Midnight Fight Express is an isometric 3D brawler filled with creative hand-to-hand combat and plenty of blood. It’s the first title from Jacob Dzwinel, a solo developer from Poland.
It was published by Humble Games, who has consistently championed small titles and devs with promise. They are probably best known for Temtem, a creature collector alternative to Pokémon that offers MMO gameplay and recently released a trailer for the new 1.0 update.
Midnight Fight Express is a story-driven game, where players assume the role of a sleeper agent that recalls an action-packed night while being interrogated by the police. You’ll fight through a series of seedy urban areas, defeating gangs and criminals who have banded together to take over the city.
The art design, dialogue, and music all create a gloriously pulpy experience that blends together the best elements of movies like The Warriors and John Wick. It’s gritty, funny, self-aware, and has neat choreography.
Did I mention the music? The soundtrack is an experience of its own, both telling and improving the story with adrenaline and style. The music plays a large role in the game, and should definitely please any fans of Daft Punk, Skrillex, or Aviici and the like. The only drawback is that different locations don’t have unique sounds and personalities. But the entire city is supposed to feel that way, anyway.
The plot is simple, and remains that way in the early game, but it serves its purpose of moving players from one terrific action set piece to another in various locations. Also, the plot doesn’t waste any time at all, and the escalation is paced well.
The story quickly begins with a talking drone waking up the player, and then leading them through a fast-paced tutorial.
The game swiftly introduces combat, which first seems a little disappointing; a sleeper agent ought to have better attacks than mere haymakers. But that quickly changes, as you learn to expertly block, dodge, and best of all—interact with the environment.
The ability to interact with familiar, basic objects in your surroundings creates a tactile flow and realism to the gameplay. It definitely makes everything feel like an old school bar fight, as players can find random things to wield or throw around. This includes everything from blunt weapons, weapons from downed enemies, and even chairs or boxes.
Combat is easy to pick up, but not so simplistic that it becomes boring. The motion-capture approach has clearly paid off, with solid and engaging reactions, movement and techniques. It feels grounded, which provides a reliable foundation for other mechanics to successfully go totally over the top later on.
During fights, players build up a Rage Meter. When it’s full up, your combat abilities improve for a while. You can also fill up a Focus Bar by landing successful attacks. This allows you to scan your surroundings.
Blocking requires a decent sense of timing, and the visual prompt makes it a little too easy early on. However, given the quickly escalating chaos, this proves to be a smart mechanic.
Otherwise, there could easily be too much to follow on the screen while pulling off that kind of timing. A lot of the combat involves multiple enemies at once, which is one of the highlights of the game.
Some enemies also require you to break their defensive stance, or they cannot be blocked and must be dodged. This keeps the brawling from getting redundant, which was a serious concern until I started playing.
The tutorial also adds explosives and guns to the mix. At first, the idea of gunplay felt very disappointing and odd for a brawler. But the magazines are limited, so that you can always get back to the addictive hand-to-hand battles.
Throwable explosives, meanwhile, don’t feel very satisfying. The explosion itself looks outrageously gory and fun, but the sound effects don’t add a sense of physics.
The drone, which is naturally nicknamed “Droney”, is a clever way to guide players in-game without removing the one-man army gameplay. Droney gives you access to certain abilities, such as marking items that can be thrown. But the drone never feels like a distraction, or too overpowered. You can even enter a photo mode with Droney and take screenshots.
After the first level is complete, players earn a score based on various achievements. These include your completed challenges, gold teeth collected, best combo, and kill diversity. Kill diversity refers to your methods, inviting players to get creative. There’s also a time bonus, which adds to the urgent pace of the music and level design in a rewarding way.
With your final results in, you can double-check how you compare to overall leaderboards for scoring and time, which adds even more replay value.
Players can unlock skins, more challenges, new soundtracks, and skill points to upgrade their character. There are surprisingly full skill trees in a variety of categories.
These include basic fighting, blocking, finishers, grappling, the rope gun and secondary guns. Some skills will ask you to complete a certain number of levels before they can be purchased, even if you have the skill points necessary.
Unlocking new combat moves is a fun grind that also fits the story, since you’re a sleeper agent that’s slowly remembering their innate abilities. This isn’t the kind of game that required a lot of customization from fans, and the degree of effort is much appreciated.
You can also customize the appearance of Babyface with clothes, body and skin adjustments. Clothes include the head gear, upper body, lower body, gloves and shoes. Yes, you can destroy the entire criminal underbelly in cargo shorts, if you want.
The enemies have some great designs too, and in different locations, they’ll have weapons or outfits that earn genuine laughs. In the bathroom level, some enemies use toilet seats for shields, and that’s exactly the kind of runaway nonsense that fans could ever want from a game like this.
The Final Word
Midnight Fight Express understands its nature and audience, excelling in every way. The combat is smooth and creative, the overall style is amusing and self-aware, and the adrenaline of its music and pacing is very appealing. This is, surprisingly, a modern-day arcade classic, and should definitely please fans of the best side-scrolling brawlers.
Our Midnight Fight Express review was written based on the Xbox One version of the game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website!