Single screen local multiplayer games had something of a resurgence over the past 5 years, games like Gang Beasts, Overcooked, Nidhogg and Ultimate Chicken Horse all came like in like a tsunami quenching the first of many a Youtuber’s uploads. The pick up an play ability of these games meant that players of any skill level could get involved and have a good time. At Sundown: Shots in the Dark tries its best to keep this tradition alive for just a bit longer, but does it hit its mark?
The elevator pitch for At Sundown is quite simple, up to four players start in an arena, the lights switch off apart from a few select locations. All players turn invisible in the shadows and must both navigate themselves through the mazes and find their opponents to blow them away with an array of weapons. Every time a weapon is shot they show up on the screen for everyone meaning that you must make your first shot count before skittering away into the darkness to stalk your next target.
On the face of it At Sundown is a great concept, there’s an element of skill and reaction but a lot of the game is actually decided on luck and chaos. During its best moments the game quickly jumps between quiet contemplation about where someone might be now based on their previous sighting, predicting where they went and where they might be, and then, in a split second, everyone is firing off shots and running for their lives before returning to the shadows and the quiet.
The problem for At Sundown is that this game isn’t as pick up and play as the other games I listed above. Firstly the other games rely on one key element, non-gamers can play them. Overcooked has only a couple of buttons, Gangbeasts can be played with button mashing, Nidhogg has a simple concept and Ultimate Chicken Horse is a platformer which even non-gamers recognise. Now don’t get me wrong, all of these games have a learning curve, there’s a benefit to having played games before and there is the ability for high level play if you want to go down the route of being a world class Nidhogg player. At Sundown however is not a game for people who don’t play games, trying to break this game out at a social gathering where you may have done Jackbox is just not going to work. Players are required to keep an eye on three different elements, their aim, their location and the enemies locations, this is no simple task even for ‘hardcore’ gamers. On top of that all of the games i mentioned are open and ready to be fully played from the outset (exception is Overcooked level progression). On the flip side At Sundown has unlock system for players to gain new weapons and game modes. This means that whoever owns the game will have to play a lot on their own or sacrifice their friendships to get everything.
I say play on their own because in the past week I have tried a couple of times every day to find an online game on the PS4 version of the game, I’ve tried Quick Game and I’ve tried hosting and at no point have I managed to find a game, this was all done post launch. This meant I was relegated to playing bots and waiting for friends to come over. I take great issue with playing against bots on a game like this, the whole concept relies on human error; walking into a light, letting off a shot too early, not being clever with the way you hide after being visible. A computer doesn’t make real mistakes, there are difficulty options that mean you can ramp it up but it all feels somewhat unfair as the AI has to essentially pretend not to see you, or you have to have faith that it’s doing that.
All of this negativity is under the presumption that you’ll be breaking this out at parties and that the game is trying to claim some of that ‘games night’ action, assuming that isn’t the target I can say that with four players who are all invested and have an idea of the controls and concept, this is actually really fun. The mind games that can be implemented and the tactics you discover all come together to produce a really solid multiplayer experience. It’s beautiful chaos that causes shouting and swearing which is exactly what you want in a single screen multiplayer game.
Graphically the game has gone for a bright and colourful style that does well to contrast with the invisible shadow nature of the game and the soundtrack is suitably pumping enough to get you in the spirit of things. The various weapon unlocks all bring something new to the table like the Sniper that can shoot through walls but takes about four years to reload or the amazingly cool umbrella that requires close up attacks but can also act as a shield when deployed.
As with all local multiplayer games it comes down to who you’re playing it with. If someone is willing to learn over a few games before getting into the serious play then they’ll be rewarded with a really solid arena shooter with a very clever stealth mechanic at play. But as I said above, this does require some pre-play if you’re looking to show off all the cool things At Sundown hides behind XP and levelling.