Countless developers have tried to fuse cinema and video games in an interesting ways over the years, from the grainy live-action cinematography of Mad Dog McCree to the filmic structure of Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us. Late Shift marks the latest attempt to cross the streams, letting players make choices at critical junctures that supposedly shape the direction of a heist film. While there is promise in the idea of having the player steer the events of a movie, Late Shift proves over repeated playthroughs that it can’t live up to the promise of its premise.
Late Shift stars Matt, a university student who works as a parking attendant at night to pay the bills. After a series of unfortunate events, Matt is soon pulled into the heist of an expensive piece of pottery with a ragtag group of criminals. From that point on, you’re making choices based on the drama at hand, and the game never lets you forget this. Matt constantly bombards you with his inner thoughts. Should I play along, he narrates at one point during the heist, or stop this little crimewave in its tracks? This sort of narration would be easier to stomach if the Late Shift didn’t bungle its choice-driven structure from the get-go.
Late Shift hinges on the idea that the player’s decisions matter and carry weight but nearly every choice I made during my three playthroughs of Late Shift ultimately looped back into the main storyline. In one playthrough I had Matt play along with the heist crew and they completed the heist with a few bumps along the way. In another one, I had him actively try to dismantle the operation by alerting the authorities and setting off alarms. Both segments ended the same: The crew eventually made its getaway safe and sound. This sort of thing happens at most junctures, with you diverting Matt from the main storyline for a bit, only to return to that line moments later. Outside of one major decision at the halfway point that sends you down one path or the other, the only differences I could notice were that people were either happy or mildly annoyed with Matt. That’s disappointing for a game that bills itself as an experience where you control the movie.
To Late Shift’s credit, the seven endings are distinct, but the means to get them are so arbitrary that it cheapens the whole experience. The lack of a chapter select and rewind/fast forward mechanic also requires you to play the entire game over again each time to see the different conclusions, remembering which choices you made and where they lead if you want to see all seven of those branching endings.
As a movie, Late Shift is an enjoyable time. The acting is good, the script is well-written, the cinematography is serviceable and occasionally great, which all results in a competent genre film. However, Late Shift’s rigid structure makes it less appealing as a game, with the high production values failing to hide the fact that your choices don’t amount to much at all.