Nowadays there are limitless possibilities for video game setting choices, but in my opinion one of the most underutilized is the prison . The idea of being behind bars with no freedom is truly frightening, and from a design perspective you would think that such a very closed environment would be ideal. But the number of such games is negligible, and there are even fewer truly quality games. Fortunately, Back to Dawn is here to give you all the prison “romance” you’ve ever dreamed of.
- Developer: Metal Head Games
- Publisher: Spiral Up Games
- Release Date: November 3, 2023
Back To The Dawn is a jailbreak-style RPG from Metal Head Games that attempts to showcase the power of emotional connections, puzzle solving, and classic dice rolling. In doing so, it shines with a beautiful soundtrack and unique graphics. But despite all the advantages, the game also has some shortcomings, which we will talk about later.
The game offers players a unique look at the prison system based on Hollywood movies. You will primarily play the role of Fox Thomas, a journalist who is framed by a corrupt official in the mayoral election. As the game progresses, you can escape from prison, work in gangs and tell your story. In this corrupt story, you’ll have to not only maximize your connections with the prisoners, but also exploit them. Back To The Dawn offers players the opportunity to obtain new and otherwise unavailable items by creating as many social situations as possible. To make sure you make it out of this hellhole alive, each character has different options, dialogs and means to an end!
Just like in everyday life, behind bars, money makes the world go round. If you want to use sports equipment to boost your stats, cheer yourself up by watching a sitcom in the evening, or buy extra food, you will need to give some money to a guard or gang member for the privilege. The only legal way to do this is to work hard in prison, but it will take a long time to build up your strength and do something fun.
In Back to Dawn, not only do you have to work for mob bosses, but you also have to take care of yourself. There are plenty of little things you can do every day that will improve your mind and enhance your characterization if you have the necessary items to pamper yourself with. Brushing your teeth will give you six hours of increased charisma, and showering is a great way to relax and make you smell fresh around everyone you need to impress. You even need to keep track of when you need to go to the bathroom, because if you let that meter reach its limit, an accidental fart could spell disaster for your jumpsuit and your reputation.
For a game built on complex systems of character management, puzzle solving, and dice rolling; a lot leaves a lot to be desired. First, the puzzles and quests seem superficial, and the likelihood of success is determined solely by probability. The dice in this game don’t seem to have any advantages or disadvantages based on statistics. Instead, it is based entirely on luck with an arbitrary probability of success that does not correspond to the difficulty of the roll. For example, a single roll may have only a 2% probability of success and will always succeed, while a roll with a 98% probability of success will consistently fail. This creates an environment where the player is unable to really succeed in the game unless they constantly restart their playthrough.
The puzzles and challenges in this game are equally simple and pointless. From practicing using random typing on the keyboard to stopwatches and ironing, nothing has a purpose. A bunch of random mini-games to fill time while leaving no point in playing them. Most things give you characterization points or money, but they’re so small that you can skip them.
So you also have energy, good behavior points, and five types of skills, each with their own individual point system for leveling up. There are nightmare points, violence meters, sanity, cleanliness, satiety, and many others. But the annoying thing is that quite often you’ll have to stop whatever you’re doing and run to the bathroom if the meter of some unpleasant effect reaches the limit. These are all pretty useless systems that complicate the game mechanics.
But I guess that’s enough about the bad. The graphics here are gorgeous. What’s impressive is the sheer amount of detail that has been put into the design, lighting, and animation of this game. It all works together to create a surface level game that is quite nice to look at. Using a retro game style that fits well with the prison atmosphere, it takes a minimalist approach as much as possible. Dialogs, emotes, and animations seem clean and well put together. The use of emoticons to convey certain emotional aspects is a great method of lightly depicting emotions.
The music is quite a wonderful part in this game, as it holds your hand and stays with you throughout the game. There will be moments of laid-back jazz, unsettling guitars, and just having a good time. While Back To The Dawn has a lot of confusing mechanics and gameplay ideas, the music brings it all together.
Sound effects are used en masse to create a real sense of prison, from the gate closing during the loading screen to the eating or opening of doors. The characters lack voice acting, but given their in-depth dialog with the player, this can be overlooked. The lack of voice acting reminds me of classic RPGs, which are more about mechanics and story than visuals and sound. Despite this, Back To The Dawn is a really beautiful game with top-notch musical flavor.
Despite its flaws, Back to Dawn is appealing. There’s something special about the game and it has a lot of potential. I would like it to be less severe in the future, perhaps with some additional difficulty adjustments.
If the developers listen to the audience, by the time it leaves early access, Back to the Dawn could be a great RPG about prison life with lots of deep systems and plenty of ways to spend your time in prison.