Night Book isn’t the bedtime reading you’re looking for.
Considering I’m something of a major consumer of FMV games (they’re pretty delicious), I’ve reviewed very few of them here, with only She Sees Red and Dark Nights with Poe and Munro to my name. I should probably do something about that, because this is a genre that’s ideal for someone like me. Having limited free time, but a desire to play something story driven, this genre gives me interesting stories with a little bit of interaction that can be completed quickly. Add to that multiple endings that can be discovered reasonably quickly, and I’m pretty happy! So here we have Night Book, a horror tale that tries to bridge the gap between FMV games and the likes of Until Dawn.
As this is a choice-driven experience without a huge amount of gameplay, I’ll steer clear of story spoilers seeing as that’s the main draw, so read on with confidence! Or don’t. That’s your choice.
You play as Loralyn, a lady pregnant with the child of her and her fiance Pearce, who is a head of a development company currently working overseas. She lives in a London flat with her father Alecis, who seems to be suffering from some sort of mental illness. All this is presented to us entirely from the desktop of Loralyn’s computer, which shows video calls and security footage from around her flat. Your choices will lead to Loralyn’s family and friends being haunted by a malevolent spirit and it’ll be up to you to help everyone survive.
Not all of your decisions will branch the plot wildly, and the story does have to head down certain routes regardless of your choices, but everything does affect little details. Whether you try to settle Loralyn’s father with platitudes or play it straight will change their relationship slightly, changing future events. Others will lead you down very different paths. Deciding which interpreting job to take will result in meeting certain characters rather than others. You end up with nearly three hundred different scenes, and fifteen different endings to see, which is pretty impressive.
The crucial parts of FMV games like Night Book are, of course, the acting and the writing. The dialogue is good on the whole, conveying all the information quite clearly, and allowing you to figure out characters’ relationships to each other without being overly explicit. The acting is a bit more hit-and-miss though. Some scenes play out quite smoothly, whilst others have quite stilted conversations taking place, for reasons I’ll get into shortly. It does detract from the experience somewhat, and you can tell that some actors are more comfortable with filming in this way than others.
This is due to the fact that Night Book was filmed entirely during lockdown, with the actors not actually doing any scenes in person. In terms of developing an FMV game, this is really quite an impressive challenge to undertake, and I have a lot of respect for Wales Interactive for having a go at this, and the actors for trying to do everything remotely. On the other hand, it does lead to those aforementioned awkward video calls between characters, as well as the rather odd setup of security cameras in Loralyn’s apartment. Then there are inconsistencies in events, such as Loralyn’s father leaving his room but the two of them never actually meeting face to face. It feels odd.
The horror elements are there, but I wouldn’t describe the experience as scary. There are a few moments that made me jump, but I never really felt a growing sense of dread, even as the situation escalated. Special effects are used sparingly, which is understandable given how Night Book was filmed, but the actual scary moments all play out in the same sort of way — weird static on the screen followed by weird thrashing around overlaid by a green filter. Still, the plot itself is interesting enough, and clocking in at around 45 minutes, you’ll be able to go back and try a wildly different approach quite quickly.
Night Book is a brave attempt at filming an interactive horror movie during a challenging global time, and whilst a fair bit doesn’t land nearly as well as it could under normal circumstances, the effort is worthy of praise. I did enjoy playing through multiple times, and will be going back to try and get a few more endings. This isn’t the greatest FMV game out there, but it’s still worthy of a look if it’s a genre of interest to you.