An ancient book, angry island spirits and deadly dangers lurk within the cursed pages of Night Book, an interactive game from Wales Interactive. The publisher of Night Book, Wales Interactive, describes the game as an “occult thriller movie,” and a full-motion video (FMV) game. If you aren’t familiar with this genre, FMV games are narrative adventure titles that involve real actors going through various scenes where players are given choices for the actors to follow. Wales Interactive is a multi-award winning studio known for such titles as Late Shift, The Bunker, and The Shapeshifting Detective. The developers of Night Book are Good Gate Media and Wales Interactive.
A very impressive fact about this game is that it was created in lockdown during the pandemic. The actors filmed themselves using Blackmagic cameras (by the Australian digital cinema company, Blackmagic Design Pty Ltd., known for their pocket cinema line of cameras that allow the user to film in cinematic quality). The scenes were shot by the actors in the cities of Paris, London, Birmingham and Cardiff. The actors were responsible for their own lighting, makeup and the continuity of their scenes.
Knowing the story of how the filming took place and the way the game came together, it’s pretty genius that the developers of this game have it taking place from the perspective of the desktop computer screen belonging to Loralyn, the main character. At the beginning of the game, you feel a bit like a peeping Tom hacker witnessing Loralyn’s life through her desktop screen, webcam and the live 360 CCTV Security System footage of the rooms throughout her home.
Julie Dray (who played the female version of V in Cyberpunk 2077) very masterfully takes on the role of Loralyn Wilson in this thriller. The game quickly throws the player into the stress-ladened world of Loralyn by showing how she is currently coping with what has been hinted at as a difficult pregnancy with her fiancé discussing their IVF miracle baby, caring for her father while worrying about his mental health and dealing with her strongly opinionated fiancé who is currently working far from home on a Pacific island development. All of this is taking place while she is getting ready to take an exam for an interview for a nighttime job doing live interpreting for video calls. It’s plain to see that Loralyn has a lot on her plate even before having to deal with any angry spirits or a cursed book.
By speaking so negatively about her own performance with her boss, Cody, after her interview, you can tell that Loralyn is not the most self-confident of persons. She has the skills for the job (being talented in her ability as an interpreter to speak French, English and a special rare language in the game known as Kannar), but she just doesn’t believe in herself too much at this point. But when she speaks to her father through his bedroom door and begs him to try to be quiet during her work time, she tells him she needs this job (which you can tell by the inflection of her voice that it’s not just in a monetary way, but in a manner that will help her feel fulfilled and take more pride in herself).
As mentioned previously, Loralyn is living currently with her father, Alecis, that is assumed by his family members in the game to have a mental illness. Alecis is convincingly portrayed by Mark Wingett. Her father had asked to come stay with his daughter when he found out that her fiancé was going to the very island that he is convinced is cursed. This fact has been causing him to have to deal with “them” (which he is desperately trying to ward off in his bedroom in order to protect his daughter and her baby). Her father says he wants to be locked in his room so he is able protect his family. By watching her father in the CCTV System early in the game, you observe him anxiously swinging his arms around and pounding on the walls, looking very disturbed at something only he can see. The walls of his room are lined with primitive looking sketches of strange symbols, some looking like the outline of a person, others like a crown. He warns her to stop using the ancient language of the Kannar (which happens to be from the same island that her husband will soon be working on for his company’s development). She says she needs to keep using it for her job because it makes her more employable due to the fact that very few people know how to speak (or read) it. Her father admits to not wanting to sleep because he feels that he won’t be able to hold them off due to their growing presence if he is not awake.
Pearce Mangan, her fiancé, works as an account manager for a developer that wants to build a resort upon the island known as Le Pouce, the largest of a mysterious and beautiful group of islands known as the Godshand Islands in the Pacific. He admits that the locals want them to leave, but that they also want jobs that the resort could provide. He laughs off the idea of a curse associated with the island. Pearce pictures an ideal future for himself, his soon to be wife and his little prince (another name that he refers to the baby as) on Le Pouce by mentioning that they should get married on the island and eventually live there.
You quickly get the idea that he does not like Loralyn’s father very much. Pearce mentions about his idea to Loralyn for the three of them to live on the island. Loralyn says that her father would never go there, and Pearce dismisses her and basically says that he obviously meant the three of them (including herself and the baby) and definitely not her father. He tells her to keep giving her father his meds and doesn’t seem to care much about his wellbeing. He mentions when she discovers footage of the rooms of her home from the CCTV System scrolling on her desktop that it was meant as a safety feature she could monitor for keeping the “two of you safe” (meaning her and the baby). He proudly calls it the best investment he’s ever made. Pearce is depicted in the game as very driven and at times a self-righteous and disparaging character.
As the game progresses, you are presented with choices for how you as the player want the storyline to proceed. You must click on one of two given choices on the screen in a limited amount of time. There is also a setting in the options menu of the game for streamers and those who want an unlimited amount of time to make their choices known as Streamer Mode. By pushing Esc during the game, it allows the player to see the Tracker which lets you know how well Loralyn’s relationships are developing with key characters in the game. It is shown as a bar that stretches from bad to good that gives you a visual status for your relationships, and it also provides a specific number grade for each of these relationships as the game progresses (these scores are influenced by your choices in the game dealing with these characters). This Esc menu also contains a section called Documents which stores all the documents (letters from medical facilities, news items speaking about the curse of La Pouce, etc.) that you have specifically chosen to open during game play. If the player has chosen not to open a document during game play, then it is not stored for future use or available to look at in the Documents section.
Things really get rolling into the intense thriller part of the game once Loralyn is presented with a choice of two interpreting jobs in the game. The player must choose which job they want to accept. One involves using your heart, the other is using your head (to help further Loralyn’s career). Without giving too much away, either choice ends up with her applying her special skills in interpreting and using the Kannar language which ends up introducing the cursed pages of the Night Book into the storyline. From there, Loralyn (and you as the player) must do what she can to try and keep her family safe as things start to get extremely more spooky, more intense and dangerous in her home with paranormal activity brought about by the Night Book.
You learn after playing Night Book through the first time that this game is not meant to be played just once. The first playthrough took me about 45 minutes. The next time I played, it was a bit longer with more added scenes based on my new choices. By making some different choices in each game, the paths of the storylines change a bit. After the initial couple of times I played, I learned some important key information offered in some new scenes and documents that I did not get in the previous playthroughs. The game is described as having 220 scenes and 15 ending variations.
The game has a really strong cast. They not only did a wonderful job with acting their parts, but figuring that they were responsible for doing their own filming and other related tasks for their own scenes during lockdown is pretty remarkable. I also liked the story for the game, and it was well written. The concept of the game being shown from the perspective of Loralyn’s desktop was a wonderful idea for how to deal with filming during a lockdown. The music in Night Book is quite good in helping to establish the mood for the scenes. It really helps add another layer to the feeling of eeriness and intensity in the game. I liked how when the island spirits enter the game (and her home), all of the plants in Loralyn’s home start to grow wildly. The vines growing up around and down from the painting of the Godshand Islands in her office was a really nice touch.
There are a lot of great things about this game, but some things about Night Book were a little bit disappointing. Night Book presents Loralyn’s desktop to the player with all of its user features as she would see it. It would have been interesting to be able to freely access some of the features on her desktop as the player (such as e-mail, photos or her trash file which could have helped establish more information about the characters and the storylines), but this is not allowed at all in the game. It makes sense that the actors were not able to film in the same rooms at the same time due to the lockdown, but it would have been great to get a little bit of background info about the characters and their relationships in the game through possible different means. It could have been nice if there were some hidden features, such as maybe coming across files that contain entries from a diary or journal that explain more information about her relationship with her fiancé. How did she end up in a relationship with Pearce? More history about Loralyn’s childhood and her relationship with her mother and father would also be beneficial to the plot and help improve this character-driven narrative.
By pushing the tab button during multiple playthroughs, it is meant to trigger the function of skipping scenes in the game, making repeated playthroughs less tedious as you can skip unimportant scenes that you have seen too many times before. This tab button function worked some of the time for certain scenes, but other times it ignored me and I had to watch things again and again as I tried different choices. It would have been enjoyable to be able to skip these already viewed scenes to get through the game a little quicker to the new scenes and secrets, but unfortunately this was not always the case.
Night Book is a fun game, especially if you like the kind of claustrophobic, trapped in a haunted and dangerous apartment kind of horror that it offers once the plot really gets rolling. Playing the game is easy, as you merely have to select a choice every now and then to see what effect it has on the storyline. It’s also being offered for around $12.99 on Steam, which makes it a pretty good value, almost like renting a streaming movie where you can actually control the action to some extent.
In terms of FMV games, Night Book may not be as diverse in its storylines, settings or game play as something like Dark Nights with Poe and Munro, but it still offers a lot of fun in an interesting and unique, self-contained thriller of an adventure. The fact that it was filmed during lockdown just makes it even more impressive. If you are looking for some evenings of adventure and light horror, turn down the lights and crack open the pages of Night Book. And hang on for what will likely be (depending on your choices) a pretty thrilling ride.