It was by absolute chance that I stumbled across The Closing Shift, by Chilla’s Art. When I saw the gameplay for the game, I fell in love, proposed, and then got married by buying it immediately on Steam.
Several factors lured me in: ambiguity, monotony(!), life as a barista, Japan location, the aesthetics and… well, that’ll do you. At a glance, the visuals are almost hyper-realistic, but put through the wash a few times for vintage effect and assuming the washing machine is, in fact, a dodgy VHS machine that chews up tapes.
You play a woman who works in Chilla’s Coffee – a coffee shop in the city. Your shift happens to begin at night, so expect to deal with the night owls, a lot of silence, and being spooked by your reflection. Oh, is that real life trickling through in this review? You get the point. It’s edgy.
While I’m no expert on Japan, let alone anything, I used to live there. The Closing Shift’s representation of a ‘bustling city’ that feels completely isolated, with bathrooms only slightly bigger than a fridge, is excellent. There aren’t people walking the streets – just shady characters hiding in bike sheds – and everything seems… so ‘normal’.
Arriving at your place of work, you’ll speak to your superior, who’ll point you in the direction of the tutorial – a VHS deck that shows you how to make coffee. Pfft! I don’t need this. How hard can it be? As a non-coffee drinker, that is, I drink el cheapo pods in the morning, the varieties of drinks here may as well be in Swahili, which I don’t speak. Not only didn’t I understand what goes in the drink, but how the bloody hell do you make it before the customer leaves?
Those VHS tapes? Yeah… they show you how to make it, plus there are noticeboards in The Closing Shift that tell you the ingredients. No matter, it took a fair amount of time (not long) to learn the mechanics, and do you know what? The Closing Shift is quite an enjoyable coffee simulator! Relaxing, methodical and somewhat therapeutic. But if you look at the store page on Steam, this says… horror?
As the game progresses, you promptly forget the context of this game, even ignoring the customers who warn of a stalker. Apparently, it’s pretty common. I know people who’ve genuinely had them. That comes to light more as you start ‘imagining’ someone watching you until you find a photograph taken of you left on a table while on your shift. I was more creeped out about the guy who comes in and demands your phone number as he’s considered handsome and popular in the area. His words.
Somewhat expected, the jumpscares start to pop up a bit more, and because of the animation style, it can be quite comical. The NPCs in The Closing Shift often move like they’re on speed, but as their body faces one way, their heads are almost locked on you. It dilutes the silliness of some of it and is quite unsettling. Though it’s not the horror element that’s the standout, but the frustration in not knowing what to do next. There aren’t always pointers – now and again, you’re told to clean up, but even in the short playthrough (Which took me a couple of hours), you might find yourself wandering in such a small space.
The atmosphere of the game – that visceral video nasty feel reminiscent of Paratopic and the more recent Happy’s Humble Burger Farm makes up for the confusion. For the most part, I was looking forward to the customers arriving and keen to show off how well I knew the menu without looking for guidance. In some respect, it mirrors those therapeutic motor skills found in the typical [insert generic title] simulators, and could have spent a bit more time making drinks.
But, getting back to the overall premise, The Closing Shift is an interesting experience with a frightening theme. The ending, no spoilers, was a good one and wasn’t immediately obvious, though the outcome was. That’s not a negative comment as I was very satisfied with Chilla’s Art’s game. I’ll be adding some of their other titles to my belt once I’ve finished Elden Ring for the first time. Yep, I finally conceded. Anyway, The Closing Shift is niche, so if you like horrors, walking simulators and games that exude a decent ambience whilst on a small budget, check it out.