Defending Night Trap by Comparison

Yes, I mean this infamous game. Night Trap was a financial success when released in 1992, but a critical failure. And it has the distinct honor of being the game responsible for the creation of the ESRB, in part thanks to this then-controversial bathroom scene. Nowadays no one would bat an eye at this.

Night Trap is a popular game to hate on. But today I’m going to demonstrate how the core gameplay concept is actually entertaining, especially when well executed.

The Gameplay

From Wikipedia:

Referred to as "control", the player views events via hidden cameras set up in eight different locations, which can be viewed one at a time. As the aforementioned [vampires] creep into the house, the player has to spot them and use traps to capture them. At the bottom of a screen rests a small meter; when this meter fills, it is the player’s signal to activate a trap in the room being viewed (i.e. a revolving bookcase or a faux seal on the floor) and capture the [vampires] on screen, adding to the score.

The player must also have the correct security access color code selected on screen in order for the traps to work. The code is changed four times throughout the course of the game, and keeping up with the accurate code requires listening in on key conversations. Ultimately, high performance requires repeat plays in order to gain complete knowledge of the story and capture all [vampires] possible. Time always moves forward, cannot be rewound, and if too many vampires are missed, the game ends. The game will also end if certain characters are taken away or if the hosts of the slumber party disconnect the player’s access to the traps.

In other words, you’re frantically switching between camera views while trying to keep up with everything going on inside the house, and you have an inherent time-limit hanging over your head. This is a fundamentally basic gameplay concept. Where Night Trap failed is in its execution. If you never played it, take a look. Try not to laugh too hard. Except for the part where the girls sing that song about Night Trap. Laugh at that part until you rupture an organ, if you want.

So How Exactly Was Night Trap’s Gameplay Good?

Ever hear of Five Nights at Freddy’s? Here’s the gameplay description, again from Wikipedia:

The player must survive their shift, lasting from midnight to 6:00 a.m. (approximately 8 to 9 minutes of real time, 4-5 minutes on the mobile and tablet editions), without being attacked by one of the animatronic animal robots roaming the facility. The player, who sits in an office and is unable to move, is given access to a network of security cameras throughout the facility to track the movement of the animatronic robots. Four of the five characters have distinct movement patterns; however, most of the characters’ movements take place off-screen. The camera feeds are dimly lit and distorted, one of the rooms only contains an audio feed, and the cameras do not cover certain areas of the building, most notably the two hallways directly to the left and right of the player. The player cannot leave the guard room, but can close the doors to defend themselves, and briefly turn on lights in the hallways to check for animatronics. Use of these actions consume the player’s limited electrical power; if the power runs out, the cameras become inoperable, the doors open, and the lights go out, leaving the player with no defense against an attack.

Switching between cameras to try and catch monsters? A time-limit in the form of electrical power and a clock (Five Nights at Freddy’s) or in the number of women captured (Night Trap)? Boiled down to their essence, these are the same game.

Five Nights at Freddy’s has gone on to receive heaps of critical acclaim, and personally I think it’s a fun game. But it demonstrates that not everything about Night Trap was a disaster. Quite the contrary, the core gameplay concept of Night Trap was an interesting one that was overshadowed by poor execution, acting, quality, and so on. But Five Nights at Freddy’s proves to me that a game based around simply viewing security cameras as you search for danger is a viable game mechanic, and one which I imagine could be taken to further extremes.

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