Available on: PC (Early Access)
Artists tend to love the surreal. It allows them to bend their media, twisting it in subtle ways to make observations about the real world. The tricky part of handling surrealism is making sure it’s coherent enough to convey a message without getting so bogged down in weirdness that it becomes unapproachable. While it certainly has some upsides, Between Me and the Night tends to dip its toe into the latter.
In Between Me and the Night the main character is a nameless boy. When he awakens in his attic bedroom, shadows rest on the floor in front of a television. The shadows play an important role in the game. They offer limited contextual cues about the boy’s life and what exactly is going on in this weird house pulled straight from a strange, vivid dreamscape. However, the second the boy passes by the shadows, they vanish into the air.
Most interaction with the world takes place in a point-and-click style, adopting the same mechanics of classic PC adventure games. Enter a room, click on things, hear a character’s internal monologue about it, and see if there are any items with which you can interact.
This interface is the start of Between Me and the Night’s problems. It’s a confusing process to attempt to pick things up. The environment doesn’t provide great cues for what can be interacted with and what cannot. Managing a limited inventory is a hassle when it’s unclear what constitutes a necessary item.
The game’s plot isn’t serviced by the items around the boy, either. Most items add vaguely cryptic clues into the boy’s life by mentioning who they belonged to and what sort of sentimental value they held. Ideally, clues scattered around an environment should help the player better understand the predicament in which a character is placed. It’s certainly fine to have a slow build into uncovering a narrative, but the pacing has to be consistent enough that breadcrumbs are dropped at opportune times to give the player a reason to care and a reason to continue playing. In its attempt to be so abstract and surrealistic, Between Me and the Night left me frustrated and confused.
It’s a shame, too. There’s a lot of promise in this game. The art style is evocative and beautiful, the sound design is strong, and there are hints at the boy’s imagination and what escapism provides for him when trying to avoid a broken home. There is still time to hammer out some of the issues, but its slow pacing and insistence on being surreal over being approachable make it difficult to recommend the game in its current state.