Night Book (Xbox Series S) Review

Night Book is a solid option for fans of interactive movies. Check out why this is the case in our review here!
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Night Book – developed by Wales Interactive and Good Gate Media – is an interactive thriller movie with horror elements, that was filmed and developed entirely during the lengthy Covid-related lockdown in the UK. It’s an impressive feat, with the final product coming across as cohesive and polished. However, coming from the developer/publisher that worked on The Bunker, The Complex, Five Dates, and Maid of Sker, it feels distinctly light on interactivity for the bulk of its runtime and lacks a common feature that would make replaying it to see different scenes more appealing.

Night Book puts you in the shoes of the heavily-pregnant Loralyn, a native French speaker working evening shifts as an interpreter from her flat in London. She uses a fictional app called Glossa Lingua to link video calls between clients, translating between French and English. However, she’s also started learning an ancient language known as “Kannar”, from the fictional “Godshand Archipelago” in the North Pacific, where her fiancé is preparing to travel to conclude a deal to open a holiday resort. Her unhinged father – who previously worked on the islands – is staying in the flat with her, mumbling to himself while hiding in his room.

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You’d think decades of pop culture would have taught us not to read passages out of ancient books.

This setup is perfect for an intense, roughly hour-long interactive movie, in which Loralyn finds herself asked to translate a passage from an ancient Kannar book and inadvertently summon spirits (not the friendly kind) into her home. Your decisions over that hour directly or inadvertently determine her fate and the survival of secondary characters.

The interface for Night Book is fantastic. The player is limited to observing Loralyn’s PC screen, which uses the slick (and sadly fictional) BlackSky OS. Aside from the usual suspects – think email and messaging apps – she also has access to the Glossa Lingua app she uses for work and a security feed to every room in her house (including her webcam for the office). Despite all this functionality, the player’s interactions extend no further than a contextual binary prompt, which pops up at the bottom of the screen at key moments.

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Unfortunately, simple binary choices like this are as complex as gameplay gets. Watching events play out is the real draw.

This system works fine in the second half of Night Book when events pick up and the player is asked to make frequent decisions under pressure and watch the consequences play out sooner. Unfortunately, the opening 30 minutes feel bland in comparison. There’s an early jump scare that’s played as a joke and a major decision that places you on one of two distinct story paths that result in Loralyn encountering the ancient Kannar book (the common thread in every playthrough). Unfortunately, this slow opening half is a major impediment to replays, exacerbated by the lack of a timeline feature that might allow you to drop into the story along a specific branch. Instead, you always start a new game and must make liberal use of a skip-scene button to rush through.

There are two primary systems to consider: those that flag a “butterfly effect” (i.e. a major change in the narrative trajectory); and those that shift your relationship with the secondary characters (which may affect your ability to influence them with later choices). For those committed to replaying Night Book and seeing all 15 ending variations, these butterfly effect moments are key as you’ll see only 40-ish scenes out of 223 in a single playthrough. There are also secondary choices with no major effect, but they tend to unlock readable documents (for a little more context on past events) or reveal the fate of secondary characters.

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The statistics screen gives you an idea of the variations you’ve found, but you’ll need pen and paper if you want to visualise the entire narrative path and figure out what to change next.

The brief length of a single playthrough makes the relationship tracking feel undercooked. You make maybe two or three choices that can shift relationships from “good” to “bad” (and some interactions feel trivial) but they are important to mid and late-game story diversions. For one path, in particular, this system makes the actions of secondary characters seem implausible given they’ve only known Loralyn for a few minutes.

However, I was willing to forgive most of these gripes thanks to a second half that picks up the pace, throws plenty of quick-fire decisions at the player, and provides several satisfying ending variations. You’ll see the consequences of earlier decisions, be forced to convince (or coerce) other characters into helping you, watch them fall prey to evil spirits, and hopefully get Loralyn and her child through the experience intact. That said, the choices you need to keep them safe are obvious, whereas saving the secondary characters requires far more trial and error.

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Based on multiple playthroughs, saving poor dad must be a rare achievement!

When it comes to the presentation, it can be hard to provide objective comments on live-action performances. From my layman’s perspective, every actor pulls off their role well, even if some are common archetypes. The most important aspect to me was the cohesiveness of the experience, with scene-to-scene transitions and narrative branching never pulling me from the experience. Of course, if you’re inconsistent with Loralyn’s responses – she can be honest or diplomatic, composed or overwrought – there may be some awkward shifts in the tone.

The acting and voice work – including a great many strained sighs from the pregnant Loralyn – is excellent, and I thoroughly enjoyed the tense discourse and translation during an exchange between two book collectors. The music shifts rapidly from calm to tense to highlight the level of risk in any given scene, which serves as a good audio cue for potential player choice. That said, there were sequences where the background details, such as the fictional OS, could make it hard to spot the interaction prompts (an issue when all are timed).

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A moment of elation before remembering how many secondary characters you failed to save.

Thinking back on my time with night Book, I’m more a fan of Wales Interactive’s more conventional games like Maid of Sker or, if I had to pick one closest in style to an interactive movie, The Bunker. There were moments in the second half of Night Book, especially during my third and fourth playthrough, when I appreciated the number of scene variations and the shifting impact of earlier events. I just wish I had more player agency and a timeline-style mechanic to visually understand the branching paths and pick up the story further on. The only alternative is to skip through chunks of it from the beginning and memorise butterfly effect moments.

Interactive movies have always been a niche genre. If you’re already a fan, Night Book is one of the better options, with great production values and an excellent second half. Night Book is also a great choice to play through with family or friends who might not be gamers (or are just looking for a few jump scare moments and rushed arguments over the right choice). Just take note that seeing all the potential endings and scene variations is going to require a lot of patience.

A review code for Night Book was provided to Gameblur by the publisher

Night Book (Xbox Series S) Review

Night Book (Xbox Series S) Review
7 10 0 1
7/10
Total Score iNight Book is a solid option for fans of interactive movies, thanks to great production values and a second half that ramps up the tension, the number of choices, and swiftly highlights the consequences of your prior decisions. Unfortunately, a slow opening half, minimal player agency, and the lack of a timeline function make seeing everything on offer a chore.
  • Story
    8/10 Very Good
    With 15 ending variations and over 200 scenes, watching your choices unfold is always satisfying.
  • Gameplay
    5/10 Neutral
    Interactive movies always push the limits of what is a "game" but even the simple binary choices could have been complemented by a timeline mechanic to make it easier to track your decisions and plan new ones.
  • Visuals
    8/10 Very Good
    The live-action scenes look great and transition smoothly between scenes, while the fictional OS you spend most of your time looking at is visually slick and well animated.
  • Audio
    7/10 Good
    Solid voice work carries any rushed narrative beats, while the music shifts back and forth to highlight moments of safety and danger.

The Good

  • Over 200 scenes to experience with 15 ending variations
  • Cohesive transitions, solid acting, and great voice work
  • Entertaining with family or friends on the couch

The Bad

  • Slow opening half
  • Interaction prompts are sometimes difficult to see
  • No jump-to timeline feature
Total
1
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