A haunted hotel. A crazed proprietor. A lot of doors. It all goes down… At Dead of Night.
Teenage girl trapped alone in a haunted hotel, stalked by a deranged lunatic, relying on her wits to survive, solve the mystery and escape with her life. It’s a tale as old as time – the manner in which this particular take on it is told is anything but, though. At Dead of Night is a horror/movie game hybrid, blending graphics and live action together in a frankly very impressive way. Pursued through the hotel by the unhinged proprietor Jimmy, Maya takes it upon herself to solve the mysteries within instead of just getting the hell out of there (hey, it is a horror movie, after all).
A lot of care and attention has been invested into your movement through the hotel. It feels natural and organic, despite the fact it’s entirely directed through mouse-clicks. There’s just enough of a “shaky-cam” effect to lend a bit of extra anxiety to moving around corners or hiding in bathrooms. The environments themselves are excellent, too – anyone who’s stayed in a shitty, out-of-the-way hotel will recognise something in its halls. Even little things like unlocking a door feels fluid and tightly integrated with the rest of the game, and it definitely helps foster immersion.
Jimmy’s been up to no good for a long time, packing out his hotel with a bunch of permanent residents – like “That voice that you can hear in the back of your mind”, and “Creepy little shit of a child who watches you in the basement.” Your exploration reveals certain key items you can use to question the spirits when you find them, but it’s not particularly easy to get to that point. At Dead of Night basically starts with you running for your life – I had a little bit of a grace period in which I could tentatively explore, and then before I knew it, Jimmy had already begun our little game of cat and mouse.
If like some sort of absolute buffoon(ie, me) you decided not to watch the game’s tutorial, these early moments will be very confusing. You’ll be politely notified that Jimmy is on the same floor as you, and the chase begins. It is genuinely suspenseful. Jimmy doesn’t behave in quite the same predictable way as other horror game antagonists do – he’s sneaky, he’ll wait around corners, double back on himself to catch you out, forcing you to pay attention to audio-visual clues to stay out of his way. If you’re quick enough, you can even lock him in a room, giving you plenty of time to explore.
Putting the mysteries together can feel kind of frustrating at first, especially when you’re juggling them alongside avoiding Jimmy and tracking down the ghosts to ask them questions. Maya picks up a compass and scrying mirror she can use to get hints as to where she needs to go next, but these are usually fuzzy glimpses of locations that are hard to narrow down, and harder still to pinpoint when you’re being chased by a mad comedian. It’s satisfying when you get there, but the trial and error that can be involved gets tiresome quickly, outweighing the gripping nature of the overarching mystery.
Jimmy feels like a very human threat, portrayed excellently by his actor. His insanity contrasts nicely against the supernatural presences that occupy the hotel – you may be surrounded by otherworldly spirits, but your enemy is a human gone very wrong, and that’s a far more tangible thing to be afraid of. Every one of his movements drip with deranged purpose, he’ll stare blankly through the peephole as he strolls by doors, call out to Maya with sing-song taunts – he is a superbly made and acted horror antagonist, and pitch-perfect for the setting.
At Dead of Night overall thoughts
At Dead of Night was described to me as “really experimental”, and I would definitely agree with that. It’s a very successful experiment, but this is a game you will have to learn in order to succeed. The blend of FMV and graphics is superb, creating an immersive horror atmosphere which pulls you into a classic spooky ghost story in a way that hasn’t really been done before. It’s hard to offer any constructive criticisms besides moaning about how much I got lost, because this is such a unique experience I honestly don’t know have much to compare it to in terms of improvement.
It won’t be for every horror game fan, and even those enticed by its experimental nature may be put off by the gameplay at first – it seems precisely engineered to recreate the feeling of being pursued through an unfamiliar location, and this naturally results in a lot of walking around in circles. Paired with Jimmy’s relentless pursuit, this can become a little bit frustrating, especially with the loss of certain key items when he catches you.But if you take the time to learn how At Dead of Night needs to be played, it will reward you with a horror experience like no other.