In this cyberpunk adventure's intro, we witness Joshua Reevs receiving a new task. Several technical achievements, like the hover board or the aircar, have become commonplace in every day life of 2099 in the twilight of omnipresent neon billboards located in run-down corners of shady districts. Those are inhabited by gangsters, thieves and day labourers, and order is only barely maintained through the constant droning of the giant screens, but also such respectable law enforcement officers as Joshua, whose military instincts have been sharpened fighting on the front lines. None other than the governor of Union City, capital of America's New Order, Hugh Martens, is the customer acting quite mysteriously. The almost omnipotent mega-corp Genesis, exerting its power on the government through straw men, has been threatened and attacked by an underground terrorist group. One of the gouvernor's agents, disguised as a journalist, has not returned from a meeting with the terrorists. So Mr. Reevs, aka the player, finds himself on top of the apartment building where said agent Simon Ruby used to live.
This opulent introductory sequence is brought to us by Italian development team Trecision, responsible for this 1998 production. As soon as the 3D movie ends, the player finds himself in a beautifully rendered, realistic scene brought to life with numerous animations, in which the third-person avatar is controlled with the click of the mouse and more or less meaningful actions can be performed in a Lucas Arts style point & click menu. These opulent graphics of course eats quite a bit of storage space, so we receive a full three CDs. This kind of graphically heavy adventure game was quite trendy in the late 1990s to show off the ever-increasing horsepower of the computers.
In a club called Free Climax, we meet someone called Eva. She is so enthralled by our agent's charme that she provides us with a hint about an abandoned zoo/theme park on the sidelines of an abandoned subway tunnel. Joshua decides to continue his investigations there. What follows is a puzzle fest completely devoid of plot progress, so far that one has to ask why this zoo has been included into the game at all. Our hero turns into a real MacGyver and many tricky puzzles later, another lengthy cut scene video takes focus back to the actual plot.
An underground group of researchers has learned of a groundbreaking medical application called VST which is able to manipulate the human mind. A professor who goes by the name of Moreau is the original inventor and the mega corporation Genesis is somehow involved. The underground organization headquarters have been attacked by Genesis' men to hush everything up. This is where our hero first begins to doubt whether he's really working for the right side. Finally, Reev suspects Martens' betrayal and decides to support the rebels.
The trace leads back to the virtual theme park and Reev actually discovers a report about brain cell degeneration caused by VST, finally killing the patient within months or even weeks. The laboratory is located in a medieval castle, floating apparently unreachable on the outskirts of the theme park. Professor Moreau acts as a mad Frankenstein up there, but at least retains a last bit of moral by rejecting his own creations out of respect for humanity.
The gouvernor has barricaded himself on the prison island Rocas Perida, trying to force the professor to continue his experiments on human guinea pigs. The showdown makes it clear that Hugh Martens acted out of pure greed. He didn't save Joshua's life as a selfless act, but just to protect the smuggled drugs from his plane.
The cut scenes feature some interesting camera work. Almost every line spoken is accompanied by a different perspective of the location. The videos fit in well with the static backdrop of each respective scene. The voices fit the characters well, but unfortunately, the music is very weak in the style of background noise. I would have wished for a great soundtrack.
The following scenes – reeking of machismo – are quite funny: Joshua remarks when examining the pornographic magazines on the prison guards' desk that he prefers the real thing. Or another one: Hugh considers Moreau not to have the balls to just do this thing together and get rich.
On a major downside, cyberpunk elements are quite short throughout. All the backdrops and even the city are more or less devoid of human life. There is the constant impression of being all alone. The few people essential for the plot will step out of this darkness. But cyberpunk is not just darkness, but also gaudy neon lights: crazy characters, maladjusted punks, renegade sinners, drug addicts, like in one of the phantastic books by William Gibson. The fascination of the virtual reality which you can dock in to and in which you can go face to face with the powerful mega corporations. Maybe even a trip through space to another planet is an essential part of this much discussed cyber genre.
In this manner, Nightlong is a cuckoo's egg, because the game joins the genre through its atmosphere and theme, but finally doesn't offer actual cyberpunk. The mystery plot is thrilling, but the thematic link seems forced. Even going as far as the player losing any link to the plot and the theme during that part in the zoo.
The implausible characters could be one reason. Generally, they fit into a gangster story. Adapting them into the cyberpunk genre fails, because they are not believable in their situation. The stereotypical hero clichés of the Western genre don't fit well with the hard-boiled view on life of the inhabitants of this dystopian future as known from literary sources. On top of that, there should have been way more user controlled dialogue to involve the player more strongly into the game's world, so that it doesn't just consist of cut scenes.
I could also have done without many of those puzzles which are all about the one right pixel to push a button or about using a tiny object. At least graphically, the atmospheric link to the cyberpunk genre can be established. Nevertheless, as far as contents are concerned, it has not been used properly. Instead, the makers put all their energy into creating a super macho protagonist. To wrap the story up, this lonesome cowboy flies his aircar into sunset. Maybe to later bed Eva – the only female character in the whole game.
Translated by Mr Creosote