It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend.
Midnight Scenes is a series of short, spooky games that feels like an interactive take on The Twilight Zone. Developed by Octavi Navarro, who also made The Librarian, the games capture the feel of the TV series with the same iconic black-and-white aesthetic and similar settings and stories. More importantly, the same creepiness and tension that made The Twilight Zone so influential also permeate both games.
The first episode, called “The Highway,” was released last September. It follows Claire, a young woman driving along a highway one night only to encounter an electrical pole that’s fallen across the road. Since there are live electrical wires on the pole, she can’t move it, and so goes in search of a telephone or way to move the pole safely. Each step along the way toward her goals leads her farther from the road but closer to understanding the strange circumstances that caused the pole to fall across the road in the first place.
The second episode, “The Goodbye Note,” is framed around Richard P. Griffin writing a letter to his wife. The note recounts the events of the previous 24 hours so that she might understand why he’d been acting strangely and suddenly had to drop everything and fly to Washington, DC. There is a franticness to this episode as you try to keep Richard one step ahead of whatever is chasing after him.
Both episodes are point-and-click adventure games. You have to click on a location in order to move a character to that spot, but you also have to collect a small inventory of items that you use to solve puzzles. You might find a hammer and nail, for instance, that you’ll need later to hammer a board into place. The puzzles are used sparingly, and they aren’t particularly difficult. Their effectiveness, instead, comes from when and how they are deployed.
Puzzles in Midnight Scenes are often used to draw out a moment as a way to increase the tension by having you spend time traveling somewhere to get something. This gives you plenty of time to think about all of the weird things the game could scare you with. These scenarios can also put you into a moment that feels desperate or frantic, and the act of trying to solve the puzzle feels scary in itself. It’s a bit like finding the only escape car in a slasher movie but not having the keys. You can see the keys locked inside the car, so you need to quickly figure out how to break in with what you have around you before the killer shows up.
Normally, you can go about the game at your own pace. Depending on how worried you are about jump-scares, you might move slower or be more hesitant to interact with things since you know those interactions might trigger... something. But in these more frantic moments, you feel pushed to be less cautious, to get out of your comfort zone and be riskier.
It’s this interaction that makes Midnight Scenes so good. The stories aren’t inherently scary, but the way you’re forced into action is. Being asked to click on a window to look through it, even when you know something bad is going to happen, is a lot more compelling and tense than watching a character do it on their own. It modernizes the familiar Twilight Zone-style of storytelling in a way that captures the feeling of watching the show with a new style of scare.
Midnight Scenes: “The Highway” and “The Goodbye Note” were created by Octavi Navarro. You can get it on Itch.io for pay what you want (Windows and macOS). It takes about 15 to 30 minutes to finish each.