Developer Supermassive Games had a hit with 2015 cinematic adventure game Until Dawn. More choose your own adventure than actual game, Until Dawn proved to be a popular game for groups of friends to play together. Since there is only a single controller employed, groups would shout out what they think the person with the controller should do. Thus, an unlikely party game was made. Supermassive Games capitalized on this, and directly integrated group play into their latest title, Hidden Agenda. It is another unlikely candidate for party game – instead of a horror game, Hidden Agenda puts you (and friends) in control of the search for the Trapper Killer.
While solo play is totally possible, Hidden Agenda is best when it is played with friends. There aren’t any traditional controller inputs here. Instead, Hidden Agenda relies on your smartphone and the PlayLink App to be a controller. This makes it easy for groups of up to six to jump in and participate in the cinematic experience. Actions don’t play out like a traditional game, instead the gameplay elements consist of choices rippling consequences, and the occasional quick-time event. Whenever there is a decision to be made when a group is playing, the majority vote decides. Ties are not allowed, so there is a bit of peer pressure in even-numbered playthroughs, as someone is forced to change their vote to keep the story moving. There are “take-over cards” that are earned through successfully hitting quick-time events, finding clues during investigation scenes, etc. These take-over cards allow a single player to veto any vote and make the ultimate decision. Quick time events are successful if any single person “hits” the designated quick-time target which is essentially moving a cursor into a box. This is where it gets frustrating.
The PlayLink App does a good job of easily connecting people – but it is not responsive enough for the some of the actions it wants you to perform. Quick-time events are sometimes failed by entire groups of people because the way app to game response feels sluggish and delayed. Even if you’re playing the game solo, you’re forced to deal with the awkward and slow control scheme. The app itself does lend a bit of immersion, though, as there is lots of in-game information like character biographies and what’s happening in the story. Sometimes the biographies can have a surprising amount of spoiler information for what is essentially a mystery. There is a bit of added fun to the party game aspect, as sometimes players will be prompted to vote for people in the group with specific qualities. For instance, you may have to choose who is the bravest, or most compassionate. That person (or persons during a tie) will have the sole choice in a decision usually based on that trait – often crucial, story changing decisions.
The story itself, essentially the main event, is not very original nor is it very interesting. Hidden Agenda also suffers from pacing issues, especially early on. As a mystery thriller, it does a serviceable job – but as a party game that is supposed to be keeping everyone’s attention, it falls flat. I was often finding my mind wander until a prompt came up to make a decision – an experience shared with others I played through the game with. I shouldn’t be fighting the urge to browse the internet during a game slightly longer in length than a movie. Despite its short length, there is a bit of replayability – different decisions produce different results and therefore different scenes and dialogue that can be seen. There is also a competitive mode that pits players against each other. A player in the group is given a secret, hidden agenda, and they must work against their friends in an attempt to fulfill that goal. It’s a fun, deceptive romp and really adds to the party game nature of Hidden Agenda.
While Supermassive Games was going in the right direction, Hidden Agenda feels like more of an oddity than something fresh. While it’s certainly fun, it may not be as exciting and sought after as the game that inspired it, Until Dawn. I definitely want to see more of this type of “game” in the future, though, as it’s an amusing and fun way to engage with a story with friends – especially when that story is moving at faster than a glacial pace. Hidden Agenda is available now on PlayStation 4.