Britain in 2018 is a strange place. Ever since the 2016 Brexit referendum result, the country has been emotionally split, part a nostalgic callback to the Blitz spirit of the Second World War and part a growing anxiety over the potentially-growing divides over politics, race, and nationality. Right in the middle of this environment is Not Tonight, a game that aims to dissect the current state of Great Britain through offbeat humor.
Not Tonight, from developer Panic Barn, throws players into a very mundane dystopia, a world whose downtrodden inhabitants have their lives defined by bureaucracy, poverty, and boredom. This is a very different dark Britannia to that showcased by We Happy Few, with a setting built much more on the realities of modern-day Britain, and that encapsulates those fears in a much more palpable way.
At its core, Not Tonight is an adventure-meets-puzzle game. The player is cast as a British national with mainland European heritage, who sees their rights and livelihood taken away by a government intent on a nation-based ethnic cleansing of Britain as a whole. However, these 'Euros' still have an important role to play, meaning that the player is left in a country that no longer wants them, but depends on them still.
What this boils down to is the player character - chosen from one of three backstories - being forced to become a doorman to earn their keep. Jobs are indicated through the use of the BouncR app of the player's in-game mobile phone, the gig economy thrown straight into 1984 with aplomb. The player goes from job to job, visiting different bars and clubs whose owners hold different kinds of distain for Europeans, and mans the door to ensure that undesirables are kept out.
The criteria for entry to clubs and to events changes from place to place, with barriers for those under 18, those holding a specific nationality, or those hiding contraband or wearing banned clothing. The player needs to check ID, guest lists, and deploy scanners to catch out those who should be denied entry - although there's always the chance to accept a bribe and take the risk of letting someone in anyway. The game plays like indie darling and short film star Papers, Please - in fact, some may think that it plays a little too close to Papers, Please for comfort, with the core gameplay feeling strikingly similar and perhaps not different enough to keep things interesting.
There are eventual shifts from being a doorman, though. By appeasing a local officer with grander goals of power, the player is tasked with carrying out jobs for the oppressing government itself, acting as a bouncer for official events and even working security on border crossings. This is an interesting turn of pace, and although the core gameplay is still the same, the change of scenery breaks up what can sometimes feel like a grind.
Thematically, Not Tonight isn't subtle about how it wants the player to feel. The game revolves around the struggle between following the strict laws of the Albion First-led country and maintaining a sense of normality or rebelling against a corrupt and dangerous system. It gets tougher, too, as bills increase and the player's own health gets thrown into the mix, creating a fine balancing act.
It's easy to make the decision to take a stand, though. Multiple times, the player is given the chance to help the oddball Resistance movement with their aims to disrupt the government, as well as helping your neighbours and the more sympathetic bosses along the way. As the game goes on, the player is given more and more purchase options, from upgrades to their apartment through to outfits that give certain perks like a faster movement speed.
In part because of this, Not Tonight doesn't quite have the same devastating impact of Steam hit Papers, Please. The player is much more self-dependent, without a family to provide for, and that leads to it being less emotionally exhausting. The incompetence of the Albion First regime compounds this, and in a way that itself suits the lighter comedic tone, even if the game doesn't hold the same strength of paranoia and grief as Lucas Pope's classic.
The game's humor actually works incredibly well, to boot. It's a bleak look at a dystopian Britain, but nonetheless the game has some very funny moments, with environments scrawled with comedic graffiti and the both the dialogue of the characters and some of the news updates feeling close in tone to those classic LucasArts games. Given how many games fail at humor, the fact that the title works in this regard is very impressive.
Underneath all the comedy, though, there's a much darker tone. The early messages of dissent from those turned away from clubs are replaced by messages of grief and shock when 'Euros' are turned away at border crossings, for instance. Then there's the news updates from this ongoing world of Albion First, a nasty alternative timeline that's a little too close to comfort, full of real-world populist buzzwords that have been taken to their terrifying conclusion.
So what to make of Not Tonight? The game falls into two camps at the end of the day. Gameplay-wise it's maybe not quite original enough to maintain interest for all, although those who enjoyed the matching strategies of Papers, Please and want something similar will find something to like here. Either way, the game truly delivers a parallel Britain with bags of character, and has an important, absurd, hilarious and scary tale to tell. It's not perfect by any means, but at least it tries - and succeeds - at saying something important through comedy.
Not Tonight is available now on PC. Screen Rant was provided with a PC code for the purposes of this review.