Party Hard, Murder Harder

I didn’t know what to expect from Party Hard when I was told it would be like Hotline: Miami without the drugs. As I didn’t really like Hotline, I didn’t think I’d find this fun.

On a lark, I took a look at the demo/original prototype from Game Jam,  read the details about the game, and decided it was worth a shot.

We all have to start somewhere.
We all have to start somewhere.

==The Pitch==

The premise of the game is simple: your neighbors throw loud, late-night parties, and you’re tired of it. Instead of calling the cops (which you learn are rather ineffective and don’t seem to care about the problems of a party), you decide to take matters into your own hands and remove the problem, permanently.

The face of a killer.
The face of a killer.

You take your “hero” (there are four in total, three to unlock) and mingle through the party, killing off the members of the party via “accidents” and outright murder. Your goal is to obviously not get caught, so you’ll need to be discreet, creative, and devious.

==What You Get==

The game offers what it advertises, but the execution could be a bit better. The gameplay is a relatively simple “kill everyone by any means necessary and don’t get caught.” The controls give you all of the tools to do it, as long as you are creative.

Tutorial time!
Tutorial time!

Speaking of controls, you have a total of seven other buttons outside of directions: Pick Up Person/Body, Use, Knife, Secondary Item, Dance, Spring, and Listen. It’s not overly complicated, but it covers everything you need to get the job done. For example, Sprint lets you cover more ground to get into position (or to escape), while Dance lets you blend in with your surroundings.

You’re up against a semi-intelligent AI that will actually look for clues (like being the only one dancing when people are dying of poison) and will rat you out. This keeps the game interesting, as people will randomly go into different directions and perform different actions every time you play.

But anyone you stab won't be getting back up. Promise.
But anyone you stab won’t be getting back up. Promise.

==The Good==

As soon as you load the game, you get an intro scene that is reminiscent of the cutscenes from Ninja Gaiden. It made me chuckle a bit with that flashback.

The cutscene artwork. The image of the killer's face is also from this.
The cutscene artwork. The image of the killer’s face is also from this.

The tutorial is pretty straightforward and covers the most useful skills and tips. There are also extra tips as you play the game in the form of random papers you find on the ground.

Useful papers can be found littered on the floor in the early levels.
Useful papers can be found littered on the floor in the early levels.

One other perk for gameplay: the pause screen gives you the full control layout. There are things on the pause screen that were NOT in the tutorial, like Dancing or Listening, which filled in the gaps of much-needed skills to succeed.

The maps are procedurally generated, so you never really play the same thing twice. The general layout of each map is the same every time, and certain traps are always there and in the same place (like the truck on the second map, the stove in the first map, and the hanging wire on the stage in the third map), but the layout of everything else changes. Furniture, wall hangings, the punch/keg, papers to read for tips (and which tips are present), and other little things that impact the game change each time the map loads.

And every time a cop finds a body, there's a bodybag for it.
And every time a cop finds a body, there’s a bodybag for it.

The game also has a way to keep the challenge alive during a level. Every time you escape the police due to some sort of shortcut (like a ladder or a hidden passageway), a figure that looks like Mario comes out (usually from a toilet, sewer, or similar location) and destroys it, keeping you from using it again for the rest of the level. It’s like closing off certain passageways that you’ve abused, so good luck the next time you are caught!

Personally, I love the added perk of random cameos, like Mario and Vader, and the random events, like appearances of knights on horseback trying to joust with a mounted officer or aliens randomly abducting partygoers. It doesn’t always add much that helps you (and sometimes it’s just to be funny), but it’s amusing and interesting at the very least.

Yes, that is Darth Vader in the pool. No, I'm not about to ask him why he's there.
Yes, that is Darth Vader in the pool. No, I’m not about to ask him why he’s there.

Considering this game is a nod to many things that were popular (or reintroduced) in the 90s such as slasher film tropes and some of the aforementioned characters, as well as nods to current things (supposedly there’s a Sharknado event), there’s plenty to randomly see and laugh about.

==The Bad==

One of the things that jumps out right at the get-go was the voice acting. It sounds like the same guy trying to use two different voices, and it sounds corny. Some may like this, but I found it detracting from the experience.

While the cutscene artwork is reminiscient of an NES game, the graphic quality of the levels aren’t anything to write home about.

The graphical power of the game. Yes, that's a floppy drive in the corner.
The graphical power of the game. Yes, that’s a floppy drive in the corner.

While the game can move along reasonably quickly (I was working on Stage 3 in a little more than an hour), there are certain parts that make the game slow down. One stage took me nearly twenty minutes to complete due to having to wait for people to move away from crowds or to fall for a trap. I can’t tell if it was the play style or if it’s just the AI making things insanely difficult (and if it’s both, then my hat’s off to whomever programmed that AI).

There are times that the random element can be detremental. I’ve had some levels in which I was given one or two traps, and others that had so many that it was a cakewalk. While I like how it adds a challenge due to not knowing what you’ll get next, it became frustrating when I would fail near the end of the level and be given a map with very few traps.

The controls can take some getting used to on the PC. You’ll need to use E to stab, R to pick up people, and Q to dance, but you move with either WASD or the arrow keys. A bit awkward, especially if you move your hand unconsciously to get comfortable and are now pressing the F key (use item) at a bad time. I’ve lost count how many times I went to pick up a victim and instead dropped a bomb or changed clothing.

But not as awkward as this name.
But not as awkward as this name.

Spacing is a bit of a concern as well. If you aren’t lined up correctly, you’ll miss your target or be unable to use a trap, yet on many occasions I’ve killed a target that I didn’t think I was lined up with. This is frustrating, as I’d have a kill lined up, they move a hair and I miss with the knife, causing them to run (and the NPCs run faster than your character), call for help, and I’m busted. There are also times I think I’m behind cover, but I’m really not, causing someone to see me and leading to a game over. One frustrating occassion late in the game had a guard standing behind a door, yet he was able to not only see me, but walk though the door and instantly arrest me. Blech.

I think issues like this comes with the territory of a 2D game that would benefit from a 3D makeover.

A number of the achievements are entertaining or possible (complete the map without using a trap), some of them are downright frustrating, like getting busted with only one person left on the map. This means you are purposely losing after a nearly twenty-minute map, just to do it all again. I lucked out and missed a kill that caused me to get busted, but otherwise I probably wouldn’t have bothered.

Getting busted right before you finish the map? Better start all over again.
Getting busted right before you finish the map? Better start all over again.

This is doubly frustrating, as the game advertises there are more characters to unlock after you complete achievements. I’ve unlocked 11 of 26 as of this moment, and still haven’t gotten another character yet.

The game also lacks a quicksave or temporary save function, so if you have to leave, lose power, or see your boss coming, you will end up losing whatever progress you’ve dumped into the level (which, for some levels, can be quite a lot).

Something
You’ve gotta kill 36 people without stopping in the second level. The numbers fluctuate, so but the levels get a bit crazier.

A personal pet peeve is the writing. At times, character will speak to each other, but there are some odd typos, such as “LOL)” and “It tastes like a shit.”  Even the papers you find feel a little awkward linguistically.

Feels like a clumsy NES translation.
Feels like a clumsy NES translation.

Finally, the music gets a little redundant. It’s reminiscent of chiptunes. . .in fact, it feels like chiptunes and techno had a child from the 80s. While it sounds nice at first, it can grate on your nerves after the fourth or fifth time working on a level.

==The Verdict==

This is the first game I’ve played by Pinokl and tinybuild Games. It may or may not be the last. There are some elements I love about the game, but it’s almost to a point of Dark Souls frustrating in which a single, simple mistake can remove so much time and work.

Killed, arrested, or just messed up.
Killed, arrested, or just messed up.

If you like challenging tactical games that change every time you play, a game that can crush your progress to a degree similar to Dark Souls, enjoy playing the villain, and have the odd amount of $12.89 to pay for a game (yes, that’s the price on Steam), then this game is for you.

If you are easily frustrated by lost progress, don’t like random AI, dislike randomly generated levels, abhor poor voice acting, and get annoyed with isometric views that hinder more than help, then give this a pass and find something else to play.

Personally, I don’t know if I can recommend it at all in it’s current form, but it does have the potential of being something interesting if it could just be cleaned up.

And just remember: what happens in Vegas, stays on YouTube.
And just remember: what happens in Vegas, stays on YouTube.
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