When CD-ROM drives broke through in the early 90's, there was suddenly abundant use of full motion video in games. The budgets were tight and the technical quality poor but nevertheless interactive movies were born; has-been actors strutting in front of the blue screen to the miss-beats of bad scripts. Some titles were quite popular, like Night Trap for Sega CD which became a cult classic, not for its quality but rather for the lack of it. However, the fast advancement of 3D graphics made expensive FMV soon almost obsolete. In this light, Late Shift from Wales Interactive and CtrlMovie, is a strange case. It's a serious and professionally produced interactive movie shot on location around London with real actors.
Following the day of endless math studies, Matt has another uneventful night ahead as a guard of an underground car park. Taking care of the sports cars of the privileged, he dreams of a better living but at the same time looks down on it. Little does he know that this late shift is about to change his life. Or end it. Thrown right into the middle of an auction house heist, Matt is torn between integrity and deception. He has not only to prove his innocence to the Chinese mafia but possibly turn the events to his advantage, let alone survive. How much trouble can one tiny but priceless porcelain rice bowl cause?
I love British crime thrillers so I found the premise of Late Shift intriguing, easily holding my attention through the multiple choices needed to proceed from dusk till dawn. There are usually two, sometimes three, actions to choose from and the timer to react decreases fast. There's no pause or looped footage, the movie pans out fast and decisively. Often you find yourself making hurried decisions based on feelings rather than sense. It only adds to the realism as you're forced to identify with Matt and quick thinking needed in shitty situations he constantly finds himself in. The movie runs about one hour, give or take few minutes depending on paths you choose.
The closest equivalent to Late Shift would be latest adventures from Telltale Games which have become increasingly more like interactive picture books than games. But unlike in Telltale adventures where your real options to influence the story are superficial, choices in Late Shift have greater impact. Smaller choices lead to alternative shots and dialogue whereas more important courses of action result in whole new chapters and eventually in one of the seven different endings. The thing is, you won't initially know which choice is more important than the other until much later when you have witnessed the story through several times. Indeed, multiple play-throughs are encouraged, especially when the not-so-bad endings are quite tough to unravel.
Much of the success of an interactive movie depends obviously on the quality of the actual movie itself. I'm happy to report Late Shift is quite a corker. The production values are slick despite of a modest 1,5 million dollars budget. The movie is well-directed, written and shot. These are not amateurs having fun in the friend's garage. The actors are great, especially leads. Joe Sowerbutts emits everyday charisma and despair as Matt and Haruka Abe has sensitivity as May-Ling, the lady of the gang and perhaps more than just an accomplice to Matt. The smaller parts are also cast more than credibly. I recognize some of the faces from various British TV dramas.
There could have been a chapter select, especially if I know I'm going to change only one choice near the end from the previous play-through. On the other hand, I understand the omission of this option as the developers must have wanted us to experience the whole movie again and again and not just snippets from here and there. There are some hiccups in the playback during chapter changes and after resuming play from pause but nothing to detract from the overall experience. Also, I would have liked options for different sound levels. I found the dialogue a bit too quiet in some scenes but maybe that's due to my speaker set-up.
Rating Late Shift is quite tricky as there really are no similar FMV interactive movies from the last 20 years to compare it to. So I decided to ask five questions from myself and award a star for every "yes". Is Late Shift a game? No, but it doesn't pretend to be nothing more than an interactive movie. Does it succeed as such then? Yes. Despite of the bulk of the story remaining the same, the choices seem meaningful and create enough different scenarios. Could Late Shift exist outside its interactive movie act? Yes, the movie itself would fit any indie film festival or late evening TV spot but at the same the interactive element gives it depth over a passive watching.
Was the story exciting and interesting enough to experience it several times? Yes and then some! It tells something that even after a few play-throughs, I was curled up in tension with heartbeat in my ears when I drove the story to previously unseen directions. Lastly, would I recommend Late Shift to hardcore gamers? Yes, because I'm such myself and I could see no reason why someone else would't get thrilled by it. And there you have it. Late Shift is a solid crime thriller where you don't have to just watch people making bad choices because you can make them yourself. Or even some good ones necessary to pull you through the night.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.