Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
August 23, 2022
Unity lead developer and dad from Poland, Jacob Dzwinel offers the action movie experience with Midnight Fight Express. The isometrical brawler puts players in control of blockbuster combat, all against impossible odds. While it may need a bit more development support, this Humble Bundle published game is an absolute blast to play.
Midnight Fight Express launches players straight into the chaos of a corrupt city. Babyface is a former criminal underworld legend revived by an unknown ally controlling an AI drone. Your task: fight through the seedy underground and defeat several crime bosses before a citywide takeover becomes too severe.
Along the way, Droney, a couple of interrogators, and other NPCs convey most of the narrative through text dialogue. Entering a new space often stops gameplay and gives a couple of seconds to a henchman or main character to say a few humorous words about Babyface or the city’s status. While not as engaging as voice acting, the text makes it simple to skip all pop-ups and keep beating-up goons.
Babyface’s unknown history slowly unveils itself as you encounter Lil’ Tony, Arlena, and other figureheads of the crime scene. There are subtle and not-so-subtle references to martial arts movies littered throughout the plot, and even fun additions like toxic rat people or Popeye the Sailor Man injecting spinach into his veins. Admittedly, the story isn’t anything complex or surprising and sticks to being a tribute to ultra-violent media.
I once saw him kill three men in a bar… with a pencil
The gameplay involves getting up close and personal with waves of foes. Dodge, counter, and finish off enemies with a range of different avenues of mayhem. Starting with hand-to-hand combat and mixing in throwable chairs, weapons, and explosives from the environment enables so much creativity in how Babyface clears rooms.
Progressing through the campaign, new weapons will be discovered that add another imaginative piece to the brawler sandbox. Picking up sledgehammers for more damaging attacks, stun guns to freeze enemies in place, or automatic weapons to shoot through crowds of tough bozos makes each level a fresh space to play within. However, power doesn’t come easy as newer and more dangerous goons or environmental hazards constantly introduce a twist that requires a strategy to defeat.
“Midnight Fight Express’ unique strength is how it allows players to weaponise everything…”
Midnight Fight Express’ unique strength is how it allows players to weaponise everything around Babyface. Furniture, toilet plungers, fish, pushing people off heights, slicing them in half with scimitars, throwing them off a moving train—there’s almost endless opportunity. If it becomes too easy, custom difficulty modes allow any player to direct the action to their preference, such as turning off all HUD for a truly cinematic experience. Or, if it becomes too difficult, players can jump into the Playground and practise moves and combos.
A few missions remove that distinct inventiveness. A speedboat chase, for example, locks the player into shooting at other speedboats and avoiding a helicopter. The action is still high-octane, jumping between boats to stay alive and avoid explosions. Still, these missions certainly don’t have the same impact as the rest of the game.
Absorb what is useful, discard what is not
The action-packed missions are backed up by a suite of upgrades and unlocks. Level up, power up, and tap into six different skill categories. It allows players to focus on the style of combat they enjoy most while ignoring the rest. Concentrating on fighting combos and parries makes Babyface the living image of Bruce Lee, whereas grapples and finishing moves turn the sleeper agent into a One Punch Man. There is an excellent range of combos to build. However, the rope and secondary gun trees feel a little less inspired and intuitive overall compared to other upgrades.
“Concentrating on fighting combos and parries makes Babyface the living image of Bruce Lee…”
Completing missions earns money and unlocks customisation options, too. Unlock a wide variety of cosmetic options ranging from the coat from The Matrix to scary clowns. There are over 150 pieces of clothing, in addition to skins of enemies and bosses, that Babyface or Droney can wear. Unfortunately, Babyface is masculine with no option to change body type or hairstyle. There are also no feminine enemies, besides bosses, throughout the game. A very, very upsetting oversight given it’s 2022.
After completing the initial campaign, Midnight Fight Express offers replayability through challenges and leaderboards. Each mission ends with a score, rating, and automatically saved GIF of best moments, which can be uploaded online for the fastest and most impressive brawlers’ fame. Achieving challenges unlocks more noteworthy cosmetic items for Babyface and encourages new ways to play a level. It’s not addicting to replay but there is some value in going back over the same missions with a completely upgraded skillset.
Is simplicity the key to brilliance?
Character design and environments have quite simple textures. While the settings and enemies vary throughout the game, it can still be hard to distinguish Bulky Bozos from The Muscle or see what items are usable. Shadows and lighting can also be hit and miss. The physics aren’t entirely consistent either, teetering between floaty and incredibly weighty. It’s not super realistic, but it does allow the combat and animation to shine.
There’s no doubt that Midnight Fight Express looks and plays like an action movie—that’s because it’s developed like one. The fluid and visceral combat features mocap animation by SuperAlloy Interaction and their artist and stunt performer Eric Jacobus. Every punch and flip is based on natural movement by an actual stunt person, which makes the animation so believable. It makes combat feel visceral.
The electric soundtrack is composed by artist Noisecream, who previously worked on My Friend Pedro: Ripe for Revenge and Roboquest, channelling that fight scene energy. The music does match the tone but gets old quickly. There is a lack of diversity in each track and they eventually all sound the same, using the same synths and instruments to make a heavy yet generic drum and bass score.
A controller is preferred but keyboard and mouse work just as well. Midnight Fight Express makes the game easy to play with fully remappable bindings. There is even a flashing light warning at launch, sliding bars to tone down screen shaking, and multiple difficulty toggles to make the game accessible.
- Action-packed combat makes you feel unkillable
- Extremely well animated movement
- Creative opportunities and use of environment
- Controls are fluid and easy to use
- Replayability with upgrades, unlockables, and leaderboards
- Generic electronic music
- Physics and graphics are lacking
- Missing diverse customisation options
Playing as Babyface with such smoothly animated mocap and fluent combo chains feels powerful. Being able to charge through levels, using everything in sight to bounce off goons like a martial arts master is an unstoppable sensation. Sure, the story isn’t that deep and doesn’t have the budget or quality of larger game studios, but the game compensates with very inventive fights. Midnight Fight Express is the John Wick experience in video game form.