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  • Writer's pictureNoah Yard

What I've Been Playing: A Night in the Woods.

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed an album that was a few months old, but today I’m reviewing a videogame that is a few YEARS old, because I just now finished it, and it’s one I think more people should be aware of! Plus, I think it will continue to let my readers know who I am through what I play/watch/listen to.

A Night in the Woods, developed by indie company Infinite Fall and published by Finji, is a side-scrolling, dialogue-based adventure game set in the small town of Possum Springs. You play as Mae the cat; a recent college dropout who returns to find her town and her old friends have changed in the years she’s been away. Through the adventure, you uncover some mysteries and redevelop old relationships.

It’s that second part, the reconnecting with friends and townspeople, that is the heart of Night in the Woods, as each character, and each of Mae’s three best friends all has rich, interesting storylines that you explore over about a week of in-game days. You can choose to spend more or less time with each character and that will determine how much you learn about each character’s aspirations, backstories and their connection to Mae.

I spent a couple of days talking to Gregg the fox, Mae’s old best friend and town anarchist who is a free spirit. His storyline involves going out at night to do “crimes.” In this context, crimes mean stealing old animatronic heads from abandoned stores and smashing old fluorescent lightbulbs with a baseball bat. You then learn he and his boyfriend, Angus the bear, are planning on moving to greener pastures. They’ve been saving up from their minimum wage jobs to move to a nicer town and have a fresh start at life.

In the absence of a lot of action and gameplay, these stories more than make up for anything you feel the game is missing. And you can play the game multiple times to uncover multiple stories, like what’s going on with Bea (I think she’s an alligator??) and why is she so cold towards Mae? If you talk to her enough, she might warm up to you and find out. You can talk to your in-game parents about how they’re careers have changed due to industrial shutdowns and gentrifying in the neighbourhood…

If this all sounds depressing, that might be because it’s supposed to be. The game actually deals with a lot of adult themes like depression and anxiety. Mae has issues, including a dissociative anxiety disorder which slowly starts to affect her during the game. The towns mysteries connect with her in a very personal way. But she has the support and love of her friends and family to help her get through it. As a person who’s experienced similar things in life the game actually comforted and resonated with me more than a lot of games I’ve played.

The games central storyline, the mystery that Mae and her friends decide to uncover, does seem a little odd and tacked on. It is entertaining and satisfying to put together the pieces that rationalise Mae’s dreams and the mysteries of the town, and it’s genuinely chilling. However, the true love of the game is the day to day minutia of the central characters, not this greater mystery.

As for the actual gameplay, as I mentioned earlier, it is largely dialogue and story-based, but there are platforming elements as well. The mechanics are a little clunky as you may choose to jump on top of buildings to find secret areas or walk along powerlines to visit friends. The platforming also comes into play during Mae’s dream sequences.

Pretty much every night Mae has a bizarre, chaotic dream that the player must work their way through to get to the end and wake up. The meanings and purpose of these dreams is unclear, you need to move forward in the story to make sense of them. To be honest these levels took me out of the carefully crafted world, rather than adding to it. The levels are confusing and maze-like, and terrifying considering you can’t wake up until you complete them.

It’s not a game for people who love action or open worlds or even smooth mechanics. BUT if you enjoy charming indies with beautiful, thoughtful stories that explore some real issues, SOME sinister undertones, wonderful inventive graphics, and a game that makes you feel good inside, then A Night in the Woods is the game for you. Available on all game systems (Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo Switch), IOS and Windows devices.

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