Have you ever been in a situation where you’re sitting at home, chilling out with a cold beverage with your loved ones and settled down to watch the latest episode of whatever is riding high on the television pop culture scene at the moment? The intro credits have just rolled past; the current plot thread has just kicked in when the deep bass of next doors stereo punches through the wall with their extensive library of happy hardcore. Immersion is killed, your relaxed mood has sapped away and all your left with is an untethered rage, waiting to be set loose on the people invading your peaceful sanctum.
This is the premise for Party Hard, where instead of dealing with the situation rationally, and asking the neighbour’s to kindly turn down the music, you decide to gatecrash the party and systematically murder everyone there by any, gruesome means available.
Party Hard is a fantastically weird and black humored Stealth/Action/Puzzle game from Pinokl Games where the simple aim of the game is to be the last person standing at every party you attend – and it’s not by abusing your liver and having the constitution to be able to drink everyone under the table either. No, you have to set traps, poison, blow up and stab your way through every single person there. All without getting caught, beat-up or captured by the police.
Levels starts with you standing outside the party, with anything up to 50 or more party goers going full tilt around the party. A quick survey of your surroundings (and a quick pull of the trigger button) highlights all the objects which can be interacted with. A table with a keg or plates of food? We can poison it, and over time people will drop dead as the poison takes effect. A Tall speaker? Sabotage it to blow up and take anyone nearby with it. A car parked outside? Disable the brake and have then mow down anyone caught in its path. A phone? Quick, call the exterminators and have them drop a poisonous insect killing bomb to gas everyone in the room. With lots more to sabotage and interact with amongst the levels, usually specific to the level you’re playing in, there is a lot of variety here. Of course, you can just go up to someone and quickly shiv them. Just make sure no one sees you or they will run to the nearest phone and call the police – unless you can kill them before they do that, of course.
Dying and getting caught will happen – a lot. It’s not an easy game this, and, each level uses a little procedural generation to mix things up each time you play. So repeated pay will not reveal the ideal set of actions to complete the level. The level layouts will always remain static, but some of the objects you can interact with are randomized and the party goers are completely random too. From who they are, to their moods and how they move about the level (they go to the toilet, get fresh air, go to dance etc). You can sometimes use their moods against them. If someone is moving in the direction for the toilet, follow them in and stab them as the door shuts. Just remember to pick up and stash the body, if you can. Each level also has a few trap doors and escape routes which can be used to get away from anyone chasing you. If you’re spotted using these routes, a Mario lookalike janitor appears and seals the exit preventing it from being used again. And yes, I did try to shiv Mario, but he gave my character a swift kicking that taught me to stay clear of him in the future.
Sometimes the procedural generation will drop a random pickup that can be used to assist your murder spree. Ranging from Smoke bombs – allowing you to kill completely unmolested. Flash bombs, that knocks everyone in its radius unconscious to getting your own burly, Russian body guard, who rolls up in his own Humvee and protects you from any Policemen or party goers who decide to show you the wrong side of their fist..
The AI that runs the world can lead to some really funny moments. You could be wandering about the house, waiting for the right moment to strike when a fight starts out in the middle of the dance floor. The fight results in multiple deaths and people running about in panic. The police come and handcuff icons appears above some other person’s head since one of the protagonists of the fight implicated them and they get hauled off to a cold cell. So, without lifting a finger, 6 people have been scored off the list. This same AI can sometimes implicate you to a murder you weren’t responsible for, simply by being near the body when someone else spots it. So you have to be very aware of everything else that happens around you at all times, which can be difficult at times as the levels can get very busy and you never know when to expect a random event to occur.
Unfortunately, there are moments when the AI can do questionable things. You could be behind a wall, no one else nearby, and I kill a passerby. Somehow, a random AI spots you through the wall and your carefully plotted murder spree comes to an abrupt end. It can be very frustrating, especially when you’ve just spent the better part of 15 to 20 minutes carefully watching each step you’ve taken. You really can feel cheated by the game and having to restart can be soul destroying.
Despite the AI hiccups, Pinokl games have made a really good effort to convince you that your stabbing your way through a real living world here. Party goers react to fights and deaths around them. They see something suspicious, they either run or go call the police. Police come and bag up the bodies. Coroners eventually come and take the bodies away. Fires bring the fire brigade. There is a genuine feeling of everything you do will cause some part of the world to react. In fact, the number of times I’ve managed to sneakily kill someone, have someone find the body and the police to arrive and arrest someone else, gives you a dark sense of satisfaction.
Party Hard won’t win any awards for being the best looking game out there, but its pixel art style suits the gameplay and tone perfectly. Its whimsical style matches the dark humor that’s prevalent throughout the games world and gameplay. I personally love the art style. Being a child of the Amiga days, the art style reminds me of simpler times, where small games like this could easily keep players entertained for hours on end. I know it’s not for everyone and can easily put some people off. But it plays a huge part in charm the game is full of. Even the music has a distinct retro feel. Each level has a specific song associated with the party you’re attending, and plays on a constant loop for the duration of the level. They can range from toe-tappingly good, to annoyingly frustrating – especially when you are on your 20th play through for a specific level. But again, it complements the pixel art style perfectly and you do start to look forward to hearing what tune the next level will bring.
Party Hard is a lot of fun and the procedural engine, despite not changing the layout of the levels, provides just enough random elements to make all the levels replayable enough to warrant repeat play. It’s fun and its dark humor will really appeal to those not adverse to the dark subject of the game. it’s a perfect, pick-up-and-play, fill 20 minutes’ types of game, that can fit into anyone’s busy schedule. The AI can provide some frustrating moments, but the fun random moments it can provide easily outweighs the number of bad encounters you can have too. If you can handle the repetitive, looped music and appreciate the pixel art on display then you are in for a real, retro inspired treat of a game here. Now, if you excuse me, I have a party to get ready for…now, where did I leave that butchers knife?