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 Post subject: Night Trap
PostPosted: Sat Apr 06, 2013 2:34 pm 
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[I know, I know... took me long enough for this one! Given the genre similarities, I think maybe I'll review Psychic Detective next...]

Interactive movie games are generally condemned for two reasons: their interactivity is more limited than the average video game, and the production values for the video footage are lower than those of the average movie. Both of these are true of Night Trap - yet neither of them really applies as a criticism. This is because the entire presentation, from the story to the acting to the pacing, is delivered as a game, rather than a movie. Combined with the groundbreaking gameplay concept, later imitated in games such as Psychic Detective and Voyeur, Night Trap is one of the most purely enjoyable entries in the interactive movie genre.

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Night Trap sets you in the role of surveillance on a large house where teenage girls tend to go missing. Among the girls visiting the house on the night the game takes place is your undercover co-agent Kelly, who's assigned to find out what sort of nastiness the family who lives in the house is up to. You're hacked in to cameras and traps in eight different rooms of the house: kitchen, entryway, living room, bedroom, bathroom, driveway, and upstairs and downstairs hallways. Which is good, because even before the girls arrive, the house is invaded by dozens of men in strange black suits. If you don't trap 'em, they'll nab the girls.

The controls are simple. In the control panel occupying the bottom portion of the screen, there is a 4x2 grid showing the rooms. A touch of a directional moves the cursor from room to room, and the A button switches the main view to the selected room. If someone approaches a trap in that room, "B" activates it. "C" cycles through the trap codes (more on that later), and "P" pauses the game and brings up a map of the house.

The course of events follows a clock appearing on your control panel. At any given time, about half of the rooms in the house have something going on in them. For the other half, viewing the room produces only a still shot. At set times, people enter the room and a live action FMV begins. In some of these, you'll have an opportunity to trap an enemy. Some will give you vital information. And some are story sequences which are useless in gameplay terms, but help build a fuller sense of the house's mysteries.

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One of Night Trap's best aspects is its unrelenting sense of continuity. If a girl goes out the left door of the entryway, you can switch to the kitchen camera and see her immediately come in through the right door. When someone screams in one room, there will be people reacting to the sound in another room. And when a character isn't in any of the current scenes, it can only be because earlier, they either left the house or went into a room not rigged with a camera. It all gives the game an internal reality which makes it easy to play along.

This should not be taken to mean that Night Trap is convincingly realistic, mind you. On the contrary, the premise of the story is ludicrous, and the actors approach each scene with a playfulness that reminds me of when all the kids on my father's side of the family would put on little skits for our own amusement. This seems to be just what the developers intended, and it certainly is to the game's benefit. Where other interactive movies attempt ambitious filmmaking on a minimal budget, Night Trap's footage is plain fun. There's always a moment of tension when an enemy makes a grab for one of the girls, and a strong sense of satisfaction when you help her escape. The writers and actors realized what they were doing would be part of a video game, and played on the gaming elements of challenge and reward.

But Night Trap offers more fun than just meeting objectives. At the same time trappable baddies are popping up, intriguing stuff is happening elsewhere in the house. Of course, if you're spying on Victor and Sheila sizing up the girls, you'll miss seeing what the girls are talking about as they arrive, as well as an intriguing conversation between Jeff and Tony. It takes multiple plays to reach the good endings, so the fact that you see something new each time is very gratifying.

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A little-known fact is that Night Trap was originally developed in the 80s, for a cancelled console called the Nemo. Since Digital Pictures of course could not afford to let all that footage go to waste, the FMV in the game is vintage 80s cheesiness, complete with trademark 80s hair styles, clothing, and dialogue. I imagine some people will find this distasteful, but for me, there's something appealing about 80s movies and TV shows beyond the usual merits of good storyline, good filming, and good acting. And I don't think I'm alone in this. Night Trap's unabashed display of 80s camp is especially appealing because honestly, how many other video games have anything like this?

There are two ways to play Night Trap, each with its own merits. I prefer using the game's clock to take notes on when and where each baddie appears, knowing I'll get him next time. It's fun to track down ones you missed and work bit-by-bit towards a perfect playthrough. However, some gamers scorn the notebook, and rely on speedy and careful scanning of the house to nab as many baddies as possible. The game is balanced enough that either approach will give you a reasonable challenge (though you'll have little chance getting a perfect ending with the second method). There are select points where failing to trap a baddie will result in a girl being killed, i.e. an immediate game over, but otherwise you just need to trap a reasonable percentage to keep going.

The pacing is superb. The game starts with a steady flow of intruders to get you used to springing the traps, and few story sequences to distract you. Later, there's a moratorium on intruders so that you can catch some stage-setting story sequences. Things get tricky as the residents start changing the code used to control the traps. The developers were clever enough to randomize the code changes; they always happen at the same time and place, but thanks to some randomized dubbing, the code it's changed to differs each playthrough! So your best chance is to listen in whenever the code is changed. As for the rest of the game, suffice to say that the developers throw more than one curve ball to trip you up, and things really heat up near the final act.

Night Trap is a wonderful example of how fun FMV can be, letting you spy on whichever pieces of the story you choose and take a hand in the fate of live people. The traps, like much of the game's presentation, have a delightful, cheesy absurdness to them, such as a springboard which launches enemies off the roof into a waiting net in the front yard.


And now, the minor stats and the final judgment:

Graphics - Sharp, smooth-looking live action FMV with barely noticeable load times

Sound - The musical cues are used tastefully to highlight dramatic moments, and the 80s pop theme song is irresistible

Longevity - The game runs just under a half hour, but the challenge is substantial, and with so much happening at once, repeat plays are rewarding

Kitsch - Has it in plenitude, and most of it is obviously intentional.

This is one of the games which really made the 3DO for me. Sure, it was released on other platforms, but the 3DO version reportedly has the best video and sound quality (at the least, it's light-years beyond the Sega CD version) and is uncensored (something we all can approve of, since even the uncensored version has nothing that would approach a PG-13 rating). The PC version is said to be great as well, but Night Trap is meant for the home console experience, and I can't imagine playing it on anything other than the 3DO.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Apr 06, 2013 7:19 pm 
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It's so easy to criticize Night Trap now (and other fmv games too) but what a lot of people forget or don't even realize is that these games were popular in the early 90's! They were doing things on consoles that truly seemed next-gen at the time, and they were hyped and reviewed favorably. As someone who grew up w/fmv, I look at it w/nostalgia rather than scorn.

Good review. Looking forward to the pics.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 07, 2013 1:29 am 
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Trev wrote:
As someone who grew up w/fmv, I look at it w/nostalgia rather than scorn.


Same here. While I wish there were less FMV efforts overall and more, say, traditional Sega CD, 3DO, etc games with the benefit of greater storage alotments and digital media, I still enjoyed several of the FMV games I played. I actually put a lot of time into Sewer Shark, Night Trap, and Double Switch (the later that takes the Night Trap concept and expands on it slightly) and was still impressed with them even into the late '90s, well after FMV had mostly bit the dust and polygonal-based gameplay took over.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 07, 2013 2:18 pm 
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Pics are up.

I kind of missed out on FMV games, myself, as I did virtually no gaming from 1992-1997. (Yes, I know we had FMV driven games before 1992, but there were relatively few of them, especially high profile ones.) I didn't end up discovering such games existed until a few years ago, so I'm still fairly wowed by the concept of live action FMV in particular. It seems sad that developers are spending so much time getting CG models to look and move as much like real persons as possible, when we've able to put real people into video games for decades. I guess it all comes back to the high cost of filming live action.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2013 8:17 am 
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Martin III wrote:
Pics are up.

I kind of missed out on FMV games, myself, as I did virtually no gaming from 1992-1997. (Yes, I know we had FMV driven games before 1992, but there were relatively few of them, especially high profile ones.) I didn't end up discovering such games existed until a few years ago, so I'm still fairly wowed by the concept of live action FMV in particular. It seems sad that developers are spending so much time getting CG models to look and move as much like real persons as possible, when we've able to put real people into video games for decades. I guess it all comes back to the high cost of filming live action.


Well done review! Thank you for sharing.

I'm curious to see what happens in the game industry with cutscenes at least. FMV games left a bad taste in everyone's mouth, but nowadays games have the budgets big enough to get good actors, sometimes even well known celebrities. In theory it would be cool to have extra real footage of an actor I admired enough, even over some obsolete polygonal representation of them (I'm thinking of Demolition Man as an example of this cool factor).

Maybe it all comes down to cost of live action like you said, though.


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PostPosted: Thu May 02, 2013 10:34 pm 
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I'm hoping to Let's Play this one in the not-too-distant future. I have a fairly good idea of how I want it to turn out, but it will require a massive amount of perfect playthroughs and editing.


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PostPosted: Wed May 08, 2013 12:17 am 
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I'd enjoy seeing it, ewhac!

By the way, about a month ago I posted slightly modified versions of my reviews for Night Trap and Cyberia to GameFAQs, and... the Night Trap review has accumulated only 9 hits to the Cyberia review's 83. :? Go figure. Maybe this just goes to show that people prefer reading negative retro reviews to positive and mixed ones?


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 Post subject: Re: Night Trap
PostPosted: Thu Nov 14, 2013 8:39 pm 
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I've only ever played the Mega CD version, but even that (complete with small screen and grainy image) features in my top 100 of all time. When it came out the industry was changing dramatically and it was groundbreaking, and although people might look back and laugh now, it's one of those games that I'll never forget. Like the first time I saw that Sega Time Traveller game at the arcade (the one with the holograms) or when I first saw Dragon's Lair. Despite having more stars and an attempt at more in-depth gameplay, Double Switch was a disappointment to me, as they made it too complicated in my opinion. The difference between Night Trap and those other games to me is that I still really enjoy playing Night Trap, even after playing it through so many times. It has a charm about it that makes it a little special, even now.


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