Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition Analysis

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Night Trap holds odd significance to those that grew up with it.  It basically ushered in so-called “Full Motion Video” (FMV) games and in the process managed to snag some controversy, which only escalated its popularity in the early 90s.  The game itself and the storied tale of its development and release have already been covered here on Gaming History 101, so feel free to check out that retrospective for more information on the original game.  Since then the game has achieved cult status and despite being notoriously bad, you can’t help but talk about it.  Then in 2014, the creators attempted a failed Kickstarter that led to a random developer showing the game running on a cell phone, and eventually led to that developer creating the one-man studio Screaming Villains along with a re-release of Night Trap in 2017.  By bringing Night Trap 25th Anniversary to the masses, I fear that it won’t connect with most players that didn’t appreciate it before and it brings up some heavy realities for fans.  If you’re going to take the plunge, either as a longtime fan or for the first time, you’d best prepare for some unfortunate caveats that extend beyond the concept of the original.

When Night Trap premiered it was trying to fit approximately 90 minutes of footage onto CDs and compressing it in a way the Sega CD can show off.  That means a small resolution (168×104) and a limited color palette, which were just a reality back then and no one thought much about it.  Over the years and ports the resolution and quality were expanded to 272×104 and pretty much resembled MPEG1 or VCD standard.  This is nothing compared to the massive 1920×1080 (1080p) resolution we’re currently accustomed to, not to mention 4K, which is four times 1080p. When you look at the cleaned up version of Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition on trailers, it appears that the game is amazingly crisp, but when you boot up the game proper it reveals itself to be more akin to a DVD than anything else.  For those that have played previous versions, that’s much cleaner than any version we’ve seen, but it doesn’t hold a candle to modern video.  Granted this footage is coming off of the master tape, which is most likely a broadcast standard betamax, and therefore can only be improved so much.  The reason movies can be magically upgraded to blu ray standards is because they are on film, but this wasn’t the case with Night Trap.  For that same reason the frame rate is counter to what you expect from movies as well.  Modern blu rays follow the film standard for frame rate of 24 frames per second (fps), whereas broadcast over the air is typically still 30 fps for the NTSC (US) standard.  Since the Night Trap masters were on tape, it’s captured at 30 fps.  Oddly enough, based on the player codecs of this game the PS4 version plays at only 24 fps so at times it can seem a bit jumpy.  On the PC the game runs at native 30 fps and the action appears smoother.  In both versions, however, you can sometimes experience odd glitches with the video where what’s happening on screen doesn’t match your control console.  Sometimes you trap an enemy that isn’t anywhere near the trap, but in doing so the footage will jump to capturing him and move forward.  Other times the audio will be behind the video, which seems only a bit annoying when watching a random scene, but if you’re trying to watch some plot points or God forbid listen for a code change it can be a game-ending bug.  Since this was pieced together from archival footage, there are extra scenes that were restored in the new “ReVamped” edition that can completely change some important outcomes and endanger characters that you never had to worry about before.   Hardcore fans can relax, you also have the option of playing the “Classic” version of Night Trap that appears identical to the original.  During some of the scenes there can be some tape damage that appears on the screen, certain scenes are pieced together and thus not edited very well, and you should expect a few jump cuts.  It’s nothing to write home about, but it is noticeable.

Programmed in Unity, the interface has been completely re-worked and is probably the most obvious example that the developer was a fan.  You can pick between the interface from the Sega CD, the 32x/3DO version, or even the later PC build, and of course a whole new 2017 interface that’s looks like it’s on an old PVM monitor.  While the older interfaces simply gave you icons for each room, the 2017 interface offers live streams of each room at the same time, which cuts down on the need to jump scenes early to scan the house for enemies.  It does come with its own set of issues, however, as I noticed the largest amount of glitching, and in once play the driveway just went to black for the rest of the game.  For fans of the game looking at the options screen with 4 different interfaces and 2 different versions (Classic or ReVamped) may come off as a no-brainer, but it must be confusing to those that have never played.  Heck, even for me as a seasoned fan that owns every other version, I couldn’t quite tell the specific details of Classic or ReVamped without playing.  There’s just no explanation when setting up a game.  I still can’t tell if the Classic version is the restored footage or not – my gut says it isn’t, but it’s possible that Classic vs. ReVamped are just different cuts all from the restored footage.  On PS4 your controls are straightforward, but it’s all very confusing on PC.  For starters you need the mouse to navigate the menu even if you have a controller plugged in.  If you plug an XInput (typically Xbox 360 or XB1 controller) the game will display a PS4 controller and you will find that only the bottom row of cameras can be navigated.  I haven’t been able to confirm if a PS4 controller works without issue, but it quickly prompted me to ditch controllers altogether until an update, which is not ideal for a game that has “full controller support” on its Steam page.  On the keyboard and mouse side it’s not that much better because keyboard is completely unusable and the mouse doesn’t have a way to pause the game.  For those seeking a perfect run, pausing can be necessary, so in the end I had to use a nearby controller for pausing and a mouse to move rooms and trap enemies.   You also don’t have an exit option on the PC port, so only those that know Alt+F4 terminates a game will be able to close it properly without some Task Manager navigation.  I’ve also personally experienced several instances where I was unable to complete a perfect game in both PS4 and PC due to a specific enemy being glitched and never giving me a trap option.  People have clearly got achievements/trophies on both platforms for doing so, but I don’t know if they’ve done it in Classic mode as opposed to ReVamped.  Either way, it can get annoying fast if you’re attempting to trap everyone, especially with the predictably long initial load that seems to accompany Unity games.

Ultimately the game isn’t really about awkward controls, resolutions and frame rates, or even a perfect score, it’s about watching an interactive movie.  At that specific note Night Trap 25th Anniversary is a comprehensive, and in the 2017 interface, more enjoyable experience than ever before.  The response is rock solid, the interface is easy to use, and it even allows you to continue provided you get to what was originally the second disc (12:51 on the game clock).  There’s a whole new intro that gives new insight to the plot and was clearly recorded but later scrapped back when the project proper was under way.  I’m a bit saddened by the exclusion of the original introductions – there were two depending on platform – especially because this new introduction doesn’t explain the color coding system to you.  The same is true about no longer hearing the blip sound when you miss an enemy and not being given the error message when you try to trap an enemy with the wrong color, but I feel that’s getting very nit picky.  Modern players will eventually figure it out, much like we had to in the early 90s, and hopefully grow to enjoy what this game actually is.  Special features like a cleaned up version of the “Dangerous Games” 8-minute promo documentary, an interview with Director James Riley, a theater mode that shows you specific unlocked scenes in the game, and the original concept game Scene of the Crime are included as bonus.  Granted, Scene of the Crime is only accessed after a perfect run so I have yet to play it on account of my lack of a perfect game.  That’s fine for me, though, because Night Trap isn’t about “beating the game” but rather as an exercise I do a few times a week for a quick run or two.  The versions that released on PS4 and PC clearly have their technical issues, which some feel a single person development team earns the game a brief pass, but I don’t feel comfortable speaking to.  There’s an Xbox One version that has been delayed and I feel confident that in the upcoming week most of these bugs will get ironed out, if not sooner.  I’m pleased with Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition and despite the gripes, I think this is really the last game for me to expect perfection from.  Probably the best praise I can level against is that I will most likely move to playing this version exclusively for quite some time moving forward.

A review code was provided by the developer on the Playstation 4 platform.  The reviewer also purchased the Steam version for comparison and for personal use.  Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition is available for $14.99 on PSN, Steam, and in the future on Xbox Live.  Tangible copies of the game were released by Limited Run Games but sold out prior to release.  

Written by Fred Rojas

August 17, 2017 at 11:00 am

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