Despite them being all the rage back in the 90s on consoles such as the SEGA CD and the 3DO, FMV games really haven't stood the test of time. Back during their heyday, it felt pretty incredible to see an interactive movie running on your home console, but this lost its appeal once 3D graphics became commonplace. Still, FMV games do have an oddly attractive charm to them, and we've seen many developers like Wales Interactive step up over the years to try and recapture their magic. The studio's latest project is an occult thriller titled Night Book and it is out now on PC, mobile platforms, and all current games consoles.
In Night Book you play as an online interpreter named Loralyn, who has been asked to work throughout the night translating calls between English and French. Things start normal enough, but she soon finds herself constantly distracted by her mentally unwell father who is banging on the walls and rambling on about an ancient curse. Later, during one of Loralyn's calls, she is asked to read the worlds from an ancient book and this unleashes the horrifying spirits that her father warned her about. To prevent them from harming Loralyn and her family you must try and obtain the text and set fire to its pages.
The bulk of Night Book takes place on Loralyn's laptop and we can see her and her father's actions through a security system that is rigged up around her home. Most character interactions take place from this perspective and you find collectibles in the form of files and emails on her desktop. This style reminded me an awful lot of 2014's Unfriended and it was a really smart method to use in order to slash costs and produce the game in lockdown. On the other hand, though, these limitations do lead to the game having a budget feel to it and there are no other locations that you'll get to see other than Loralyn's apartment.
Each playthrough of the game will take you roughly one hour and there are a total of 15 different endings and 223 scenes. Throughout the story, you'll be tasked with making a number of binary choices and these have the power to completely reshape the narrative. What makes things tense is that the right choice isn't always obvious and you only have a couple of seconds to decide before the game makes the decision for you. When asked, I didn't know whether to lock my father in his room, for example, as this could have left him vulnerable if something was to happen. On the flipside, locking him might have been the best thing to do to protect myself.
Sadly though, this is the extent of Night Book's interactive elements. There are no puzzles for you to solve throughout and the choices themselves don't really put your memory to the test. All you do is click one of two options, and that's it. Some of these are critical and set the butterfly effect in motion, but others like asking whether you want to translate or interpret a phrase don't appear to do anything differently. Additionally, whilst it was fun to try and find all of the different endings, I found it tedious that many chunks were repeated regardless of what path you took. This might not feel as repetitive if you space out your playthroughs, but it was certainly something I found to be tedious when playing for review.
Something that I was pleased to see was that scenes were slotted together in a natural way regardless of what ending I reached. Despite there being 15 of these, nothing felt too jarring or out of place even with the starting few scenes always remaining the same. For a horror experience though, Night Book falls flat and I rarely felt creeped out or left on the edge of my seat. When possessed, characters would just contort their faces along with some shoddy editing and speak in deep bellowing voices and this was pretty laughable. The acting was pretty hit or miss too. Julie Dray as Loralyn absolutely knocks it out of the park with her performance, but other supporting characters, such as her mentor Cody, lack believability.
Night Book falls short in both being a horror movie and an interactive adventure. Its attempts to spook the player are often laughable and there is little to engage you beyond having to make a handful of pivotal choices. It ultimately just feels like an empty shell of a game and I can't really see players sticking around to explore all of its 15 different endings. On the positive side though, there are some solid performances here with Julie Dray as Loralyn being a standout and each conclusion plays out in a natural way regardless of your choices.