Played on Windows.
Also Available on iOS, AppleTV, Android, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and movie theaters.
If one was to ask me about FMV games a month ago, I would immediately think of the first game that talked about FMVs that I played. The massive Final Fantasy VII that shipped on 4 CD and boasted just under an hour of Full Motion Videos. At the same time, another form of FMV was being used. Entire games spliced together out of digitized video clips. There was everything from the infamous (but hardly as scandalous as people thought) Night Trap, Mad Dog McCree, and more.
In the last couple of years, there have been attempts to recapture this style of game, Late Shift gives a fully interactive movie sold as a game and Netflix released a fully interactive movie on their streaming service called Bandersnatch. I’m here to talk about Late Shift, but it’s hard to talk about Late Shift without talking about the technology, it’s contemporaries and what makes a game?
While I’m not trying to disqualify Late Shift as a game, I’m more interested in what makes a game fundamentally worth playing, and we’ll talk about that. The fact is, Late Shift is interesting for a few reasons. But we should start with it’s biggest.
Honestly, Late Shift graphics are very impressive. The characters look like real people, the locations look real and the world is vibrated and filled with life. Mainly because it is.
Late Shift is a full filmed game/movie. Every scene and every image is from a video camera. I’m sure there were some minor CG to fix errors in filming or production, but the point is, this is a film, not really a video game graphics and as such it’s hard to really evaluate it, though I can make a number of jokes calling this the most realistic looking game.
Seriously this looks great, and this isn’t a small production, there’s a number of extras that gives each scene life.
From a film standpoint, it’s good. Most scenes are filmed at night, so much of the action pops but it does feel rather well made and solidly acted and the scene work is good. It’s a really solid film. Similarly, the music, costumes and everything else feel really good. I sat back and “Watched” this game and enjoyed the experience.
Though I will say that there are a few parts of the game that are a little rough. Whether it’s due to the film being a British production or problems due to players having control of the story. It’s possible that the branching nature of the story adds to these odd moments, however, there is only a handful for each playthrough, so players will have a relatively undisturbed experience.
Late Shift looks good for a movie, but the question will be how does the story work. While it starts a little slow, with the first ten minutes or so feeling a bit slow. Our main character works at a car park of some sort and starts by being presented with a question. Does he stand by the door of a bus because he’s selfless to let others on, or selfish because he’s the first off? Similarly, do you help a guy asking for help or try to board the train?
Each decision changes the story slightly, though they don’t seem to actually change the narrative.
At first, I thought the game reaches the same endpoint no matter what the player does. It turns out after a second playthrough this isn’t true. There are 7 diverse endings and they all have their own result.
May-Ling is a major part of the story, and the more I played, the more I was interested in her.
My first playthrough I decided to play the “bad actor” route. Trying to break the story, get sent home quickly, or killed. I wanted to break the game. The game doesn’t allow for that but did give me a customized game with a specific ending. The second time I played a character that was completely part of the movie from the beginning trying to help out in any way he can and got a different ending.
It’s a good way to tell the story but the divergences weren’t strong enough to really warrant the second playthrough. While there was a different ending, the majority of the story is the same. In fact, the game mentions the numbers of scenes in it, and after my playthrough showed I had seen 10 out of 14 possible scenes. There was clearly four more scenes to find in the game, and it appears that choices will matter, I found 3 more scenes on the second playthrough.
I’m unsure about how choices really matter though. It feels like there are key choices that will direct your story. The creators claim there are uncountable different movies and 180 choices. Well, that actually makes it countable. If we assume on average there are less than 3 choices on average for each question (Which is a yes no, or time out option), and believe that all 180 choices are presented sequentially, (which they are not), the fact is there are 7.7 *10^85 possible choices.
The Dialogue can be a bit british at times but the experience is rather good no matter what.
This sounds like a lot, but there are really only 7 different endings to the movie, so either all of these choices matter or don’t. Seeing as I was able to use just a single chapter on my second playthrough and unlock three different endings, it shows that there’s a limit to the interactivity of the story.
While this is understandable it brings up a problem with the story. No matter the choices made, only a few key choices are critical. While there are a number of important moments here, all roads lead to a set number of choices that actually matter.
Ultimately from the look of it, it appears almost no choices really matter to the movie. While there’s a clever moment in the story and a couple of ways the story builds itself, ultimately it’s a simple choose your own adventure with extra choices thrown in.
Late Shift’s story itself is good, though the opening really seems out of place. The biggest problem is that the way the main character gets involved in the story seems full of plotholes. The main character is a parking attendant at a high price valet service. A thief tries to steal the car, but from what I can figure, there is absolutely no reason for the characters to need the high price car, and in fact, would draw more attention. There’s a reference to a getaway car, but I don’t fully buy it.
At the same time, the rest of the story at least seems to make more sense, and if you buy into the story outside of that one plot point, it’s an enjoyable ride.
With a great film, and a decent story, the question becomes how’s the gameplay, and this will become the biggest sticking point for Late Shift. Late Shift is barely interactive.
Almost every choice is very binary, yes or no, do or do not.
Very similar to Bandersnatch, players are offered choices at set points in the game. There’s usually a small lead up to each choice giving players a chance to choose one of two options before the character makes that choice.
Also similar to Bandersnatch, Late Shift does a great job at giving a seamless experience. The ability to choose either option and allow the game to not have a hitch or a jump is impressive. I did notice a couple of minor continuity errors depending on a choice, but nothing that really ruins the experience.
The most important thing though, is that Late Shift removes a lot of agency from the player. If you want your character to fight against the flow of the movie, they can only do this at the predetermined points in the movie that has been predesigned. This is the nature of an FMV game, where everything has to be filmed and decided ahead of time.
In normal games, characters act based on programmed actions. In an FMV there’s no room for a non-programmed response so if the game hasn’t accounted for it, it won’t happen.
Each choice in the game is based on two or three visible choices on the screen. There is an additional option of “no” choice, meaning to let the timer for a choice to run out, though most of those options default to one of the two offered choices.
These choices are the entire agency the player has. For a decent amount of the movie, the player sits back and watches the movie play out. All told there’s a little more than an hour per playthrough.
Based on the number of choices the player will likely want a second playthrough, though Late Shift doesn’t do a great job with this. In fact, it becomes my biggest problem with Late Shift.
The problem is that the player is only able to resume the story from the beginning of the current scene or start the movie over again. The player is not able to rewind choices, or fast forward the film, even that minor level of agency is lacking, and this becomes a problem.
There are unique moments like this, but you might have to dig for them all.
In David Cage games, or even Until Dawn, the player can roll back a portion of their choices, or a single misclick can be rectified in some way. Bandersnatch also allows the viewer to rewind to the last choice or fast forward. Late Shift lacks either of these abilities and it makes for a weaker experience.
“Playing” Late Shift a second time to see an alternate choice, or even going through it a third time becomes frustrating because even when there are choices you want to change, there are only a handful of choices that matter, and it requires to sit through the entire hour-long experience or more.
That becomes Late Shift’s biggest issue. The replayability is akin to watching a movie a second time, though without a fast forward or rewind button. Late Shift is made to be rewatched, to be explored, for different paths to be tested, but provides no way for players to enjoy the movie a second time unless they want to see every second a second time.
The thing is Late Shift isn’t a very good game for most of these reasons but could have been a more enjoyable experience if done as a movie with similar features to Bandersnatch… as a game with the feature set provided it becomes painful to experience a second time, and that second playthrough becomes core to the experience. Similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure book, it’s the choices that matter, but also the ability to see alternate versions of the story.
On paper, Late Shift is very impressive. According to the developer it contains over four hours of footage, multiple different scenes, different results, seven different endings, and 180 choices. It’s well acted and an interesting story, but sitting through the entire movie to see a slightly different ending doesn’t make for a better experience and exploring all the possible choices becomes an exercise in frustration rather than an interesting exploration of what the developer and filmmakers created.
Late Shift is interesting, but with the release of Bandersnatch, it has lost some of its luster. However, it wanted to be known as the first interactive movie or something similar. The problem is, that’s just not true at any level. The first interactive movie on Wikipedia was Kinoautomat which had 9 points where the audience voted and made a choice. We’ve seen similar technology behind Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace, and Mad Dog McCree. X-Files: The Game and the Tex Murphy games strung together FMV scenes as part of an adventure game. Telltale has been telling limited interactive movies for quite a while.
The thing is Late Shift might be able to claim some small first. The first seamless, standalone, interactive movie, that is over sixty minutes long with a Britain production company or something. Late Shift’s technology is interesting, and if you have the chance to play through it once, you’ll find something unique, but to pay full price for the game, which costs about the same as a movie ticket, or to attempt a second playthrough will quickly show the real problems with Late Shift and that’s a shame.
Late Shift earns a
I simply can’t recommend this game when so many other games have done something similar and better. A few minor tweaks could have made this game stand out. The ability to see the full decision trees for the game would have been major, and to be able to choose where the player started could have made replaying the game more entertaining.
Having the ability to identify what you haven’t seen no matter how minor the changes would have impressed me with the amount of footage they had to film, as it feels like each scene must have been reshot multiple times. What is offered though seems to be afraid to ruin the illusion of choice, but without an ability to jump to minor choices, I find it impossible to recommend as a full experience?
Final Thoughts: An interesting idea, but not a very good game. I enjoyed watching it for an hour but replaying it became very frustrating. Bandersnatch did a similar idea and doesn’t require purchase price.
Stats: 6 hours played 18/20 achievements earned.