Thursday, 7 August 2014

Game Review – Gods Will Be Watching


Gods Will Be Watching started out as an entry for the game jam Ludum Dare 26. It was made with the theme of Minimalism. The original game, which makes up a chapter of the full game, featured dishevelled band of individuals, amongst them a robot, doctor, engineer. Taking lead as Sgt. Burden you denote tasks to them, to find food, repair a radio and stave of madness to survive. It all took place in one screen a cold expanse of lonely woodland. It was a novel idea and more complete than most game jam results, capturing desperation and hopelessness.

It was picked up by Devolver Digital, of Hotline Miami and Shadow Warrior fame, to expand it into a full title with help from a crowd funding campaign. The game seemed a natural fit with the aesthetics of other Devolver games thanks to it's lo-fi pixel art and often grizzly violence. Now the full game has been released, Gods Will Be Watching is another game looking back on the point and click genre and like Kentucky Route Zero and, despite not having that much in common, doing something interesting with it.
Alright, maybe I'll talk.
The plot focuses around Sgt Burden, part of Everdusk, as he infiltrates a group deemed to be terrorists or freedom fighters depending on perspective. You along with a rotating team are placed in scenarios to complete from withstanding twenty days of torture to finding a base in the terror-stricken desert. While these scenarios are often interesting and inventive, they way they play out is often very similar, boiling down to managing resources and completing tasks within a time limit.

The game opens with a hostage situation. Sgt. Burden is tasked with taking care of the hostages ensuring they don't attempt an escape whilst holding of troops outside. All the while you have to assist in the hacking of a system to download a cure for a virus. Sound like a lot to manage? Well it is. Another scenario finds Burden stranded in a desert. Along with a squad of soldiers, you have to reach a military base within a time limit. Juggling these different objectives is where the challenge lies, scout ahead to ensure safety but burn through precious time. Soldier slowing you down? You can put him out of his misery. It's means more rations to go around at the expense of fire power to defend against enemies.

"Yes, the hostage situation is under control".
Often the solutions and answers to move forward only come apparent following failure, not a bad thing in itself, many games make death an important part of the game. Death has always been an interesting part of games, from Dark Souls to Devolver's own Hotline Miami, it can be an important part of figuring out how to progress but here it is just a frustration.

Deconstructeam is aware of this frustration with the conclusion of the plot getting a little to meta for it's own good, referring to the repeated failures and deaths of the legendary Sgt. Burden. In fact the end sequence seems like the biggest let down after an interesting negotiation scenario the fate of a planet is decided by a fight, turn-based where you have to figure out the opponents moves and respond offensive or defensively, whilst having a bit of a back 'n' forth discussion about morality and slavery. It all feels a bit silly, like James Bond monologuing his philosophical beliefs and chasing down Goldfinger, especially when the consequences of your failure have already been hammered home, slowing down the already turn-based combat.

Gods will be frustrated
Whilst the decisions you make can be simplified to either taking a survivalist or moral approach there is a weight an consequence to your decisions. Kill the straggling soldier slowing you down in the desert and you will be given a quiet moment of reflection as one of his comrades will pick up his dog tags. These actions and their consequences don't hold up as well over the same game, as a character you didn't make it through one chapter will return in the next. It holds the plot together but takes something away from the approach you spent the last half an hour wrestling with.

I did like that with the games lack of hints I took to writing down effective or ineffective strategies on paper which made me think back to older point and click/adventure games. With stunning music full of synth washes and sci-fi arpeggios that fit the games tone perfectly and detailed, gory pixel animations, there is still a lot to like about Gods Will Be Watching. It falls short of the original game jam's promise but still takes an interesting approach to moral decisions, shame about the execution.

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