Before Nightfall review — A study in Early Access

In recent years, some independent developers have stepped away from the traditional means of financing the development of their games such as investors. Instead, players are encouraged to finance games directly, be it via Kickstarter, Patreon, or Steam Early Access. New in this rather crowded pond is Before Nightfall, developed and published by Pickle Drugs, and an excellent example of everything that is wrong with the Steam Early Access programme.

The premise of Before Nightfall is simple: survive in a hostile environment. Yes, Before Nightfall is indeed another survival game. There are many such games to be found on Steam, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It speaks for the popularity of the genre, or at least for a current trend in independent game development.

That said, being a survival game in Steam Early Access in 2018 comes with a whole lot of issues. Such games are a dime a dozen. Thus, any game that wants to stand out has to bring something new to the table or execute the established survival game formula really well. This is more important than ever, as survival games have arguably passed their apogee.

Does Before Nightfall pass this test? Unfortunately, the answer is a hollow ‘no’. Before Nightfall is set in a frosty environment, requiring the player to gather logs to feed a fire. As of the writing of this review, this is the entire gameplay loop: walk to a log, watch your character absorb it osmotically, walk back to the fire, and feed said fire. There is nothing else to do or see. Not even an indicator for the state of your campfire.

This would be acceptable if Before Nightfall was a tech demo. Alas, it is not. This becomes clear before the game even starts. You are greeted by the omnipresent Unity logo. Unity is an amazing tool. Hundreds, possibly thousands of well-polished games have been made in Unity. It does everything from first-person shooters to puzzle games to real-time strategy. There is no tech to demonstrate, because all the tech has already been demonstrated.

The same goes for the graphics. Before Nightfall looks rather pleasant — just like a whole lot of other Unity games, including ones that use material from the Unity Asset Store, provided they are not built entirely from such assets. Even the theme — survival in an isolated snowy environment — has been covered by fellow survival game The Long Dark.

If Before Nightfall was a finished, it would be a different story. “Finished” and “Steam survival crafting game” are, however, not mentioned in the same sentence very often. Exceptions such as Don’t Starve stand out based on this factor alone. Some other games nominally leave Early Access but effectively just received a change of labels, one not backed up by a change of content.

Steam Early Access exists to provide a customer with a reward for the money they put on the table upfront. This does excuse bugs, missing features, and an unfinished campaign or story. It does not, however, mean that an Early Access game does not have to show something. In fact, the opposite is true: this is the moment where the game has to shine and convince people to support its development. It does not matter that Steam considers leaving Early Access a “release”. You only get one release.

At the end of the day, Before Nightfall probably comes with good intentions, but fails to deliver on every level. It only succeeds as an example for all things wrong with Steam Early Access, and its highest selling point is possibly that it for once does not feature any zombies.

Before Nightfall is currently in Steam Early Access.

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