‘Late Shift’ (PS4) review: Decisions, decisions

Full FMV ‘Late Shift’ offers plenty of choice, but little control

You would think I’d be sick of branching story-type videos games (I’m screaming in rage at you, Telltale). But my interest was piqued when I stumbled across “Late Shift,” a game that’s not so much a video game so much as an interactive cinematic piece. Remember those “pick your own adventures” books when you were younger? That’s a little what “Late Shift” is like.

But you know what? I loved it. You know why? Because unlike other branching-story games, I wanted to come back to this one. I wanted to see what other endings I could get, find the scenes that I had missed, listen to the dialogue I didn’t hear the first time around. That, to me, is the mark of compelling entertainment. But don’t be confused: At its core, “Late Shift” is simply a movie that offers you choice in how the story unfolds. Once you make your decision (or don’t), the non-­interactive movie continues, taking you along as a passenger as you watch your decisions unfold.

Developed by ­CtrlMovie and published by Wales Interactive, which created the similar “The Bunker,” “Late Shift” introduces you to a Brit named Matt (Joe Sowerbutts), who’s working the — you guessed it — late shift at a high-end car garage. But it wouldn’t be particularly exciting to see Matt study advanced mathematics for the whole night, so chaos quickly makes its presence known in the form of a thug with a gun.

Soon enough, you find yourself with a group of thieves in a London auction house. Matt’s paired up with May-Ling (Haruka Abe), who quickly becomes as important as the main character.
This sequence of events is mostly static. But what Matt does next is up to the player. Will you try to escape or (like me) just roll with the punches coming your way?

Directed by Tobias Weber (who would think I’d need to put that information in a video game review?) with a script by Weber and Michael Robert Johnson (who wrote the screenplay for the 2009 “Sherlock Holmes”), “Late Shift” is intriguing and well-acted, even if subsequent playthroughs show the plot-hole problem with “pick your own” adventures. (Some sequences clearly don’t make much sense the second time around because you as the player are privy to information you didn’t have in your first playthrough.) But that’s OK because the script is on-point in any single, linear playthrough. The transitions from one chapter to the next are mostly fluid, even if you can at times tell when scenes are stitched together to form new sequences. The cinematography by Alfie Biddle is top-notch, yet another reminder you’re watching a movie in which you can choose what the character does in certain moments.

And I can’t really say this enough: “Late Shift” isn’t really a video game — it’a movie that you play with your controller. It even bills itself as a crime-thriller film. That warning applies to those who want to watch a movie, as well. You still have to keep your button-pushing finger ready throughout the film/game because some decisions give you so little time you may just miss out on making a choice. (And, as well other similar games, making no decision is the same as making a decision in “Late Shift.”)

The tale itself isn’t long, ranging between 60 and 75 minutes depending on your choices; some options will skip over entire chapters. In fact, you need to complete it at least seven times to see each ending, all of which are determined by the game’s 180 decisions. Which is nice, because the game needed some replay value to justify its $13 price tag. (One caveat and complaint: You can’t skip over scenes you’ve already seen, so you have to play the full hour each time you want to see a new ending.) It should be noted that the game/film was released in 2016 but was ported over to consoles in April. (This review was on the PlayStation 4.)

In the end, “Late Shift” is something refreshingly different in a sea of conformity. It won’t be appeal to everyone (it probably won’t even appeal to most), but it really is an excellent FMV game and a new take on interactive cinema. Your decisions matter far more than in other branching-story games, and it’s a compelling story to boot. I’m not sure I see this type of cinematic game becoming more mainstream, but I wouldn’t mind watching a good movie end in multiple ways. And if I’m the reason why the game’s ending changes, all The better.

Four “Why did I choose that?!” stars out of five, and a critic’s pick.

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