Though I can’t deny the escapist allure of my RPG, FPS, MMO or (to break the string of acronyms) platforming travails, it’s discernibly thrilling when a game instead comes to you. Perhaps it’s for this reason that the Alternate Reality Game feels so remarkably fresh. There’s a discernible purity about a game that unfolds within our tangible lives, and as demonstrated by the fabulous Spielberg tie-in The Beast, Portal’s Potato Fool’s-romp and such recent creations as Oxenfree – things can get interesting – often downright unnerving – once the fanciful whims of fiction collide with our real-world understandings. For all its multiplatform diversity, it’s a conspicuously niché universe, but The Black Watchmen developer Alice and Smith returns to the ARG fray for a second year, to expand their established universe in cyberwarefare-sim NITE Team 4.
Developer: Alice and Smith
Publisher: Alice and Smith
Previewed on: PC
Also Available On: N/A
Release Date: In-development
A free demo was downloaded for the purpose of this review.
NITE Team 4 isn’t only grounded within the Alternate Reality world of their previous creation, The Black Watchmen; but it’s also inspired by the leaked (and very real) accounts of ex-NSA confederate Edward Snowden. Still in Alpha for the moment, Alice and Smith have released a public demo on its official website, offering players a taster of what the elusive alcoves of The Black Watchmen still holds in store.
Much of the demo looks like standard hacking-sim fare, embellished with a stylish, green-black palette that looks sprung out of a box-office spy movie. Gameplay itself is mostly puzzle-based, taking place via a command-line interface, where the player must type text-based UNIX commands to bounce anonymous proxies, hack enemy emails and yoink corporate intel. Naturally, most of the interaction is done via the keyboard, with the occasional left click stirred in when targeting locations on the game’s luminant map.
Rest assured for those unacquainted with coding jargon, the game’s keywords and terminologies are defined via a list-like ‘help’ function. Some of the usages for such vernacular can feel a little distant at times, but if anything it serves the game’s puzzle-elements, allowing players to learn the ropes for themselves, with minimal hand-holding.
There’s some vague story potential rooted within objectives too. As you sift through your targets’ numerous directories, you’ll encounter the odd MP3 download or video file that offers brief snippets of personal life surrounding the targets of your cybernetic exploits. Whilst a very small (and seemingly subordinate) part of NITE Team 4, it’s a concept that no doubt has me interested to find out how much will be developed here.
Beside the command-line procedures, there’s also the odd minigame to observe. These generally involve guiding an orb of light to a destination, avoiding a series of moving obstacles to blast through a target’s firewall, or arranging a series of data packets. This arcade spin no doubt invokes a dimension of variety and accessibility amongst the true-to-life UNIX code, but it has the potential to offset the game’s ARG set-up. Indeed, when infiltrating an enemy firewall, I was reminded less of my new-found status as a novice in cyberespionage than I was of a round of Crossy Road, and whilst not a bad thing in itself, hardcore Alternate Reality-advocates may find their immersion momentarily punctured during NITE Team 4′s brief minigames.
At present, NITE Team 4 is still in Alpha, and some hiccups did admittedly arise. Commands are case-sensitive, which at times lead some of the more complex objectives to feel unnecessarily prolonged, as I found myself inputting several combinations of the same phrase before I could ultimately progress. It also appeared that I’d hit a bug once or twice. Whilst something that could first attributed to inputting incorrect keywords and formats, I found I couldn’t progress beyond the first few stages, as the demo didn’t appear to recognise that I’d compressed a file or sent a document. Sometimes reloading the game fixed one or two issues, whilst in other attempts my strategy failed. It seemed like there was something I’d missed, but after a lengthy period of experimentation, I felt I’d exhausted all the viable options.
NITE Team 4‘s demo is an intriguing follow-up to Alice and Smith’s The Black Watchmen. The game offers a command-line hacking experience inspired by real-world operations, blending a believable command system with more conventional minigames. Despite some bugs and hitches, glimmers of narrative and potential for puzzle development shine through, and given its current Alpha status, there’s still plenty of time for Alice and Smith’s next entry in espionage to flex its ARG muscles as an intriguing expansion of their established, dark universe.
You can view NITE Team 4’s Official Trailer below.
For more information, check out NITE Team 4’s Official Website.