Online, Oct 2020
Mind Trap’s Temecula branch have been running two very highly rated avatar games, and their Murrieta venue seems to have decided to get in on the action. Operation Nightwalker is a zombie game with a WW2 setting, including use of German language throughout – which perhaps gave us an unfair advantage, since several of the team were fluent in that language. (That didn’t shortcut the game in any major way, it just saved time on some translation tasks.) Your aim is to infiltrate an Axis medical facility to find a way of stopping the zombie army. At least, I think that was the goal; the storyline felt of secondary importance here, in much the way the plot can be a minor part of a big budget action movie.
Gameplay uses an inventory system, including a 3D view of the room, though I used that only a little. Much more important was the ability to inspect items closely. Nightwalker has an atmospheric green lighting scheme throughout, which suits the theme very well but makes it tough to see objects clearly via the avatar’s camera feed; writing in particular tended to get lost in the glare of torchlight. But since we could see the objects in the inventory screen, that didn’t particularly become a problem.
Mind Trap have gained a reputation for their previous avatar games, and although I haven’t played those myself the decor standard in Nightwalker speaks to the company’s quality. A well-built and convincing set has less of an effect across a Zoom call, but this one still comes over very well. The puzzles fit well with the environment and feel more or less like ‘realistic’ steps involved in entering the lab and finding the cure, not arbitrary hoops to jump through.
At the same time, I got the impression that many of the puzzles would work better in person. I seem to be saying this a lot recently, so maybe that’s true of most rooms and I’m just suffering from physical escape room withdrawal. Maybe it’s more noticeable because Nightwalker has a great set and plenty of big tactile puzzles that I’d like to play hands-on; perhaps I noticed that more with this game precisely because the puzzles were impressive. In any case though, Nightwalker has been converted in a way that adds to the experience, somewhat compensating for what the format takes away.
That comes through firstly in a couple of cool effects that they use to heighten the immersion. The way they run Nightwalker adds in drama in another way that I won’t describe for spoiler reasons, but which absolutely helps it stand out from the crowd and which may provide many players’ favourite moments of the game.
Which is to say, Operation Nightwalker was clearly an impressive game. It would have been (even?) more impressive in person, and playing via avatar compromised some of its strengths – it’s a physical, visceral game that’s hard to translate to virtual. However, they’ve done an unusually good job of doing that translation. If you might have the chance to play it in person, I’d still suggest holding off to do that; but otherwise it’s certainly one of the stronger options available for an avatar game.