainly want to see how the narrative changes with different decisions. Pleasingly, there’s a wealth of content that you’ll necessarily sacrifice on the way, so the game begs at least one replay. Watching someone else play is an entertaining alternative and, as with any decent film, it’s a fun communal experience.
Late Shift succeeds on its own terms by knowing exactly what it is and executing on its goals. It’s a tight, movie-length, choose-your-own-adventure that doesn’t let ill-fitting puzzle elements slow it down or dampen the tension it creates so well. While player agency is limited to the core branching system, its scale eclipses other FMV productions and, although it’s resolutely on-rails, it’s a far more seamless and satisfying 'interactive entertainment' experience as a result.