Humans are are attracted to conspiracy theories because they promise to add concrete cause and effect to the seemingly random and chaotic events that define our history and steer us towards the future. And while most don’t truly believe that the moon landing in the 60s was really filmed on a CIA sound stage or that aliens crashed in Roswell in 1947, it is still fun to imagine what the world would be like if such rumors were true and can make the subject a compelling background for fiction.
This is the background that is presented to us in Majestic Nights. In an alternate 1980’s California you play as John Q. Cardholder a leather jacket wearing, mullet sporting former CIA operative who has, as can be gleaned from the game’s witty and intelligent writing, been involved in some of the biggest conspiracies and cover-ups of the 20th century. In a world where conspiracies are real and lay just under the noses of the collective public , you must get to the bottom of a CIA cover-up that could have vast and sweeping implications.
In particular, I played through episode Zero of the game, a prologue that sees John infiltrating a CIA base located under a dance club to find and apprehend a man known as Rubrick, an take on 2001: A Space Odyssey director, Stanley Kubrick. Rubrick, who much like his name sake is a movie director, is said to have been involved in not only the film of the Kennedy assassination, but also in faking the moon landing as well. As John Q. Cardholder, it is up to you to uncover the truth before the CIA silences you forever.
So that is the fluff behind Majestic Nights, a world where conspiracies are truth and cover-ups are just a days work for the American government. But how does it play, you may ask? Well, you control John with a four directional button set up that places your movement on the WASD keys. Movement is not difficult, and the controls are actually quite good, but I often found myself attempting a some kind of claw maneuver in order to both hold down the directional keys and hold shift to make John run at the same time.
Less accurate is the game’s shooting mechanism, which awkwardly has the player hold down the right mouse button to aim and the left mouse button to fire. This was not a terrible way of doing things, but it can leave the player scrambling to fire when surrounded by CIA Agents and I died several times because of it.
The gameplay of Majestic Nights is a a combination of adventure game style item collecting and information gathering, stealth, and gunplay. All seen from a 3/4, over the shoulder, isometric view point, the game manages to mix challenging action sequences, here demonstrated with John having to sneak into his house to retrieve a gun while avoid CIA agents, and later as he must shoot his way through an underground base in search of Mr, Rubrick. These sequences are fun, if nerve wracking, due to fact that you can only take a bullet or two before dying, and provide a nice companion to the information gathering sequences,
Another thing that I loved about Majestic Nights is its aesthetic. The game oozes 80s from every pore, from John’s hair and leather jacket, to the copious amounts of neon, synth music, and references to pop culture of the era, the game captures the era in an appealing and amusing manner. This is tempered by the games writing, which is both interesting and mysterious, lending NPC’s to drop small hints about John’s past and the world surrounding him that make you want to play more and find out just what is going on here. Overall, I’ll be looking forward to Majestic Night’s full release when it drops later this year for PC, iOS, and Android and I think you, the parts of the audience that enjoy adventure games and mysteries, should to.
Now, before I go, I want to mention the few negatives I encountered while playing the prologue. First, the game is blisteringly hard at times. This may have been my own fault for putting the difficulty setting to high, but the fact that there are no respawn points beside the beginning of a scene in this early version of the game make it hard, and frustrating, to replay segments over and over when you were gunned down mere feet from the exit. Also, there were a number of bugs here, such as John becoming locked in a strange frame of animation after taking cover, and enemies that would clip through your person, which looked ridiculous and makes it nearly impossible to shoot them. Hopefully those latter issues will be taken care of in future versions of the game, while the difficulty is something that is more of a personal issue of mine then anything.
In the end, Majestic Nights is a good and exciting indie game that I hope lives up to the great potential I saw here.