Why is Hidden Agenda referred to as Hidden Agenda? Supermassive Video games’ follow-up to its horror sleeper Till Daybreak is a darkish and rain-soaked police procedural a couple of serial killer referred to as the Trapper who seems to strike once more simply as the person who confessed to the Trapper’s murders awaits execution on dying row. Two girls, a straight-arrow prosecuting lawyer and a murder detective, examine the crimes. The detective is slightly unstable and never above suspicion, however we gamers know from the beginning that she’s genuinely attempting to unravel the case. The killer’s motives are plain. There are not any hidden agendas right here – so apart from sounding vaguely thriller-ish, what’s in that identify?
It seems that, regardless of being a purely narrative recreation, Hidden Agenda is known as after a recreation mechanic – and it’s extremely telling that the title does not match the plot. Hidden Agenda has been chosen because the flagship launch title for PlayLink, a wave of accessible, smartphone-controlled celebration video games for PlayStation four. Gamers use their telephones to hunt for clues inside a scene, clear easy quick-time occasions, and vote on selections that have an effect on conversations and branching paths within the storyline. This formalises the way in which teams of pals have chosen to play video games like this for years: speaking over penalties, arguing about morality or motivation. A aggressive mode spices this up by secretly assigning one participant the hidden agenda of the title – a alternative they need to attempt to get previous the group. They win factors if their temporary is fulfilled; afterwards, everybody votes on who had the hidden agenda and wins factors in the event that they guessed accurately. The scene is ready for a duplicitously enjoyable time of bluff and double-bluff in entrance of the TV.
It is debatable how a lot PlayLink provides to a state of affairs that you might replicate as a ingesting recreation with some scraps of paper in a hat, however let me state for the document that the tech works fairly effectively. You obtain a game-specific app to your cellphone which then connects with out problem to the PS4, so long as the gadgets are on the identical wifi community. Six gamers are supported. You utilize a touchscreen interface to regulate a pointer on the TV, which is slightly laggy however does the job. The app is tough, however the inclusion of a logbook the place you’ll be able to browse up to date character bios and test the result of ‘ripple occasions’ that have an effect on the plot is considerate. Sony deserves kudos for developing with an off-the-cuff gaming initiative which requires no new equipment to be purchased or interfaces to be realized; everybody has a cellphone and is aware of find out how to use it. Contemplate the barrier to entry effectively and actually lowered.
Sadly, on this occasion this tech has been hitched to a storyline that’s, in itself, predictable, sloppily executed and miserably boring. Worse, it belongs to a style of fiction that’s wholly unsuited to being toyed with on this manner.
One cause that Till Daybreak succeeded, towards the percentages, in rehabilitating the habitually overreaching ‘interactive film’ format was its intelligent alternative of style: teen slasher movies. Not solely did this guard it towards accusations of pretension, however the style proved very accommodating to the modular strategy wanted for interactive storytelling. The principles of the horror recreation are easy, however the plots are malleable. Who’s going to die subsequent? As long as you are unsure, it does not actually matter. What’s extra, ever since Wes Craven’s Scream, slasher flicks and their audiences had entered a self-referential realm the place messing with the tropes grew to become a part of the enjoyable. Reaching into one among these worlds to remix its elements appeared a pure, nearly inevitable extension of the place the style was going.
Detective thrillers, although they obey equally strict guidelines, are a really totally different proposition. Right here, the intricate workings of the plot are set in stone, and its methodical unravelling alongside preset strains is the heartbeat of the piece. It’s enjoyable to play the detective, combing crime scenes for clues, fixing riddles and cajoling suspects, and plenty of video games have gotten nice mileage out of this, from the sprawling crimeworld of L.A. Noire to Phoenix Wright’s crisp little vignettes. However the story should inform itself in its personal time, otherwise you’re sunk.
No good can come of inviting you to mess with the mechanisms of a whodunnit, since all you’ll be able to ever do is knock it astray. Hidden Agenda is the proof. The alternatives you are confronted with constantly rob the story of what little pressure it has. Select ‘effectively’, and an excessive amount of is revealed too quickly. Select ‘poorly’, and your probabilities of springing the lock on the thriller vanish – even for those who have already figured it out. I’ve performed it by way of a number of instances with fairly totally different outcomes, however each one among these endings felt abrupt and unsatisfactory. Certainly, the entire idea of a number of endings to a detective story is nonsensical and misguided. There can solely ever be one: an answer is revealed that is smart of the sample of occasions, and all the things falls into place – click on. With out that second, there isn’t any level.
It does not assist that Hidden Agenda’s story is spinoff, uninteresting and instructed with a dour, unleavened seriousness. Till Daybreak might have set Supermassive up as purveyors of straight, unadorned style fiction, however it had a sure wit and an affectionate really feel for the subject material that is absent right here. Hidden Agenda joins the massed ranks of up to date TV detectives within the grim, dank gutter in a manner that feels rote and unempathetic. A historical past of kid abuse in a sordid orphanage is used as an inexpensive and lazy motivating gadget. The writing by no means hits on an authentic scenario or strikes a grace observe. Becky Marney, the detective, is given a rickety characterisation that appears to be aiming for conflicted depth however by no means earns it – maybe as a result of she must be pushed this manner and that by the whims of gamers, maybe as a result of her backstory is inconsistently uncovered relying on how the sport is performed. Though it is a brief recreation – a few hours lengthy, it may be performed by way of in a single night, which given the PlayLink idea looks like a sensible alternative – the manufacturing feels rushed and slapdash. There are jarring cuts between scenes, and although the faces are superbly rendered, they’re drawn with out character and animated with out expression.
In idea, the addition of different gamers through PlayLink enlivens a run by way of Hidden Agenda; selections can solely be taken by a majority, so deadlocks should be resolved, both by way of persuasion or by one enjoying utilizing a ‘takeover’ card to drive their manner. In follow, the lacklustre plotting and characterisation fail to throw up conditions and dilemmas that can get pulses raised or a dialogue going. Your connection to the 2 lead characters of their moments of alternative and disaster feels very weak (one thing that Heavy Rain’s creator David Cage, for all his faults as a storyteller, by no means had an issue establishing). The hidden agenda in aggressive mode is a robust, easy idea, however it does not chime with the subject material in any respect, as a result of these characters haven’t any double lives or layered motivations; they only need the reality. Absolutely a spy story or a political thriller would have been a greater match for a recreation mechanic that is all about persuasion and mistrust.
It is an inauspicious starting for PlayLink and a really disappointing flip from a developer that, with Till Daybreak, overcame a tough improvement to ship a stunning and deft tackle interactive storytelling. It is potential that this very sad marriage of type and fiction was a shotgun wedding ceremony – the minimize corners definitely counsel it may need been – through which case, the blame does not solely lie with Supermassive. Both manner, although, it provides as much as nothing greater than a tragic finish for a nasty thought.
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