It’s 3 o’clock in the morning. Most people would be asleep by now, but you are nowhere near the land of nod. Why? Because your neighbours are having a party. If you’re going to get any sleep, you need to stop the party and it isn’t just as simple as turning off the music. No, the sanest thing to do is to kill them all instead. Yes, that’s right. Kill every… single… person.
And this is how your career as a mass murderer begins. It’s also where developer Pinokl Games begins their career as the developer of more serious titles. Having carved out a living by creating family-friendly social games, the frankly antisocial Party Hard is the result of their participation in a Game Jam. Will this change in direction mean that the developer is partying into the night, or is this game a party that’s over before it has begun?
Party Hard: PC [Reviewed], Xbox One (TBA)
Developer: Pinokl Games
Release Date: August 25th 2015
Price: £9.99 [Disclosure: Game copy supplied by Publisher]
In this day and age, with all of the kerfuffle surrounding violent video games and other similar controversial titles like Hatred, this game’s concept sounds horrendous. After all, while most people will relate to being kept awake at night by a party, mass murder is the last possible solution that they would entertain. Despite its subject matter, Party Hard is done in a humorous tongue-in-cheek fashion that means that it gets away with it.
The story of a murderer and his progression through 12 venues across America is a simple one and is little more than an excuse for the game to change locations. The story is told by a police detective with a cliched gravelly voice and an interviewer who is more interested in portraying the killer in a more positive light. Not only is the voice acting underpar, it is bad enough that just the tones of the characters give away the story’s direction long before it has finished being told.
It’s a good job, then, that the gameplay makes up for the story’s shortcomings. The objective of every level is to kill everybody without being caught. Darius, the game’s antagonist, has a knife that is lethal at short range, or he has the use of several carefully positioned traps in each location. Once the victim is dead, he has the choice of trying to hide the body so that it isn’t discovered, or to leave it in full view to provide a distraction and to move away quickly. If Darius is caught killing somebody or moving a body, the police are alerted and he must escape them until they give up. It is gameplay that is reminiscent of Hitman Sniper Challenge, only Darius has to kill everybody rather than a select few people.
While the gameplay’s apparent simplicity makes the title fun to play, it is the game’s semi-procedural nature that adds the challenge and will keep players coming back. The layout of each level is fixed, but the item pickups, random events, traps and even room decor can change. That punch bowl that was just used to kill ten people on the dancefloor may now be in the kitchen. That bedroom could now be a meth lab. The limo that just dropped off another dozen partygoers might now be a taxi that drops off a copycat killer. If you want to succeed, you’ll need to be silent and stealthy, but you’ll also need to adapt your tactics to the new environment.
The game’s unpredictability can also be heightened if choosing to stream your gameplay on Twitch. At regular intervals, any viewers in chat can vote on random occurrences that will be thrown into the level that is in progress. As human nature has it, the winner is usually the most challenging option so be prepared for chaos. Whether it is a sharknado or a group of aliens, a lot of the events are exclusive to Twitch streamers so you may not always want to hide in the safety of the offline environment if you want to experience everything that this game has to offer.
As good as the gameplay may be, there are a few issues. The game’s 8-bit pixel graphic style suits the game very well, but the lack of NPC variation means that the same character model is repeated several times throughout a level. It makes it incredibly easy to lose Darius amongst a crowd, especially if your attention is momentarily distracted by a random event. The game’s AI can also seem stupid. Changing Darius’ outfit in front of a pursuing policeman will cause him to lose sight of you and give up the chase. He will also give up the chase once it has gone on for a set length of time, even if Darius is within arm’s reach.
Unfortunately, the game does have a few bugs and some minor translation issues too. Civilians have randomly taken on the traits of bodyguards without warning. NPCs have gotten stuck in the map or have even glitched off it. Traps can fail to work properly. The good news is that the developer is working hard to eradicate the bugs and to add new content for no extra charge.
In summary, don’t let the controversial premise of this title fool you. The subject matter is belied by a jokey tone that means that you shouldn’t take it too seriously. Instead, be as sneaky and stealthy as you can while committing acts of atrocity across America in a title where the gameplay is everything. Use your knife or use traps but, whatever you do, don’t get caught. The storyline is predictable and there are a few bugs, but don’t be put off by these minor issues. If you do take the plunge, I can assure you that you will never look at a bowl of punch in the same way again. I can also promise that, long after the game has finished, you will still be humming the extremely catchy theme music.