Majestic Nights is an episodic title. The below review is based on a playthrough of the first two chapters.
I knew very little about the plot of Majestic Nights before I started playing it. I’m not sure I know much more now. It looks fairly straightforward with an isometric RPG viewpoint and colourful, clear visuals but underneath that simple exterior is all kinds of crazy. Crazy can be good as well as bad though, I am fond of games that look to break the mold after all, and Majestic Nights is certainly memorable.
The Steam blurb promises ‘an episodic action-adventure-thriller set in an alternate 1980s where all conspiracy theories, past and present are True’. That capital T is deliberate, the search for the Truth is pretty central to the game, with even the main menu screen playing host to a wall of clues that slowly fills up as you collect evidence throughout your investigations. This sense of dark mystery and 80s noir continues as the game starts and the 1980s vibe is cemented as a man saunters down a street accompanied by a groovy soundtrack and film-style credits before the game abruptly starts. It’s here I had my first reservations as character conversations are displayed as dialogue on the right side of the screen with no audio equivalent. I could live without the voiceovers though (some of my favourite games of all time were purely text-based) but my concern at this point was that the text scrolled by too quickly (and I’m generally a fast reader). At the same time some text would only appear above the character heads in the centre of the screen while on the left of the screen new objectives and items would pop – all of this happening at the same time. This wasn’t being mysterious – just confusing.
Once you actually take control of your protagonist things actually go from bad to worse. The adventure part of the game is extremely limited with small play areas and the few interactive items and characters brazenly highlighted. The action parts of the game are extremely clunky while the stealth sections… oh god, the stealth sections. These were genuinely some of the most poorly conceived game areas I’d ever seen in all my years of gaming. Luckily you can pretty much ignore the rules in these areas as getting spotted is only a temporary inconveniences (which is useful as you often get seen through solid walls), and in fact you can charge blindly throughout a stealth level picking up the items you need while guards shoot and miss, and just forget about you once you’ve run past them to the exit. Chapter zero sees you taking control of super-agent John Cardholder (yes the other character do at least question his odd name) while chapter one switches to female private eye Callie, although gameplay remains exactly the same and depressingly whole sections of levels are reused between chapters.
Much like the gameplay there’s no need for me to be subtle here – this is a pretty awful attempt at a video game. One of the worst I’ve every played in fact. As well as the poor game design there are also numerous bugs and glitches to get in your way – to the extent that I could barely believe this was a real release. Chief among my gripes was that when playing with mouse and keyboard it seems there is no way to actually change weapon, or at least not that I could see. Most of the time this barely matters as you can charge up to armed enemies and wildly swipe your knife until they fall over, but later on using guns becomes essential and I actually had to plug-in a gamepad in order to alter my weaponry.
The graphics at least are a belated positive. The cel-shaded visuals looks quite good most of the time, although the animation can vary from decent to hilariously bad and the vanishing walls (to help you see both yourself and your enemies) just look awful – quite why the walls couldn’t just turn semi-opaque instead only the developers could answer. The visuals do help to set the 1980 atmosphere though with plenty of pink and neon this is clearly the decade of excess and dodgy fashion, and the soundtrack helps with this as well although it also veers from some admittedly great tracks to the very generic.
The 1980s setting isn’t too important however as conspiracy theories from throughout the 20th century all intermingle into a melting pot of evil government agencies and illegal experiments. The game itself actually feels like it could be a product of the 90s instead with its retro stylings and gameplay and if this was deliberate it could certainly explain a lot (such as the complete lack of A.I. for the useless enemies), although it would be doing a disservice to all the excellent titles of that time that tower over Majestic Nights in all other respects. In fact the only aspect of the Majestic Nights that I actually felt worked to any extent was the writing. It was pretty naff and cheesy but this is mostly deliberate (I hope) and actually ended up being quite funny in a few instances, although I ended up laughing at the ridiculous gameplay just as often.
Overall the entire experience of playing through Majestic Nights was rarely anything more than irritating with a hint of bemusement that this was really a legitimate release. Admittedly it is fairly cheap – chapter zero is free while chapter one is £3.99 (with six chapters planned in total) and a season pass can be purchased for £14.99. However each chapter can be blitzed through in less than a couple of hours with the only delays occurring when you die and have to tediously repeat whole conversations and item gathering tasks again – not that I’d recommend this game at any price anyway. As you should have realised from my scathing review I am genuinely perplexed that a game this bad could be released to the gaming public and not expect to be immediately lambasted – just because it’s an indie game doesn’t mean it’s allowed to get away with being such a mess.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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