Republished on Wednesday 25th October 2017: We're bringing this preview back from the archives following the release of Hidden Agenda in North America. The original text follows.
The next game from developer Supermassive Games is a lot like Until Dawn at first blush: it has unnervingly lifelike virtual characters, branching plot paths, and more serial killers than an entire season of Midsummer Murders. The twist is that Hidden Agenda’s being sold on the strength of being a local multiplayer party game – so what gives?
Well, it’s perhaps worth noting that Until Dawn itself ended up something of a local multiplayer game as well – although that wasn’t its initial intention. Who could forget the infamous PlayStation Experience demo where the audience, without any prompting, started screaming at the on-stage demonstrator about what to do next? It practically sold the premise of the schlocky horror single-handedly.
Here, using Sony’s spiffing new PlayLink technology, each of up to six participants plays with an iOS or Android smartphone. The app is used to make decisions – by tracing across the screen a using a virtual touchpad – or browse case information. As a murder mystery, all of the clues and characters are collated in a separate tab, and can be browsed independently of the game at any time.
On the television, cut-scenes play out as two cops raid a mass murderer’s seedy den. You need to make decisions: do you go in cautiously or aggressively? The scene intensifies as it plays out, and culminates in a life or death situation. Interestingly, the beginning of the demo sees you vote for the player you think best prepared to cope under pressure – and that’s the person who has the final call as lives are at stake.
In another twist, the latter part of the demo sees the same criminal offer new evidence in his case that threatens to change the complexion of his impending trial. It’s at this point that one player is given a ‘Hidden Agenda’ – secret instructions from the game to steer the shape of the story. No one else knows who this is, and they’ll earn extra points if they achieve their objective without being ratted out.
It’s clever stuff and it’s beautifully presented, though we question how many times you’re going to want to play through the same scenarios – even if the branching decisions do alter the outcome of the plot. We’re also not convinced the smartphones add much aside from lowering the barrier for entry and offering additional information – ultimately, everything aside from the ‘Hidden Agenda’ mechanic would work just dandy with a DualShock 4.
Still, it’s cool to see Supermassive Games tackle another narrative-driven experience, even if this one is unlikely to have anywhere near to the same amount of meat as Until Dawn. And it's neat that we're seeing new ways to tell story-based titles, where everyone can play an active role in how the plot develops – and even pull the figurative wool over the eyes of family and friends.
Do you have a hidden agenda for picking up Hidden Agenda? Would you like to see more story-focused local multiplayer games like this? Rat out a serial killer in the comments section below.