You’d better stop your party before 3AM. He means it…
I know some people who are major assholes when they don’t get enough sleep. And if you wake them up or alter the way they “require” themselves to sleep, they’re even worse. Trust me, I live with one of these people. It’s with that premise that Party Hard was born from developers Pinokl Games and publisher tinyBuild. A gentleman named Darius has had enough of his neighbor’s loud partying, and tonight, he’s putting a stop to it. And once he’s done? Well, he just cant stop…
You’ve gotta admit, it’s a pretty great premise. I mean, how often has something like this happened to us in our lives where we would love to just go on a rampage murdering people because you’re fed up? Oh, it’s just me? Fine. I’ll talk to a professional about my “anger issues” eventually, but you get my point. So with that premise in mind we have Party Hard, a stealth-based, murderous strategy-puzzle game where it’s your job to blend in. And murder. Obviously.
So with that set up, after each level we get a short load sequence that plays some still images with voice over that fleshes out Darius’ first night up to the present through the eyes of the officer who has a personal interest in the whole case. We follow the narrative to each crime scene with the “retelling” of the murders and how Darius seems to constantly get away. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but, it’s not a deterrent, either. It works well with the style of the game created. The voice acting is a bit over the top for all involved, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, because of this, I was able to figure out the ending almost immediately, which was kind of a bummer. Talk about telegraphing the entire plot (which is kind of thin to begin with). I mean, you could argue that the story here is a complete afterthought for the game’s premise anyway, and you might be right, but, even with that caveat, a little more care could have been taken with it.
The entire game play scenario is a pretty simple one, too. Each level is some sort of clichéd gathering. A party, if you will, and as such is populated with plenty of people. Of which you will murder in various ways. You aren’t suspicious at first, and that works to your advantage, but linger too long around a body or leave a witness, and your job just got a whole hell of a lot harder. Like I said, simple. You’re afforded with a dedicated dance button, too, so there are times when you’ll need to party hard yourself to avoid suspicion.
Where things get a little different is in the details of the single-screen level. Every area, while being essentially the same as the one before it, is just different enough to warrant its existence. You start off at a house party, then move on to a BBQ, a boat party, rooftop party, and so on and so forth, etc., etc., etc. Within the differences are the kill counts needed to win, or the various traps littered throughout the area, or the items you can collect to give you a slight boost. While these small changes are in effect, they also kind of stay the same, too. For better or worse. For example, most, if not all levels have a food tray/punch bowl-type thing (I’m fuzzy on what exactly it is, mostly because it’s nondescript) that you can poison. Well, one difference may be that instead of it being on the table in the kitchen this time, it’s on the table in the living room. Change the venue, and now the punch bowl is on a table on the left of the roof. Many of the traps are the same, but within the different locations they can spawn with each level, sometimes they just don’t spawn at all. And, when you die or get arrested? The little variations can change there, too. Maybe this time instead of needing to kill 40 people you need to kill 45, or that smoke bomb you kept getting previously now turns into running shoes, or the punch bowl just doesn’t exist this time. This is where Party Hard gets most of its diversity, only after a while, it just becomes a bit stale.
While silently moving around the area picking off unsuspecting party goers, if you happen to get caught and the police get called, you’re in a bit of a pickle. Sometimes, depending on how long you can avoid them, whether it be based purely off luck, or skill, or somewhere in between, the cops will give up and leave the scene. Take this as a small victory, though, because the more they arrive, the more difficult it is to avoid them. Especially because your run ability isn’t all that spectacular. It’s fine for vacating the area once you drop a couple smooching, but it’s not a slam dunk to outrun pursuers most of the time. Each level also showcases an assortment of “secret” doors. Some may just move you to a different room, while others teleport you to the other side of the screen. These are great for avoiding suspicion, but, should you use one while a cop is giving chase, a certain famous plumber emerges and blocks that route off for further use. And that Italian? He can’t be killed. In fact, don’t even try. But you don’t have to take my word for it.
One big positive this game has going for it is the music. Each song is an electronic banger. Bouncing beats accompany you through your journey of blood and mayhem. In fact, the music is so good it can be distracting. There were times I would leave the main menu on just to hear the beat, and even times in a level where I’d be waiting around for something to give me an opening and I’d miss it because I was bobbing my head in real life paying more attention to the music than my prey. This is likely an issue you won’t come across, so I’m not classifying it as a negative, just relaying that anecdote to show I enjoy the (what I feel are) 80’s synth joys each level.
While picking off unsuspecting waiters, dancers, etc., you may notice some of them have striking resemblances to iconic figures in entertainment. We’ve already gone over the plumber, but there are more to discover. I’ll leave those discoveries to you, because it could be a neat little “a-ha” or “cool!!” moment for yourself. And sometimes, these costumed fodder can show up mid-way through the party to add to your total kill count, whether by your hand or the game’s. It sucks, but, sometimes it can create opportunities if you play your cards right.
We’re also able to unlock other characters to use in the levels. I won’t mention who they are other than 1 of them in a moment, just so you can have the pleasure of once again discovering them for yourself. I will mention that each has their own set of skills and weapons to take out the opposition. Darius uses the classic knife for the majority of his kills, and the others are thematically appropriate to who they are. These are a nice addition to the game to break up some of the monotony.
OK, so, there is a good game here to like, but unfortunately there are a bunch of downfalls within that game, too. For instance, in regards to the unlockable character I said I’d mention. He’s a ninja, so his whole gimmick is to be stealthy. That’s fine. If anyone sees you for any reason, they get spooked and call the cops. OK, I get it. So, because of this, standing still grants you invisibility. Cool. However… This doesn’t seem to work as you’d expect or even want it to. I’m not ready to classify this as a glitch per se (there will be plenty more to talk about soon enough), rather I think the devs just programmed the character to work poorly sometimes. I couldn’t get the stealth to work consistently. I wasn’t able to find the sweet spot of how long I needed to move to be able to activate it, because simply standing still doesn’t do it. You need to be moving first. Add on to that he gets a continuous smoke bomb item that is a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it’s really difficult to position where you want it thrown. And, to top off the wonderfulness of the ninja, since he has to stay undetected, there are times when you spawn on the map and because enemy placement is somewhat randomized, you have no choice but to be detected. You spawn in the same spot every time, so if the game decides that someone else spawns there, too? You’re screwed. You might as well hit restart. He’s fun to use when it’s working well, but otherwise, it’s a bigger challenge. Maybe this was done on purpose, but I think there could have been a better balance to it.
Other areas of disappointment are the glitches, of which there seem to be many. Sometimes you’ll just get stuck on invisible angles or visible ones that shouldn’t stop you dead in your tracks. This isn’t a huge issue when you’re just casually moving within the crowd, but if you’re being chased? It’s oftentimes level ending, and this is where it happens most often. Another area for improvement is in the carrying mechanic. When you kill someone, if you don’t move the body, someone will see it and alert the cops, so it would behoove you to get it out of there most of the time. On some levels, you have the ability to dump the bodies in places that no one will be able to detect them. Great news. When it works. There were plenty of times I carried a dead person over to the area and when I put them in, they didn’t go in, but instead stood up. Sometimes, they came back alive… You can also pick up sleeping people to take to areas for instant death, which I am also referring to, a la the rooftop areas to push someone off. I’m not speaking about these people. People I’ve killed have suddenly gotten a second chance at life. If you’re quick enough, no one will be alerted and you can either pick them back up to dispose of, or kill them again, but sometimes, it’s too late. Once they’re put down and get back up, they (or someone close by) may freak out. It’s not good.
There are also places you’d expect to be able to either move to or hide in that you aren’t able to. This is frustrating. Not only that, but there are too many odd occurrences when it comes to detection. All too often I’d be detected when there should be absolutely no reason I was. Enemies will suddenly have binoculars for eyes and see you well out of appropriate range, or they’ll have their backs turned only to somehow get their spider sense to tingle and off they go, screaming their way to the phone to get the authorities. And speaking of the screaming? Once it starts, it doesn’t stop. It gets annoying after a couple of minutes of nonstop yelling. We’re also treated to spelling and grammatical errors in the subtitles and Achievements. Or sometimes the subtitles don’t match exactly what was said by the actors. And the most egregious of all? On the final level I encountered a glitch where the last person I needed to kill wasn’t visible. Numerous times. Way more than you’d think. The level itself isn’t an easy one, so getting down to that point and running around an empty level looking for someone you can’t see is incredibly frustrating. Just in case it happens to you, I’ll try to save you the headache, in hopes this works for you: start randomly stabbing in the vicinity you’d think the DJ would be. You’ll eventually kill the invisible menace and complete the game.
At the end of the day, there is a game here that’s easy to like, but at times, it starts to show its warts. The game can be very difficult, and I’m not convinced it’s because of good design. There were levels I failed dozens of times, and most of those failures seemed unavoidable, almost as if the game was fabricating evidence against me (pun intended). As you may know by now, a good puzzle game makes me want to immediately try again. This game did not. I fought myself to continue the majority of the time. And, if you enjoy standing around and waiting for a lot of a game, this is right up your alley. Wait, dance, run (slowly), repeat. A lot. I’m exaggerating, but only a little bit. Waiting is necessary, but with that necessity, comes unease. Add in all the glitches (or whatever you want to classify them as), and Party Hard becomes a game you like, but one you may want to spend time apart from often. I definitely enjoy this game, I just also have a lot of issues with it. Sadly, I suspect you will, too. Pun not intended.
PS to the developers: I really hope the level editor that is out in beta for PC comes to consoles, too. I think that’d be really fun to explore, both creatively, and by playing other players’ levels. Add in new Achievements, and it’s even more worth a look in my eyes. Make it happen, guys!!
Party Hard is available now on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One for $12.99. You can also get it on Steam and Android for $12.89, and an iOS version will be out at some point. A code was provided by tinyBuild for the purpose of this review.