The Nintendo Switch has a lot of things going for it: the Nintendo brand, portability, first party titles… and couch multiplayer. It’s been a while since we’ve seen this committed approach to local interaction, and in a world crazy over online multiplayer games, many, like me, see a tremendous appeal in playing with people in the same room. “At Sundown: Shots in the dark” follows this concept and builds its gameplay mechanics around it. Does it succeed?
The answer is: almost.
You see, the idea is quite simple: you are set in a single-screen stage, and are only seen when you’re lit up, either by environmental lighting or by firing your own gun. Your goal is to kill the other person (or people) 10 times (or as many times as you set it up in the menu). First one to accumulate those kills, wins.
The idea is fantastic, and it makes for hectic, fun gameplay. There’s a lot of “where the hell am I?” in “At Sundown: Shots in the Dark”, and it’s a question you can answer by revealing yourself… and the consequences it demands (usually getting killed).
There are a few different weapons (revolvers, SMGs, sniper rifles, etc), my favorite of which is the fire-rate-limited-but-very-spread-out-and-deadly shotgun. There are also a number of different types of characters to play as, though I did not notice as much of a difference in terms of how they played or controlled.
The level design is rather clever, and later stages include environmental hazards, which make the whole thing more complicated: do you reveal yourself in hopes of baiting your enemies out? Or do you wait in darkness? It’s really a rather fun concept.
The problem lies in its execution: we experienced constant framedrops, from the menu to almost every single stage. It did not render the game unplayable, but a shooter relies on being smooth to provide the best possible competitive experience. And “At Sundown: Shots in the Dark” ran at about 20fps most of the time, or in shooting game terms: molasses slow. It doesn’t look all that good, either, with dull-colored environments and low-poly-count models.
My family, who are not gamers themselves, did not notice it that much (though they did wonder out loud why their characters were “slow”), but as a more seasoned time-waster, I found the framedrops unforgivable for this genre. I can handle them in a game such as “Monopoly”, where the action is secondary to the strategy and moves, but if you’re relying to quick-as-a-flash reflects to kill opponents, you need the game to run well. While I know that 60fps is an ideal but difficult target for small teams on the Nintendo Switch, dips below 30fps are simply unacceptable in this genre.
So, at the end of the day, regardless of the potential of fun to be had with “At Sundown: Shots in the Dark” (of which there is plenty), the game is so hindered by performance issues that it makes it impossible to recommend it to anyone. I just hope the dev team is working on optimizing the title for the Switch, as I really want to play this when I have friends over. As the game stands right now, though, I simply can’t.
NOTE: The game also includes an online multiplayer mode, but this reviewer did not try that particular feature out (not least due to the performance issues in local multiplayer)