Like most everyone else watching the Xbox E3 Briefing, I was blown away by the trailer for The Last Night. This cyberpunk pixel art game felt reminiscent of Blade Runner, while looking like nothing I’ve ever seen. I’m a pixel art junkie and was beyond excited to see that I was scheduled for a hands-off demo during E3, and the chance to chat with game co-creator, Tim Soret. While my enthusiasm for the project has waned some due to previous statements made by Soret, I am willing to delay judgement for the moment, to take him at his word, that those statements do not reflect who he currently is, or the message his game will project, and to pass my final judgement once I am able to play the game for myself.
Settling into a couch in a dark room, Soret opened Unity, pulling up an impressive scene of a huge boat, glowing with warm, yellow lights, bow looming large as the large vessel stretches away towards the horizon and a pink, coming dawn. “I’m going to take away some of the magic now,” Soret warned as he grabbed hold of a cursor and rotate the camera, altering our view of the ship. Soret could not have been any more wrong: What I saw next did not kill any of the magic, it only served to make the entire game that much more impressive, that much more mystical.
As the camera skewed to the side, the massive bulk of the ship was revealed to be a complete artistic illusion; the ship was exactly one pixel wide. The smaller boat to the right of the screen? Also a single pixel wide. Like paper dolls, carefully arranged to fool the eye, every single element of this game has been lovely rendered to create an impressively convincing illusion of depth, then layered, stacked one in front of the other, to further that effect.
The world inside The Last Night is set up rather like a first generation Mario game if it laid on its back. Instead of vertical layers, where Mario jumps from the ground to one floating platform to a cloud to another platform, these elements are placed one in front of the other, like scenery on a stage. This is why the description of a “cinematic platformer” is confusing, The Last Night plays out more like a role playing game, following the story of a young man who feels disconnected from his world and sets out to make a difference, a change, a lasting impression.
Set in the distant future, the world of The Last Night is run by artificial intelligence. Robots have surpassed humans in every aspect, not just where automation, calculation and physical strength are concerned; artificial intelligence is more imaginative, surpassing human skill and creativity even in art. No longer needed in the workforce, humanity has come to live a life of leisure, without jobs or obligations, enjoying endless access to entertainment and a gamified existence, defining themselves by what they consume. You step into the shoes of one of the few individuals who is unable to enjoy this constant stream of entertainment, his connection severed due to a childhood accident. “He feels that people have lost their humanity and he’s trying to change that,” Soret explains, switching over to a scene of a busy, bustling street filled with characters. “He’s trying to go out in the world and find people to help him change that.”
Once again taking control of the camera, Soret drags us upward, allowing us to look down on the scene. Pixel people hurry across the screen, their paper-thin figures moving within the three dimensional space, automatically avoiding collisions with your character and the other NPCs. As the camera zooms out, we see characters, hundreds of them, stretching left and right, far off the screen vanishing to points in the distance of the gray Unity window. Soret is clearly proud of the looks of awe this drew. “The amount of NPCs that can be on screen, because it’s 2D, is insane. I’m creating the sense of sensory overload that you get in the big city.” Switching to the title screen, Soret grabbed one of the flickering neon lights, pulling it back and forth through space, showing how the raindrops splatter or pass by the A in real time as he changes its location.
The gameplay of The Last Night has been heavily inspired by classic point-and-click games, and hopes to capture the unique situations common to the genre, while infusing the gameplay itself with something more modern and exciting. By using a database of memory for NPCs, characters can remember everything from if you pulled a gun on them to what drink you ordered at the bar last night. The engine and design also allows for gameplay elements previously absent from the genre, such as peeking around corners, keeping out of sight while checking if there is a cop patrolling the alley. Built with replayability in mind, Soret intends for players to learn the city, memorizing maps, shortcuts, and alternate routes, allowing them to explore a wide number of branching paths and experience something new each time they play.
Soret’s passion and pride for the project was clear, he spoke for well over our appointed thirty minute period, constantly flipping to different scenes, showing off different elements of the world, and how the engine interacted to pathing, lighting, weather effects, and more. At last, the organizers came knocking on the door, insisting that it was time for the next group to settle in for their demo. Soret thanked us for our time, closing with one final statement: “I’m not trying to push an agenda, I want to put people in this world and let them make up their own mind. My goal is that people play this game, and that they’ve thought about so many things they never did before.”
The Last Night will be coming to Xbox One and PC sometime in 2018. You can learn more about the game at developer Odd Tales website, or by visiting the Steam store. Of course, if you simply cannot wait for the full version, you can get a taste of what’s to come by playing the original flash game, which is located here.