I am understandably sceptical about games that are part of advertising campaigns (this one is for chewing gum) but the Nightjar had three reasons that made me bother to download it from the app store. Interesting gaming concept, the new Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) doing the voice and its free. The premise – on an abandoned spaceship you must escape using only sound. Of course you are not alone.
Picture me ready to play, sitting in lowlight with large headphones and my iPad. The intro starts and my heart is in my mouth. It reminded me of the new breed of rollercoasters, where you sit in the car and they throw story at you in the dark, then whoosh! You’re off. Or not if like me, you haven’t updated your iTunes and iPad software recently. Crash city.
Take two and this time I get into the game proper. The only controls are walking forward and turning right and left. Seems simple? It is for the first few levels. Listen to the noises, head in the right direction. Though you might be wishing you had bothered to use that volume limiter on your music player or not attended so many loud concerts when you realise your hearing is that of an old man. There are fourteen levels in total and it was at seven that I started having problems. I would love to tell you how much harder it gets, but I can’t. I’m stuck on level eight. Is it ironic that I keep dying in the human waste room?
Atmospherically The Nightjar is right on the money. Aliens is one of my favourite films, imagine how much more terrifying it would be for Ripley if she couldn’t see anything at all, just hear the approaching xenomorph horde and the helpful computer calling out their increasing numbers. And she hasn’t got a gun. Downsides – there is a limited amount of narration which isn’t tailored to what you do in the game. Die from standing still and you still get the ‘don’t move too fast or you’ll die’ advice and for a game on the iPad you have to double size the iPhone version, making the menus slightly blurry. If you have a choice, play it on the iPad – the larger screen makes your movements far easier. I would also recommend the quiet, darkened venue. It helps you concentrate and adds to the tension. No need to be embarrassed in front of other commuters when you jump out of your skin and rip off your headphones. Thank goodness for volume control.
Extrapolation tells me if you play through it all first time it will take you about an hour to finish, but that’s a big if. You can’t skip forward to levels you haven’t unlocked yet and with names like ‘deep space’ and ‘exit pursued by an alien’ they do not fill me with confidence of successful completion. Did I enjoy playing it? Surprisingly yes, though i didn’t appreciate the increased heart rate. I doubt I would play it again if I ever did get to the end as the game does not have additional challenges. There is no score, you are either dead or alive.
Overall for me it was a fun and scary experience, fantastic for a free game, and a great use of the touch screen on the iPad. The campaign promises ‘a sensory overload in different areas of gaming, music, art, film and fashion’. If the other elements are of a similar quality then they might be worth investigation.
As soon as I get out of this septic tank.