Using your smartphone while watching a movie is a big No-no. Well with Hidden Agenda it’s encouraged!
As a gamer, I’m not sure if there’s any greater feeling then holding a brand spanking new game in your hands and just reveling in that feeling of “I can’t wait to play this!”. You can bet your nickels and dimes that that was me when my copy of Hidden Agenda came in the mail not too long ago.
First of all, I’m a huge fan of Supermassive games. They’ve always kind of been Sony’s guinea pigs when it comes to testing their newest technology, which is super cool! But it has also made gamers wishy-washy about their titles. Supermassive has released games on each of Sony’s latest consoles and tinkered with many of the unique features found on each of them. This includes the PS Vita’s touch capabilities, the PlayStation Move, the PlayStation VR and now PlayStation Play Link with varying levels of success. Personally, I’m all for a gimmick as long as its executed properly, which was what initially drew my eye to Hidden Agenda. Also, I played the ever-loving crab cakes out of Until Dawn and loved every minute of it. So, I had very high hopes for this new Supermassive title.
Now, as usual, I already had a few irons in the fire, as it were, when it comes to the games I’m currently playing, so Hidden Agenda had to wait unfortunately. Not for very long though, since I knew it was a relatively short game. I was more than happy to give up an evening or two before choosing my next bigger game to play. I may have been a little weary of using my smartphone in lieu of a controller, but touch screen controllers are all the rage these days anyway. Sometimes you just gotta go with the flow, ya know? So, get your Galaxies, Pixels and X’s preemptively charged while we play judge, jury, and executioner with this innovative game of whodunnit.
Good Cop / Bad Cop
As I mentioned earlier, Hidden Agenda’s whole shtick is using your smartphone or tablet to play through the game instead of a controller. Using Sony’s Play Link thingamajig, you, and anyone else who wants to play along, can download an app on whatever mobile device you choose to use that will connect to your PS4. Once you launch it and the game, you will be prompted to type in your name and choose a cursor color. You also have the choice between Story Mode and Competitive Mode and then you’re all set to Sherlock Holmes the crap outta this murder mystery.
Basically the difference between the Story and Competitive modes is, you can either solve the mystery together with very minimal competition between players or you can choose to lie, cheat and steal your way to victory. Throughout the game in Competitive Mode the players will randomly be given objectives to steer the story in particular directions. You earn points for succeeding and even more points if no one catches you being the sneaky bugger you are. Hence the title Hidden Agenda. Story Mode is much less well….competitive and the players must make decisions together and cooperate to find all the hidden evidence.
Now, I didn’t have the luxury of four other friends to call upon to fill out the multiplayer option for this game, so my wife and I sat down together assuming two players would be enough to get at least a good idea about the intended experience. Two people wasn’t enough at all and that was a huuuuuuuuuge (with even more u’s than that!) letdown. The game honestly requires at the very least three people to play if you want the whole Hidden Agenda experience. There was no “tie breaker” option or device in place to help sort out any differences of opinion. The whole “one person gets a secret mission to screw with the other players” thing functioned more along the lines of tooting in an elevator….with only two people present, everyone knows who did it.
It was Colonel Mustard With The Candlestick!!
Really the premise of the game is to mimic watching a movie, except the players have control over how various events play out and how some of the characters develop over the course of the story. Every person playing gets to contribute to decisions unless one of the players decides to use a Takeover Card. This card will veto everyone else’s choices, for this particular event only, and their choice will reign supreme. Each participant gets a free Takeover card in the beginning and any thereafter have to be earned through finding evidence and nailing quick-time events.
Apparently, someone can take over your Takeover by using a card of their own, but with only two people playing we didn’t really encounter a need to tie break very often or even vie for one answer over the other. Remember kids, it’s just a game. No need for any marital spats or rogue alliances.
Occasionally, the game will also ask you questions about the people playing. Like who is the most brave, who is the most trusting or who is the calmest under pressure. Whomever was voted as having those qualities will be given the sole discretion of steering the story however they see fit based on a corresponding “Ripple event”. These are events that, when choosing one way or the other, vastly affects the outcome of the story. For instance, choosing to play it safe too much will cause the story to end rather abruptly since you can’t “be safe at home in your bed” AND “break and enter into someone’s house to search for evidence”. On the other hand, being brash and reckless will cause people to start pointing their fingers in your direction. I mean who wouldn’t be suspicious of the cop who was the last person to see the guy on death row right before he escaped from under said cop’s sole custody? So, finding a balance is important if you want to find out the whole story. But really, making impulse decisions and snap judgments is all part of the fun right?
The more I played Hidden Agenda the more I started to realize that it was really a game designed for casual gamers. Which makes sense, I mean, how likely are you to have six avid gamers able to come together and sit on a couch for a few hours to play through the entirety of the game? While some of you might be thinking ”What? Easy Peasy!”, I want to say for the most part the likely scenario will be people playing with spouses and siblings or other family members, all of whom are likely to have varying degrees of video game proficiency. They wanted to make the game accessible to everyone and I respect that. However, both my wife and I are both big gamers and the quick time events give you a ridiculous amount of time to succeed. That also meant our characters never knocked into something and alerted the bad guy, or tripped and ended up caught. We essentially missed out on huge chunks of drama and that kind of detracted from the whole “watching a thriller movie” vibe the developers were going for. Sure, we could have agreed to falter in one of our playthroughs just to see what would happen, but QTEs are just a reflex at this point in my life of gaming and I stand proudly behind it! Blame it on Resident Evil if you must! Those games are basically one long string of QTEs!
A Failed Execution
I will say the overall graphics for the game were nothing short of impressive; really detailed and sharp looking character models and environments. A lot of the conversations took place with the camera right up on the speaker’s face though so any malfunctions with the animations or lip syncing were front and center. It wasn’t uncommon at all to see a character’s eyes roll away from whomever they were speaking with making it look like they were having a conversation with the roof of their car. Or their face would go completely jittery and make it seem as though they were being electrocuted mid conversation. Or maybe their brains just gave out while piecing together the mystery of why so many men in town seem to have hookers on speed dial. The various environments were all set up beautifully and almost photo-realistic with their details. The game artists definitely achieved that classic gritty ambiance that goes hand in hand with movies/games of this genre. Though during any transition between scenes the picture tended to pop back and forth between the old and new screen. I honestly thought the game was about to freeze up on me every single time.
All in all the game was too short for me to get very attached to the characters. I appreciated the story but really lost my gumption for any real effort about half way through the game. The immersion factor of a good mystery movie just wasn’t there. Especially with that weird announcer guy chiming in after every chapter. And while using a phone instead of controller seems like a good idea in theory, I really just found it to be yet another distraction.
Much like in Until Dawn, Hidden Agenda used motion capture for most of the character animation and they used the actual appearances of the actors for their respective characters. I realize this isn’t an uncommon technique for developers these days, but there’s something about using the real actors’ faces and bodies to make the in-game models that never ceases to impress me. There’s just something inexplicably magical about playing through a game and then watching the behind the scenes footage and have the familiar faces from the game talk about their experiences. Especially in games like Until Dawn and Hidden Agenda where the environments are always dark and malevolent and the characters are usually in varying states of panic or despair. Now you get to see them happy and healthy and it kind of eases the mind and brings a little bit more closure. Hey, its ok you just saw all these people die! It was just tomfoolery and everyone is just fine and dandy for you to play the game again!
Overall I’d say while the game had a lot of potential, it really ended up being a big disappointment. I would be excited to see other games use similar mechanics, but only if the devs did some major retooling. Perhaps change up the gameplay to suit how many people are playing, as well as, the level of difficulty for the players. Maybe make the story flow a little smoother regardless of the choices made (a.k.a. Don’t just cut off parts of the story and leave us wondering what the crap just happened!). And for the love of hell let me use a dang controller if I decide to play by myself!
So, have you played Hidden Agenda? What are your thoughts on tech gimmicks in games?