What is the Midnight Caravan? A new grindcore band from the city, the freshest metrosexual cocktail (is that still a term?) or the latest phrase for a Dirty Sanchez? None of the above. Midnight Caravan is a visual novel(?) – a narrative-driven story available on Steam.
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A historical piece set on the outskirts of Rome after the French occupation is ended by the Congress of Vienna, you play a nameless vagabond who leads a troupe of scallywags, earning coin for gambling, shady deals and the oldest profession in the book.
You weren’t born into this lifestyle, rather, your hand was forced by that swine Cassini. For some unknown reason, he shows up at the beginning of the Midnight Caravan, from Gamera Interactive (also behind the superb The Wardrobe), and proceeds to rip apart your life in a short space of time. With the authorities after you, you change your name and travel from place to place.
So, it’s Caravan Tycoon then? Not exactly, but you must make some money in Midnight Caravan as without it, you can’t feed and water your extended family, oil up officials or afford that new top hat you saw in town. If you run out of money, or health, it’s game over.
The story kicks in quite swiftly. After being on the road, living anonymously and building a large entourage, a former acquaintance tracks you down and asks if you want in on a job. The job is to put a fellow in touch with this acquaintance’s employer. All very shady, the name of the target is you.
After that scoundrel Cassini effed everything up, you’ve changed your name, so the person they’re after is your true identity. What do you do? Go along with him and set up a patsy, send him on his way, or does he already know you’re the target?
Midnight Caravan is chock full of deception and double-crossing. The sheer uncertainty of it all had me on edge throughout. Throughout the backstabbing shenanigans, there’s a compelling classical accompaniment which generally unsettling. The unpredictable nature of the era, the plot and the characters involved make this an anxiety-fulled event, but a good one.
Besides the beautiful illustrations and narrative constructs that the Midnight Caravan game boasts, it’s the consequences that matter. There might be a confrontation that involves you killing someone, take a beating, stabbings and being shot, thus putting you on the fast train to Deathsville.
There are plenty of paths in the game with multiple dialogue responses that repeated playthroughs are encouraged. When you die, it’s game over, and you’ll return to an autosave. With deteriorating health – from an old wound or catching a virus, it’s critical to make the right choice. It’s possible to save your game at intervals, but you can’t have multiple files, so if you cock-up, you’re pretty much stuck until you reach the end or restart.
There was only one occasion where a medic comes to the caravan and heals you. Survival chances can be slim. However, there is always a ‘clean path’ where you’ll come out unscathed.
Other than money and health, your suspicion levels reach too much attention, and you’ll fast track a visit from thugs, the fuzz or some shadier characters that it’s perhaps best not to talk about. After a couple of playthroughs, I haven’t raised my suspicion enough to get a game over, but I wouldn’t rule it out.
Naturally, the loss of resources impacts the game and can make the Midnight Caravan experience feel a little doomed, but I managed to finish it on my first playthrough (albeit with a few deaths). It’s a little unfair in places, but more to do with the atmosphere and general tone of the subject matter.
Issues with the game are minor. Mostly it’s spelling mistakes or awkward grammar like using ‘him’ instead of ‘he’ or in the wrong tense. While it’s noticeable, it doesn’t spoil the mood as Midnight Caravan is well -written and engaging that it was impossible to leave. It’s not the kind of game I’d expect to forfeit a pizza and a movie on a Friday night, but I did and had no regrets. We had pizza and a movie on Sunday.
There were a couple of other niggles like the backgrounds not changing when you moved location or perhaps using the same assets when you visit the streets or even a stately home owned by different people. Still, as mentioned, it doesn’t spoil the experience and are minor imperfections. In short, I thoroughly enjoyed Midnight Caravan – enough to blow out some of the other games I have to play at the moment and am chipping away at some of the arcs missed on different paths, life seducing characters, or befriending thugs.
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The era isn’t one I know anything about, nor have much interest in, but as mentioned, the Midnight Caravan story is very engaging, has really excellent illustrations and a score that, admittedly, I had to mute a couple of times as it was making me anxious (meaning it did the job – very effective) and overall, an experience that was well worth ditching pizza for.
- Excellent story.
- Multiple paths and outcomes.
- ‘Vintage’ style of illustrations are beautiful.
- Powerful classical score.
- A few spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
- Repeated assets a little ‘samey’.
- Only one save means the path can be risky.