Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: Night Of The Consumers
Anyone who has worked in a store will understand the visceral terror of Night of the Consumers. Playing as a new hire to a local grocery store, you are tasked with restocking the shelves before closing time. But between the roving horde of shoppers looking for a certain product and your manager named Manager menacingly breathing down your neck with a hideous rictus grin, the stress of retail may just prove to be too much for you.
As you can probably imagine from the game’s title, Night of the Consumers takes a bit of inspiration from George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (and title-ic inspiration from Night of the Living Dead). The setting of Dawn was in an abandoned mall, with the characters both defending against hordes of zombies as well as overindulging in the consumption of the mall’s recent apocalypse-driven 100% off sale. Night of the Consumers carries some similar themes, though this time around, the living are not nearly as dead.
The ghoulish creatures that roam around the store have not been infected with a zombie virus; they are people who are driven by their insatiable desire for a good deal. In their desperate need for consumption, they will stalk the stocker (you), and unless you drop what you’re doing and deliver them to their product of choice, you will be fired on the spot (which appears to mean the manager sends the employee to the store’s version of Sheol before their soul is terminated). Night of the Consumers is made all the more effective by depicting the inhumanity of a tremendously mundane human activity. The customers are ordinary people, and they will tear you limb from limb if you can’t help them find their diarrhea medication.
Non-Wanky Game Recap:
Night of the Consumers is a first-person game that has you roaming up and down the isles, looking for boxes full of products. You have a limited amount of time to get those boxes to the right shelf, all the while avoiding customers. If they get close enough to you, they will ask you to complete a brief objective, which can take up a lot of time. Fortunately, you can hurl the boxes at them before they approach and knock them down for a few seconds, giving you time to sprint to a safe employees-only room. But if they manage to ask you for help, you will be locked form the break rooms, and Manager will not be pleased if a customer is dissatisfied.
What makes Night of the Consumers so interesting is the extreme level of hyperbole at work here. Customers look grotesque and act doubly so. The workload is tremendous and dangerous and it all seems to be for the purpose of getting the store a $2.99 sale. There is a great air of malice and cynicism in all aspects of this store, from the customers treating you as their servant to the products themselves having messages like “you are a loser” cleaning spray. And as a person who had the great displeasure of working behind a cash register at a health food store for close to a year, I can say with certainty that by hour seven of my shift, standing upright in one spot moving cans across a red light, I was absolutely seeing the world as depicted in this game.
It’s hard to find a single fault with Night of the Consumers. This is probably one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in a long while. The frantic nature of this game is exhilarating and often caught me off guard. If I had to make one suggestion, I would expand upon the lore. Manager hints at a cabal of fellow store managers, who presumably operate torturous employment operations like this one. And the unreality of being fired is a fascinating mystery in it itself. I would love to learn some more.
How To Fix It:
I would say that Night of the Consumers would benefit from some more secrets. I found a hidden place reminiscent of Portal’s “the cake is a lie” room, which was delightful. Perhaps I missed something, but other than that, there didn’t seem much else to find. More secrets to uncover would give this title a lot more replay value. Even some reading materials in the break room would enrich the experience. I would give anything to see what kind of OSHA laws this universe has.
Night of the Consumers is far from subtle, but that’s what makes this work so great. It is garish and grotesque and for those who have worked in service, extremely relatable. There are indeed certain aspects of day-to-day life where the curtains of civility are raised and people seem to be infected by a lesser strain of the Rage Virus, the same people who would otherwise be well-adjusted and likable. Games like Night of the Consumers force us to reckon with this fact, as well as reckon with telling the same tired jokes to the tired cashiers, “huh, looks like you’re waiting for me :)” “didn’t scan? Guess this product is free :)” “you workin’ hard or hardly workin’? :)” “you look bored over there, let me give you something to do :).”
You can buy Night of the Consumers for less than $2 on itch.io by clicking here.