It was the early 90s and although we often look back at this as a golden age in gaming, the hardware at the time was distinctly primitive compared to the hulking machines that now adorn our set-ups. That pixel graphic look of classics such as Super Mario World and Street Fighter II will always have a timeless quality, but this wasn’t enough for some game-makers.
One such company, Digital Pictures, had a vision – to create an interactive entertainment product using full motion video. Although FMV is often joked about, at the time it had the potential to be a revolution, combining life-like visuals with fun game systems. Having previously pitched the idea to Hasbro, Night Trap was originally meant for the VHS-based NEMO system before the team changed focus to the Sega’s Mega-CD.
To describe Night Trap in the simplest terms, to readers who have a sound working knowledge of modern game design, it’s basically a half-hour cutscene loaded with dozens of quick-time events.
Following the disappearance of five teenage girls, an elite task force is sent to investigate the Martin family winery on the outskirts of town. As part of their recon, they’ve hijacked the estate’s security system – a network of eight cameras and various trapdoors hidden in each room. As another group of unsuspecting youths enter the house, it’s your duty to protect them and find out what’s really going on.
As the control operator, it won’t take long for you to notice dark figures milling around the different rooms as well as the winery’s exterior. Dressed in what appear to be bin liners, they amble around clumsily, occasionally triggering a prompt that lights up on your screen. Respond fast enough and you’ll activate a trap door, capturing these “Auger” creatures.
Darting between cameras, it’s your job to capture as many as you can without mistakenly trapping the girls or task force agents. Commit the tiniest error and you’ll either be sent back to the start of Night Trap or its halfway checkpoint, depending on how far you’ve progressed.
The constant need to change rooms and activate traps is amusingly novel those first few times though quickly becomes exhausting. If you want to simply watch the story play out, catching the dialogue between characters, you’re guaranteed to fail, either missing an important prompt or letting too many Augers through the net.
In placing checkpoints so far apart, prepare to watch the same ten or so minutes of Night Trap until you memorise the position and timings of ever scene. Despite having a run time of around half an hour, it will take a lot longer before you get to see the credits roll. The game doesn’t even provide instructions, making those first few runs an infuriatingly short affair.
Then there are the “code switches”. From time to time, members of the Martin family will slip in a line of dialogue, indicating which colour frequency the trap system has been changed to. In response, you’ll need to cycle through the available colours but there’s no telling when that change will actually occur, making it easy for the Augers to slip through.
In other words, the “gameplay” here is either non-existent or completely unreliable. It’s a shame as I genuinely liked everything else about Night Trap. That cheesy lo-fi horror vibe of the early 90s has been captured perfectly, with laughable costume design and a seemingly endless supply of dried ice.
The extras packed into this 25th anniversary edition are a nice touch too, though most require that you complete the game and other trophy-like objectives. The lengthy interview with director, James Riley, is particularly interesting, charting Night Trap’s origin, development, and its ongoing legacy.
If developer Screaming Villains had gone back and reworked parts of the original game – perhaps adding rewind or “no fail” features – then at least Night Trap would be playable. By today’s standards, however, it’s a broken, incoherent mess. A relic that, despite being deeply nostalgic, is almost impossible to stomach for those who aren’t already zealous fans of the original. Still, for all its flaws, it’s a unique piece of video game history and one enthusiasts should definitely look into, even if they don’t actually play Night Trap for themselves.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 Pro