Midnight Fight Express is a 3D isometric beat ’em up from solo developer Jacob Dzwinel. It also features a soundtrack by Noisecream who did music for My Friend Pedro.
You take control of an amnesiac in police custody being interrogated, but the plot actually takes place in flashbacks that detail what your character, known only as Babyface, is telling the cops. In these flashbacks you awaken to a delivery containing an advanced talking drone. Droney, as it calls itself, was sent to activate you as a sleeper agent with the goal to prevent a bloody city-wide crime plot.
The story is thin, but it’s clear it’s having fun with its writing. While none of its weird twists or attempts at drama landed for me, I can’t deny I was curious to see the conclusion. The outright silly gangs of baddies that you’re introduced to and their goofy dialog are often entertaining, but not enough so to be memorable. You’re bombarded with information about enemy characters whose importance is talked up and ultimately forgotten as soon as a level is completed, and of the 40 total levels, some can be surprisingly brief.
Gameplay is focused on a singular facet — Batman Arkham-style combat, which emphasizes reacting to counter prompts and initiating flashy finisher animations after landing repeated attacks. You’re also able to utilize the environment by punishing enemies against walls, grabbing melee weapons, or throwing items. Guns come into play periodically as well, and their overwhelming power can be a really fun way to diversify encounters by turning you into either John Wick or John Doe in an instant.
Over the course of the game you’ll grow a deep repertoire of moves, as finishing a level rewards a point you can spend freely in the skill tree. It’s divided into a few different disciplines like striking, grabs, finishers, and special ammo for a sidearm. Eventually you’ll be able to unlock and use them all, allowing the diversity of attack options and their accompanying animations to shine. Using inventive combos and taking down enemies with style is its own reward, as there’s not a ton of incentive to stray from what works.
Enemies vary in style between levels quite a bit, but not in their mechanics. You’re introduced to a few classes of bad guys and will deal with many of the same ones from that point forward. Difficulty is handled more by increasing the number of enemies and the lethality of their weapons and attacks rather than any additional mechanics, which leads to some very cheap encounters — especially against bosses. I felt I had to play cheap myself by chain-grabbing constantly to keep from being attacked, effectively killing the cool factor of those fights.
It doesn’t help that a great deal of the levels blend together as a forgettable blur, either for taking so little time to complete or for looking too similar. There are definite standout set pieces, like a jet ski chase and train brawl, but I’m not a fan of the overall simplistic art style. The game taking place at night also limits a lot of the color options in the urban settings, leading to some bland-looking streets and rooftops. I was otherwise impressed with the quality and sheer amount of animations. Thanks to unlocked skills and weapon-specific finishers, I was still seeing new ones well into the late game.
The music, despite having individual tracks for all 40 levels, unfortunately left little to no impression, which is disappointing as Noisecream’s tracklist for My Friend Pedro was a highlight for that title.
Midnight Fight Express leans heavily on its deep combat system but doesn’t build an interesting enough sandbox to encourage players to make the most of it. While I had some fun during my five-hour playthrough, its goofy story coupled with forgettable locales and music dampen an otherwise good beat ’em up.
Midnight Fight Express is out August 23 on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, and Nintendo Switch.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Midnight Fight Express.