Game Review: Night In the Woods

Title: Night in the Woods
Developer: Infinite Fall
Publisher: Finji 
Release Date: January 10, 2017
Website

Synopsis:

College dropout Mae Borowski returns home to the crumbling former mining town of Possum Springs seeking to resume her aimless former life and reconnect with the friends she left behind. But things aren’t the same. Home seems different now and her friends have grown and changed. Leaves are falling and the wind is growing colder. Strange things are happening as the light fades.

And there’s something in the woods.

In 2017 join Mae on a trip through her hometown and into the dark on the other side.

Review:

Night in the Woods surprised me. I initially thought it would be a mysterious story-based game, but it ended up being a lot more than that. The game really hits home as it addresses a wide array of issues that we honestly don’t talk about enough in today’s society.

Mae Borowski returns to her small hometown to find that everything is the same, but also different. The buildings are all there, but some of the businesses have gone under. Her old friends stuck around, but they now have jobs. Mae finds that she has to readjust and relearn how to interact with the people she left behind. The reality of it is – people change, the economy has changed, and the town has been facing problems since they closed their mines down. As you go through the game, Mae chronicles her adventures in her journal (I suspect the blank pages I had means I missed a few things in my two play-through rounds…).

The world reflects our world well. When before we saw thriving businesses in downtown Toronto, companies are finding that they now need to have a gimmick that differentiates them from their competitors. These gimmicks attract young, social media-addicted customers to the businesses in the hopes that they’ll go viral and become popular. This hits harder for smaller towns, like the one Mae lives in. I saw this phenomenon first-hand this past year when I was living in a small town a couple of hours outside of Toronto – some places that were popular still struggled to the point where they had to close their doors or sell their establishments. Night in the Woods depicts this struggle so subtly, but accurately, that it really struck me as I went through the game.

The game also addresses mental illness and gay relationships in a way that doesn’t alienate them. They aren’t seen as “other” because of their choices, and that really should be how our society works. At the heart of it, people are still people and they deserve respect and love. It’s sad to think that this concept seems so novel, despite the fact that our society has been wrestling with these issues for decades.

While all this is going on, we inhabit the role of Mae who is at the center of the story. I feel like we all know a Mae – someone who’s kind of stuck in the past and doesn’t want to face their demons (or reality). She’s quite self-centered and seemingly unredeemable as a character. She likes getting into trouble, enjoys the thrill of stealing, and she doesn’t seem to care much for the problems that her friends might be facing. However, we learn a lot about her character and her friends throughout this game, and that makes sticking with her throughout her journey worth it. The world isn’t just built through Mae’s observations and adventures, but also her interactions with the people. The game provides players with the freedom to choose how they interact with other characters, and this in turn affects what goes into Mae’s journal and what kind of interactions she has later on.

We’ve all heard it before – reading teleports you, it introduces you to new characters, and you walk with them as they navigate the problems of their lives with none of the baggage that you carry. I love reading because books tend to reflect our world. However, there’s a lot behind the scenes that we don’t get to see in books – or rather, authors skip past them because we don’t need to follow every movement of each character. However, the micromovements and details that are often missed in books are found all throughout Night in the Woods, and they paint a painful, yet amazingly executed image of our world and the millennial nightmare.

Everyday, Mae wakes up in her room, wanders through the town, talks to a couple of people, maybe goes on an adventure (but not all the time), and then ventures home again to sleep. Then she does it all over again. She’s unemployed while her friends have work; she is discovering more and more things in the town that are now broken or forgotten but used to be important; and she struggles with idleness. The seeming repetitiveness of the daily grind just to burn away the daylight hours seems monotonous almost, but brings so much attention to the millennial condition.

While the daily walks through town may seem tiresome at some points, there are areas of interest – every couple of days you can look for constellations on the roof of Mr. Chazakov’s house, you can get fun snippets of poetry from Selmers, and there are lots of opportunities to talk to new people in town. In the recent update, you can even take the time to learn songs on your bass in your room!

Though the game has some elements that may stall the story a little, Night in the Woods is probably the realest game I’ve ever played. There was so much relevance to today’s world, and the story, its characters, and their world were impressively developed through quirky art and subtle details. Definitely would recommend this game to readers who’d love to try playing through a YA story, instead of simply reading it!

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 5/5
Graphics: 5/5
Gameplay: 4/5
Overall: 4.5/5

A copy of this game was provided by Finji in exchange for an honest review.

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