Everyone has moments where they feel like their life is a complete wreck. Moments where they’re ashamed of their mistakes, and are down on simply being human. That’s the state that Night in the Woods protagonist Mae Borowski is in as she returns to her hometown not as the first in her family to graduate college, but as a dropout without any clear plans for the future. All she wants is to find some sort of normalcy, and she believes that reconnecting with her childhood friends will do just that.
It doesn’t take her long to track down the few pals she had in the small town of Possum Springs, but things have changed. The carefree Gregg now spends his days working at the Snack Falcon (a convenience store that wasn’t even built when Mae was last in town) while living with his boyfriend Angus, and her former best friend Bae seems to resent her. Exploring these ever changing relationships takes up most of the game, while the main story focuses on Mae trying to get her life together. Oh, and the crew ends up finding an arm laying in the middle of the street, signifying that the mysterious small town isn’t nearly as safe as it first seems.
Mae clearly has a lot on her plate, and it’s up to the player to decide who exactly she spends time with during the game. These hang out sessions will determine how much of a character the player gets to learn about, and they’ll have to choose wisely as the game doesn’t allow the player to see all of these unique scenes that end each day. On top of making choices, there’s a lot of side stories that help make Possum Springs feel alive.
Mae controls as if she was in a 2D platformer, and the player can jump on top of all sorts of objects, including telephone lines, in order to explore the town. It’s here where she can befriend the town’s single homeless resident, find baby mice that she can feed, and even explore the constellations with her former Astronomy teacher. Possum Springs, much like the game its found within, is bursting with personality.
Since the game is dealing with young adults, you can expect to hear a lot of philosophical thoughts from people that don’t fully have a grasp on what exactly they’re talking about. There’s still enough knowledge and life experience there to make good points, but it’s fitting that a group of friends that are just trying to make life simply work at the moment wouldn’t have all the answers to life’s biggest questions. This might end up having to do more with my own insecurities, but these flawed anthropomorphic animal characters ended up being far more relatable than any virtual humans have.
One early moment that really stood out was when Mae and her friends held band practice for the first time since she was back. They played a song that I’m still humming days later called “Die Anywhere Else,” which is about feeling trapped in a small town and coming to terms with death as long as it wasn’t there. It was practically a song that I had written dozens of times as a teenager, although I never had the genius idea of combining my thoughts of dying and hatred of my town into one song (it’s probably why I’m a critic and not a musician). It was an incredibly genuine moment in a game filled with dozens of them.
It’s these small moments that end up defining Night in the Woods. While it was impossible to ignore the fact that I had found an arm outside a diner, I was still far more fascinated by the day-to-day lives of the residents of Possum Springs. From listening to a down on her luck poet to hanging out with a troubled 15-year-old that spends evenings sleeping near train tracks, almost every minor character feels fleshed out, and I enjoyed checking in with them on a daily basis.
The main plot thread eventually does pick up, and its conclusion is sadly the one area where Night in the Woods falls flat. It’s not a deal breaker, and I’m not even sure I’d go as far to call it bad, but it certainly feels generic. I was shocked that a game with a huge amount of incredible writing and personality would fall back to tired horror tropes for its biggest moments. It didn’t leave me satisfied, and left more than a few major questions unanswered.
Despite the slightly disappointing final act, the first thing I did upon completing the game was start a new save file. I wanted to see the other character events that I missed, and to seek out more of the side-quests. Well, at least I thought I did. About an hour into my second playthrough I realized that I’d actually need to play the game three times to see all of the friend hangout sessions that I adored. That was too much of a time obligation for me, and I really wished there had been some sort of new game plus option in order to make it more replayable. I guess that’s what YouTube is for.
The conclusion of Night in the Woods raises more questions than it answers, but I can’t say I’m all that bothered by it. Developer Infinite Fall might get messy with its broad strokes, but it’s the fine details that make their latest game so special. I might not be pleased with how Possum Springs’ mystery ended, but I got to meet some of the most interesting characters in gaming. Looking back at it, those connections are far more important.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was purchased by the reviewer.
Night in the Woods might get messy with its broad strokes, but it's the fine details that make the game so special.