Written by Joe Ahart, Drew Beyer, and Andrew Busch // Edited and Uploaded by Andrew Busch
Three of us spent last week playing through Night in the Woods and writing these reviews separate from one another. We only started to have a conversation about the game once we had written our thoughts so none of these opinions were dependent on someone else’s views. Here are our verdicts:
1. JOE AHART
Mae’s journey in Possum Springs was one that took me from the simple troubles of being in my early 20’s, to the world of an H.P Lovecraft nightmare within the span of roughly 8 hours. I knew virtually nothing about Night in the Woods before starting a new file, so my sense of the game came entirely from the trailer alone. Even as I progressed around half way through, however, I still wasn’t entirely sure where the game was going to take me in the end. My little knowledge of the game made the experience exponentially more mind-blowing upon playing and completing it. Rarely does a game accomplish such a feeling, and when it does you can be sure that it is something worth playing in full.
Before entering a mysterious and complicated world, the story starts out very simple. You are Mae Borowski; a 20 year old cat returning to her hometown of Possum Springs from college. Being completely narrative based, the gameplay is essentially boiled down to exploring the 2D town, mingling with the inhabitants, and playing various activity-based mini games. Despite the incredibly simple mechanics, the story and setting are surprisingly deep and complex, with many different events to experience and alternate routes you can choose for the story. Your three best friends, Gregg, Bea, and Angus, contribute to the intricate and fleshed out storyline by drawing you into their strangely relatable lives. As the game progressed, I had to shift my view of the plot more than a few times to attempt to figure out what would happen to these characters, and if I could truly understand their backstories and motives.
The intricate narrative and easy mechanics are accompanied by what I think is most memorable about Night in the Woods, and that is its atmosphere. The artwork is a uniquely simple style with enough detail to make you eager to explore, but not too much that you become overwhelmed. It is almost like a children’s book set in a dark and mature world. Color and lighting are both amazingly well done, either putting you in a homey, autumn setting or an eerie and bizarre dreamscape. The characters were equally dynamic and unique in their presentation. With all of them being talking animals, their realist reflection stems from their very human personalities. You’d find it surprising how much you can not only feel for, but connect to a simple doodle of a cat. With both the content and the context caught in this whirlpool of truth and fiction, it felt like I was escaping reality while being reminded subconsciously to send out more resumes and come back to the real world.
Since completing the game, I do not have the full sense of closure that I had expected. I mean this in the sense that I still have a desire to go back and play it, knowing that there are so many other things to do and characters to flesh out. In the end, Night in the Woods leaves you with just enough closure to keep you satisfied, letting those deeper questions stick around in your brain from the many cryptic and philosophical moments. To be quite honest, I’m still not entirely sure whether this game was a fantasy adventure about solving the cause of paranormal activity, or a depressing story of a young girl experiencing an existential crisis. Maybe it’s both. No matter what it is, you can be sure that the game will make you want to keep exploring to discover all of the secrets Possum Springs has to offer.
BUY, BORROW, or PASS?
VERDICT: I say this game is definitely a BUY.
2. DREW BEYER
Playing Night in the Woods feels like finally meeting one of my heroes. Sure, I follow the game on social media, and I got brief snippets of contact through the supplementary games, but I hadn’t really had the chance to sit down and connect with the game on a personal level until now. Having experienced the game, I recognize that it’s not perfect, but it’s still very worthy of my prior admiration and is absolutely worth your time.
The story of Possum Springs and Mae engrosses me more than any game in recent memory. Infinite Fall weaves humor, heart and horror together in a way that you really ought to experience for yourself. Believe me when I say this is one of the best interactive narrative experiences on the market right now. You will laugh and cry with these characters, often in unexpected and possibly uncomfortable ways.
Now I admit I’m biased. Not only have I been rooting for Night in the Woods since day 1, I also have a vested interested in exploring games as a narrative medium. I hold Night in the Woods to an incredibly high standard and not only did it meet my every expectation, it surpasses them all.
If you choose to play Night in the Woods, which I obviously think you should, know you’re playing the game in order to experience this incredible story incredibly told. The impeccable aesthetic experience of Night in the Woods elevates the story and the world, Scott Benson’s art meshing perfectly with Alec Holowka’s melancholy music. While the lack of voice acting might irk some people, I think the writing is more than strong enough to carry the day.
Taken as a jumble of game mechanics, Night in the Woods struggles a little bit. The pace is always a little slower than I would like, there’s no run button, and if you miss dialogue you’ll have to reload a save or possibly restart the entire game to have another chance. But there’s always a fun new mini-game waiting around the corner to shake up the formula when it threatens to become stale. Minor blemishes on what really is an interactive narrative experience.
I went into Night in the Woods fully expecting to like it, but not to love it as much as I did. While I found the supplementary games charming to a fault, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer level of immersion I experienced during my first playthrough. It’s a slow burning character study and a phenomenal exercise in world building- take it as such, and you won’t be disappointed.
BUY, BORROW, or PASS?
VERDICT: BUY it!
3. ANDREW BUSCH
Night in the Woods was a completely different gaming experience for me. It was one of my first times playing an almost entirely story-based game. Initially, I was skeptical because the first half of the game is spent running around Mae’s hometown, Possum Springs, interacting with dozens of people that range from best-friends to the grouchy neighbor that still is mildly annoyed by your existence. But once the story really took off, I was glad I spent my time exploring and immersing myself in the culture of the town because the depth of the characters and their different quirks only enriches the complex narrative ark. That being said, not everything you will find in Night in the Woods is a completely polished, but I still felt that the game added up to be a delightful experience due to its distinct characters, stylized look, and the mysterious story.
The characters of this game are one of its strongest elements. The main character, Mae, has a sassy and devious side that will have you laughing at multiple moments due to both her sheer wit and her ability to embarrass herself. However, she also contains further complexities that appear later in the story as she continues to search for meaning in her town. I was amazed at Infinite Fall’s ability to develop a character that deals with her very real issues of isolation, faith, and sexuality in a game that is completely removed from the idea of realism. Additionally, Mae’s main groups of friends as well as the characters you meet along the way are equally as charming and their distinct personalities all had me invested in the game’s story even when the plot was moving a bit slow.
My favorite element of Night in the Woods is its stunning art style that delivers moments of atmospheric beauty while maintaining all the personality of its cartoonish style. Possum Springs is utterly gorgeous and everything from the pastel houses to the rundown storefronts and the melancholy citizens that walk through the streets creates an aesthetic experience worth its weight in gold. The game’s small touches are also just as satisfying as breathing lines give a touch of life to text that would otherwise remain static and leaves follow you for a moment when you pass where they rest on the ground. In all, the game’s aesthetic would make Night in the Woods worth playing even if it did not have a compelling story.
Fortunately, the game also delivers in this facet. In fact, it takes the cliché small town thriller to the next level by paring mystery with an exploration of what it means to fall on hard times in a community that is struggling to survive. This is everything I will share about the story because the surprises are what makes the entire game something beautiful to behold even though it may take a while before the story really gets going.
Aside from each of these strengths I still had some issues during my playthrough that I have to express. The first was that the game felt like it was setting itself up to be a mystery, but there was hardly any puzzle solving involved. This critique might be due to the fact that I am not really used to playing games with more story than gameplay. However, I felt that having minimal control and not a lot of agency as a player was something that inhibited me from enjoying the game fully. I also came across some technical glitches throughout like characters standing on top of one another during conversation or certain visuals not fully appearing. As a result, I wish I the game had a just a little bit more polish and some more opportunities for me to engage as a player instead of just a spectator.
At the same time, these elements do not prevent Night in the Woods from becoming a gaming experience worth your time because its characters, art style, and story are so skillfully executed. In many ways for a veteran of RPGs and first-person shooters this game was a pleasant surprise and a wake-up call. It caused me to realize how complicated stories can be told with minimal gameplay and that great games can be made by a handful of people.
BUY, BORROW, or PASS?
VERDICT: This game is worth the BUY!