Disclaimer: We reviewed the PC (Steam) version of Midnight Fight Express as it was the only version available to us prior to launch. Therefore, we haven't included any details about the performance on console in this review.
Jacob Dzwinel's Midnight Fight Express continues the grand tradition of slick and addictive indie arcade brawlers that, most recently, has brought us the likes of the majestic Sifu. Much like Slocap's martial arts extravaganza, this is not a game for the faint of heart, with a deep combat system that's all about reading the room quickly, prioritising targets and then choosing which of your ever-expanding arsenal of moves and abilities you're gonna employ to beat the stuffing out of thugs whilst keeping yourself out of harm's reach.
Midnight Fight Express kicks off in a dingy police interrogation room where you, a former member of the criminal underworld, known only as Babyface, are relaying the events of a night of unbridled violence to a couple of disgruntled investigators. Our flashbacks begin with a knock on your apartment door, the delivery of a very talkative drone sidekick, and then onto the streets where you've got until sunrise to put a stop to a planned criminal takeover of the city. Let the ass-kickings commence in earnest.
Starting out here you'll only have access to a handful of moves with which to lay the smacketh down, firing off light and heavy punches then dodging out of harm's way, perfectly timing a parry in order to respond with a bone-crunching riposte and grabbing any throwable item in an arena - these can be highlighted with the game's handy focus mechanic - to smash into the faces of your assailants. From the get-go it's fast-paced stuff that challenges you to think on your feet, make the most of your skills and any potential weapons that are laying around and, as you continue to progress through levels, you'll be rewarded with skill points to spend in the game's expansive skill tree, opening up more and more options and ways in which get one over on the city's thugs.
Midnight Fight Express divides its skill tree into six sections; fighter, parry/counter, finishers, grapple, rope and secondary gun. Yes, we didn't have to type those all out, but we did so in order to highlight the satisfying level of depth and flexibility that's on offer here to those who choose to fully engage with the game's superb combat system. You may start off throwing simple punches and rolling out of the way of attacks but, before long, you'll be grabbing enemies, slapping them around and flinging them at their partners in crime, performing powerful uppercuts, using a rope to disarm and then spin thugs around a room, breaking strong defences with a swift kick to the nuts (that's street slang for testicles) and pounding the ground to damage anyone who's dumb enough to come anywhere near you.
You'll get your hands on electrified ammo, darts that make your foes temporarily fight on your side, a power slide that sends you careening into exposed ankles, several ways to coolly disarm enemies and then beat them with their own weapons, a running charge attack and more besides. All of these moves build up a rage gauge as you perform them and once that's full it automatically ignites, imbuing your attacks with the power of uncontrollable anger for a limited amount of time. Nothing beats a good old-fashioned, red-faced rage.
The game's collection of guns don't reload, so you only ever have a handful of shots to play with, but boy are the bullets here effective at taking people down fast - top tip: when you see a gun, grab it as quickly as you can and get to work thinning those enemy numbers out. Add to this the 100 weapons in total that you'll find scattered around arenas; knives, bottles, tyre irons, chairs, plungers, fly-swatters... you name it and it's here, and you've got a combat system that gives you everything you could possibly need to take the city back from those who seek to corrupt it.
Once you've battered your way through any one of the 41 levels that make up the campaign, you can then go back and replay it, skipping through any dialogue and cutscenes, in order to perfect your run and earn a coveted S-rank. You can also work on completing the three side objectives assigned to each area - stuff like defeating a certain number of foes with a gun or throwing a few unlucky punks over some railings - and each level even has a little progression bar that shows you how close to 100% you are, with up to five pieces of clothing and other items unlocking as a reward for perfecting each one.
It's here, in the repetition and perfection of levels and the accompanying expansion of your repertoire of attacks and skills, that Midnight Fight Express is at its very addictive best. Once you've mastered your moves it's hugely satisfying to jump into an arena and stylishly dispatch every bad guy there. Yes, you can have fun simply smashing your way through this one, but the real joy here comes from kicking the life out of the criminal underworld with a certain degree of panache. What's the point in breaking a man's arms or shooting his face off if you don't do it in a fashionable manner after all? Control-wise everything is perfectly balanced, wonderfully responsive and slick, and so you're free to just dig in and experiment, plan and execute attacks and rack up high scores as you seek to S-rank every level and get your name further and further up the online leaderboards.
We should mention too that, although this can be a tough game when you bump up the difficulty or are seeking to nab S-ranks and perfect every aspect of your performance, there's also plenty of room for newbies and newcomers to jump into the mix, with the game's normal mode proving surprisingly generous in how much punishment it allows you to take before you bite the dust. Furthermore, you can fully customise your difficulty level, with sliders to adjust character health, enemy aggression and the option to turn on rechargeable health. Nice!
On a slightly more negative note, the narrative side of things is completely undercooked, a load of yawn-inducing action-movie cliché guff that does little more than get in the way of the fighting. Luckily, as we mentioned, you can skip all of this stuff when replaying levels, and to be quite honest cutscenes are so short-lived that it's never really an issue, heck they don't even have voice-acting so it's not hard to judge how important they are in the overall scheme of things here.
This one niggle aside, however, and Midnight Fight Express is just a thoroughly entertaining arcade brawler that absolutely nails the most important aspects of it brief. The fighting here is top stuff that delivers immensely satisfying and punchy combat, and even the level design goes above and beyond at points, throwing in the odd vehicle section to keep you busy or sending enemy attack choppers in your direction (make sure to time your moves so your enemies soak up the bullets instead of you in these scenarios!)
There are a ton of skins, clothing and other cosmetics for you to unlock and collect, an encyclopaedia of thugs to read up on, tons of progression stats to pore over and even a playground practice arena where you can select and fine-tune everything from which enemies to take on, to available weapons, perks and even what tune the soundtrack is playing as you polish up your skills. Oh, and did we mention there's a photo mode? There's a photo mode.
Overall then, Jacob Dzwinel has served up a delightful indie treat here. Midnight Fight Express gets the important stuff bang on, serving up a deliciously addictive and satisfyingly deep combat system that's a joy to dig into. With plenty of replayability in the form of S-ranks to chase and leaderboards to conquer, we can see ourselves enjoying this one for some time to come.
Midnight Fight Club might drop the ball slightly in terms of its narrative aspects, but it gets the important stuff absolutely bang on. This is a slick and addictive arcade brawler that gives you an expansive arsenal of moves, skills and weapons with which to slink off into the night on a blood-soaked mission to take back control of the city. There's tons of replayabilty here, with S-ranks to chase and leaderboards to climb, impressive variety in level design and a pumping soundtrack to bop along to as you take the fight back to the criminal underworld. This one's another Game Pass indie banger.