NIGHT TRAP 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION Review
If you have even a passing knowledge of video games and spend a majority of your time plugged into the World Wide Web, it’s almost impossible to believe you haven’t heard about the infamous NIGHT TRAP. One of the most historically referenced examples of video games taking Western society back to the last days of Rome, NIGHT TRAP was lambasted by the US Senate in ‘93 alongside its much more virulent cousin MORTAL KOMBAT, leading to the foundation of the ESRB and all of the trips to Blockbuster where you begged your mom to let you rent an “M” game that followed. Now with a remastered 25th Anniversary Edition sitting at a cool $15 wherever video games can be downloaded, it’s a fairly easy decision to invest the money you’d spend on a six pack of IPA and give this alleged juggernaut of poor taste a spin. Surprise, surprise: it’s safe as milk. But it’s also shockingly trailblazing, challenging, and a whole lot of fun.
We pickup with Lieutenant Simms of the unfortunately-titled Sega Control Attack Team (S.C.A.T.). He informs his team that there’s been a spat of recent disappearances at the winery estate belonging to the wealthy Martin clan. When S.C.A.T. investigated they were hurriedly shooed away, with further suspicions being garnered when a series of traps, security cameras, and a basement control apparatus for the same were discovered upon further snooping. As such, S.C.A.T. has snuck in and installed an override that allows them control of the security cameras and traps as a new batch of nubile youngsters heads to the Martin house for a slumber party. Right off the bat something sinister is afoot as hordes of cloaked vampires known as Augers descend upon the home in endless waves; can you keep the slumber party alive, trap the invading baddies, and figure out just what in the Hell is going on?
Mfw you like XXXTentacion
So yes, if you were going into a game from ‘92 for straight-cut, unfiltered thrills and chills, NIGHT TRAP is not the horse to bet on—it’s unabashedly silly. (If you want a legitimately more unsettling vintage outlier, check out YouTube footage of the cold and misanthropic light gun game CHILLER.) As the long-suffering designer James Riley reveals in documentary footage available as bonus content, NIGHT TRAP had its origins as a much more grounded tale involving a group of ninjas (OK, maybe not that grounded) trying to break into a house to steal jewelry. Lo and behold, That Dragon, Studio Interference reigned its ugly head and finessed the game into a much weirder, campier territory. And ultimately, I think the rosy glasses of the last 25 years make a strong case for it being for the better. NIGHT TRAP is also notable for using FMV for its gameplay, so the overall impression is one of having increased control over a beer-soaked bargain bin curiosity. This novelty alone makes it worth a try in my book, but the rewards go far deeper than the presentation of its aesthetics.
Love it or hate it, the first things I always take stock of in a game are the story and characters. While the overarching narrative doesn’t exactly hold up under scrutiny, there is a surprising amount of depth lurking quietly below the surface. From minute one you’re required to furiously switch between the six camera views you have at your disposal in order to trap Augers, which keeps you from being able to carefully listen in on the constant character interactions. This is a genius mechanic that guarantees repeat playthroughs, but the game also makes the effort to give the members of its ensemble cast their own private dramas, allowing you to dip in for a spell every now and then to get the gist, but always leaving you with enough curiosity to want to tap in a little earlier the next time to get the full story. It’s not like you can take a character bursting onto the scene with a previously unintroduced, Auger-killing laser gun in stride without wanting to know how he got it. Yeah, alright, the kiddos aren’t exactly attempting to suss out the political and social intricacies of the Bush Sr. era, but I know more about all of these NPCs than I do for many other games. If you can manage to embrace the camp (and c’mon, it’s not that hard to do), you’ll find yourself more invested than you have a right to be. And you can watch an elongated performance of an original “Night Trap” song to boot (and get an achievement for it, at that!)
Where tf is the vaporwave remix of this???
As for the actual gameplay… you truly have no reason to complain if you’ve even tangentially interacted with a Five Nights at Freddy’s release in any capacity. Quite frankly, I was downright blown away by how extensively Scott Cawthon cribbed from its blaringly obvious progenitor. Freddy Fazbear and his friends manage to continually skate by through their existence as the gaming equivalent of a bottom-barrel Blumhouse release, but both are centered around the concept of following certain cameras in a precise order. And you tell me which is more meritable—a game that offsets some of the functional monotony of its puzzles through a merciless onslaught of jump scares, or a genuine desire to keep all of the characters alive so you can get more of a handle on the narrative that’s occurring?
NIGHT TRAP’s manic switching between cameras isn’t scary by any stretch considering the Taco Bell gordita level of cheese, but only a hardened cynic would proclaim it as lacking tension. I know FMV is one of the more critically derided epochs of gaming, but everything considered, this is a pretty seamless interpolation of live action footage and interactive mechanics. Maybe this is because the 25th anniversary edition spruced things up, or maybe it’s because it was shot by FORREST GUMP cinematographer Don Burgess. I don’t know, but Riley’s creation fully immerses you in an idiosyncratic atmosphere and keeps you there, so pony up posers.
How partygoers tryna treat the speakers whenever I have the aux cord
Now that I’ve defended the story and mechanics, it’s time to state that despite my genuine appreciation for the game and its cultural relevance, I have to be forthcoming and admit I can only play about an hour-and-a-half of it a time. NIGHT TRAP is a challenging game, especially because in the first few attempts they entirely throw you into the fire by not explaining any of the gameplay mechanics (this is because the original would have been accompanied by a lengthy instruction manual, as our illustrious gaming editor pointed out), but I have to knock it against my better judgment for having the Augers follow the same invasion patterns each playthrough.
This particular aspect of linearity is addressed in a standalone survival mode created for the redux, and the main game still has you swooping in on conversations to learn the randomly generated access codes necessary to retain control of the cameras, but even with wanting to hear more chatter each runthrough, it’s not user friendly to make it through the same 12 minutes of gameplay only to be booted back to the beginning when you flub it in the 11th Hour. NIGHT TRAP clocks in at roughly 26 minutes of footage, but only features a single checkpoint near the halfway point. The aforementioned gaming editor and I were able to knock out a middling playthrough in slightly over three hours, but had they seen fit to make the Augers randomly generated, I would have almost no solid complaints about my experience. Although whoever can manage to trap the third Auger in the opening is a bona fide madman.
Believable and frightening as they are
Having looked into a bit, I am genuinely shocked that people seem to outright hate this game. Look folks, it’s not NIGHT TRAP’s fault—consider its legacy as a “horror” game it’s obviously going to disappoint the memetic masses of young teens who grew up on SLENDER and the aforementioned animatronic pizzeria pets. But c’mon, I know you love the 19 hundred and 80s (this was developed in ‘86 so it still counts despite its ‘90s release)! It’s soapy, it’s over-the-top, it’s poorly acted, and it doesn’t have the spoops that hold up in a modern context; but y’know what, neither does HALLOWEEN or FRIDAY THE 13th, and look at what you all think of them. NIGHT TRAP deserves a place among its more lauded ‘80s horror icons, with a similar but unsung amount of influence and cache on the culture of its medium that followed. It had two of the most cynical people I know cheering, jeering, and on the edge of their seats assisting in trapping Augers, and is legitimately one of the most enjoyable playing experiences I’ve had. Crack open a beer, transport yourself to a basement slumber party in ‘92, and let yourself have some fun.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4, also available on Xbox One and PC.