Nobody becomes a boxing champ or an MMA master overnight. These things require training, experience, and agility gained only by rigorous exercise. Knowing how to throw a solid punch is a good place to start, and this skill alone is enough for Babyface – our oppressed lead, billed a traitor by a mob boss – to dismantle an underworld formed of deadbeats, hired muscle, and crime lords.
Slowly, Babyface’s repertoire of fighting abilities grows – a controlled feed of one upgrade at the end of each stage; with forty stages and precisely the same amount of upgrades available.
Babyface begins as a bit of a pugilist, simply punching enemies and rolling out of harm’s way. By around the halfway mark, improvements become more than noticeable – enemies are spontaneously flung into environmental hazards, kicked to the ground, disarmed in a blink of an eye, and finished off with a barrage of kicks, punches, and the occasional magnum round to the face.
Viewed from an isometric perspective, and focused solely on brawling, Midnight Fight Express plays like a combination of Sifu and Fights in Tight Spaces, with a sly nod to Batman: Arkham Knight’s free-flowing combat system. Enemies are aggressive and attack in groups, being quick to both pick up discarded weapons and throw objects. Babyface – who details the story in retrospect, currently under interrogation – can withstand only three hits, making for a demanding and reasonably challenging experience. We managed to break the 500 deaths threshold during the penultimate stage.
The forty stages present are remarkably varied, each lasting around 10 minutes and set in different locations, varying from dive bars to airport lounges. Unique set-pieces, such as three-way battles and arenas with off-screen snipers, are common. Adding further variety, a trio of vehicle sections – including a motorbike chase – also feature, requiring quick reactions due to their fast pace.
New enemy types appear on almost every stage, with some – such as shielded SWAT police – requiring fresh approaches to defeat. Enemies that can only be killed with explosive damage can be bothersome, calling for creative thinking.
Each stage is ranked and designed with replay value in mind, offering online leaderboards and additional challenges. Collectables are, refreshingly, of non-traditional variety – loose gold teeth can be found and sold for cash, used to buy new attire, and you may spot the occasional approachable NPC. The former ties-in with a smattering of pop culture references.
Indeed, Midnight Fight Express doesn’t take itself seriously, with sci-fi themes creeping in towards the story’s end. A graveyard battle also takes a rather unexpected turn. Well, may not that unexpected.
Weapons must be used proficiently to remain (relatively) unscathed, and it soon becomes vital to deal with gun-totting goons before the rest of the pack. Heavy weapons satisfyingly bludgeon, swords send body parts flying, and electrical batons stun – handy for separating packs of goons.
Firearms have just a single clip of ammo, meaning once emptied, they’re only good for throwing. Eventually, two secondary items are added to Babyface’s arsenal, each with its own skill trees. The first is a handgun with different projectile types, including hypnosis bullets that temporarily turn foes, while the second is a rope that bounds and later electrifies.
Accounting for the new abilities and extended skill trees, the difficulty level rises in a pleasingly organic manner. As the story nears its conclusion, it’s essential to use the secondary gun practically the moment cooldown ends, while also making good use of throwables. Make every shot, and perry, count.
During the opening hour, I did wonder how much mileage I was going to get out of Midnight Fight Express – although it’s easy to apricate the motion capture work and stylish presentation, it’s slightly derivative initially.
Then, during a messy bar fight where enemies were being thrown over tables and bottles smashed over heads; the bigger picture become apparent. The whole experience is centered upon gradually building on its fighting systems, to the point where it’s eventually possible to seamlessly transition from one enemy to the next, dispatching them with speed, style, and grace. Had it shown its full hand straight away, it would be a far weaker experience.
Like a bar stool to the cranium, it successfully manages to make an impact.
Jacob Dzwinel’s Midnight Fight Express is out now on all formats. Published by Humble Bundle.