Not Tonight 2 review: the Un-United States

I’ve struggled to work out how I feel about Not Tonight 2. There is a great deal that I like about it: the dystopian American setting, the multiple protagonists, the farcical satire of its writing. Its core gameplay is borrowed straight from Papers Please, a game which I enjoyed a lot, but with a much broader narrative underpinning it all. And yet there was something about it which I struggled to connect with.

But first, the basics. Not Tonight 2 is a follow up to 2018’s first instalment, and swaps the alternate-timeline version of Brexit Britain for a politically divided United States. By that I mean actual, separate post-civil war governments as opposed to the standard political divisions. Broadly speaking, the Democrat-leaning states have formed the Alliance, with Republican states now under control of The Martyrs. Oh, and Montana is in Canada now.

The game follows three protagonists, Malik, Kevin and Mari, who are all trying to rescue their friend Eduardo, after he was snatched off the Seattle streets by The Martyrs during a protest. The three need to find and deliver various identity documents to the Martyr detention centre in Miami in order to secure Eduardo’s release. To do so, each will need to undertake country-spanning road trips.

In order to earn money for their journeys, they’ll need to take jobs as bouncers in each of their destinations. Conveniently enough, those jobs also invariably put them in touch with people who can help them with their quest. As bouncers, Eduardo’s friends are tasked with checking driving licences, as well as following any other special instructions. These instructions usually manifest in one of a selection of mini-games, which add a bit of variety to proceedings.

The bouncer jobs make up most of the gameplay. However, there are also some more ‘choose your own adventure’-style dialogue choices too. Sometimes, these allow for different actions to be taken, other times they effectively test your memory by asking you to correctly recall elements of earlier conversations. Those conversations are with a wide selection of characters, many of whom are quite, quite mad.

I found the writing to be the most enjoyable part of Not Tonight 2. It’s a satirical take on current social issues, which uses a parallel timeline as a caricature of reality. It’s not subtle about the points it’s making, but then satire doesn’t need to be. Racism, religious intolerance, policing and capitalism and more besides are all addressed. The three protagonists are easy to root for, too, although that’s not least because they’re probably the most sympathetically written characters in the game.

In fact, I think my only notable criticism of the writing would be that so many of the other characters are portrayed as being stupid and/or detached from reality. It drives an unevenness in the game’s tone, which tends to alternate between the serious and the silly; thoughtful conversations with relatives, followed up by negotiations with a level 5 wizard/mage. It’s by no means a deal-breaker and I’m glad the game has a sense of humour, but it does feel a bit misplaced sometimes.

Despite all the undoubted positives, I found myself bouncing off Not Tonight 2 a bit. I enjoyed the over-arching story and the more narrative aspects, but when it came to the actual core gameplay I enjoyed myself less. Although the extra mini-games mix things up a bit, ultimately I just got bored of checking driving licences! That’s quite a big issue, given that’s the majority of the game.

I ended up feeling as though the bouncer jobs were roadblocks on the journey, rather than engaging experiences in their own right. In that sense, I was at least in tune with the feelings of the protagonists, although I’m not sure that was the point. No matter which protagonists arrived in which city, the routine was the same; a contact leads to a job (or vice versa), which leads to some help, which leads to a second job at the same venue with an extra complication.

It’s hard not to think that Not Tonight 2 would’ve been more enjoyable if it had moved even further beyond the structure laid down by the first game. Three protagonists might have been a good opportunity for different playstyles. But then, that’s effectively asking it to be a different game, which probably isn’t terribly fair.

Ultimately, Not Tonight 2 has a lot going for it. It’s refreshing to see a game take on current affairs in a genuinely satirical fashion. That’s as opposed to the Grand Theft Auto version of satire, which is essentially just pointing to things that exist and shouting about them. The bright pixel-art and irreverent tone helped to ensure it didn’t get too bogged down in its actually quite heavy themes. I enjoyed the story it was telling, even if I didn’t always enjoy how it was telling it.

Not Tonight 2 was developed by PanicBarn and published by No More Robots, and it’s available on PC.

Disclosure statement: review code for Not Tonight 2 was provided by No More Robots. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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