Do yourself a favour, and go play and experience the wonder that is Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn. Trust me, it’s one of the best games I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
Now that you have a fair idea of the potential and ability of the team at Supermassive Games, it is saddening to say that Hidden Agenda doesn’t really hit the same heights, muddled by an experimental system, and too linear a story.
Hidden Agenda tells the story of a police procedural that involves a serial killer known as The Trapper, who mysteriously strikes again even though the man who confessed to the crimes awaits on death row. You will meet and control several characters, including a slightly volatile homicide detective, an inquisitive prosecutor, and others.
The story unfolds through your decisions, quick-time events, and the occasional search for clues. There are twists and turns as one would expect, but unlike Until Dawn, you will be able to see through all the mystery way too soon, and for a game about solving a mystery, it’s a bummer.
The title of the game itself refers not to any of the story elements or characters, but rather the main game mechanic that involves PlayStation’s latest PlayLink initiative. Allowing players to join in using their smartphones or tablets, it eschews the traditional controller in lieu of something more familiar to someone new to games.
A simple and elegant concept, anyone can use a touchscreen to move a cursor, and it is easily accessible via an app and is great for introductory gaming.
Unfortunately, marrying PlayLink to a story-driven title that certainly required more thought and nuance put into it only serves to further sink Hidden Agenda. As players vote on the many decisions / conversations / actions during the playthrough, a competitive mode throws in the wildcard of hidden agendas. These tasks require players to drive the story a certain way, with points up for grabs for successfully pulling it off as well as outing the player manipulating events. Players can utilize Takeovers to steer the story their way, and discussions and arguments are commonplace against the stress of time.
It is a novel experience to make group decisions when you know you are screwing someone else over.
Such decisions often derail the momentum of the crime mystery that is admittedly set in stone. There are only a few branching paths, but in the grand scheme of things, the outcomes are plain as day. Having players compete robs the plot of its story beats, and creates a less than engaging experience.
Choose too well and you will figure out the story way before its conclusion, make the wrong decision and it ends abruptly with no avenue for recourse except to replay the entire game once more. At its heart, this is a crime mystery, and it only works if the end goal is revealed methodically and everything makes sense, otherwise it has no impact.
Unlike Until Dawn, who subverted most of my expectations of a teen slasher type of mystery, Hidden Agenda suffers greatly from a lack of characterization that connects players to the on-screen avatars. The writing, in general, can be described as primetime TV, it is formulaic and worst of all, boring.
It would have helped that the characters had their own hidden agendas, rather than the players, but their motivations, save for the mastermind, are too blatantly obvious and feels rote.
This is not Supermassive Games’ best offering, but I have hope for The Inpatient, their upcoming PS VR title set in the universe of Until Dawn, as it seems more in line with what they do best.
Ultimately, my opinion is that Hidden Agenda is worth a try, even if you are playing alone. Rein in the expectations of a spectacular story and you will be fine. The first outing for PlayLink shows a concept that works wonderfully as a mechanic but certainly does not jive well with this genre.
But hey, at least their facial capture is still amazingly well done, kudos to that.