Gods Will Be Watching (PC) Review

By Jordan Hurst 23.10.2014

Review for Gods Will Be Watching on PC

In many ways, Gods Will Be Watching feels like a successor to Telltale's The Walking Dead. That's a pretty strong recommendation on its own, but it deserves some elaboration. The Walking Dead's most frequent criticism was that 90% of the game was devoid of traditional difficulty. Open-minded players, on the other hand, recognised that The Walking Dead was a different kind of adventure game where the challenge was emotional rather than technical, and that making rapid dialogue choices under intense personal, practical, and moral pressure was even more engaging than interacting with the eponymous zombies. Despite this, Gods Will Be Watching fills in the perceived gaps by attaching near-impossible gameplay to its own series of extreme situations, as if to say, "Now we're going to pummel your heart and your brain. Are you happy now?" The answer is "yes," but it takes a few exhausted gasps to let it out.

Apart from the necessary comparison to Telltale's title (and maybe Papers, Please with tons more variety), Gods Will Be Watching doesn't have any immediate peers. It's been referred to as the Dark Souls of point-and-click adventures, but that's rather misleading, as there's no adventuring to be had (most chapters take place on single screens), and unlike Dark Souls, its developers seem to know what they're doing. It's more like a puzzle game whose puzzles are all extremely complex and can only be completed via flexible balancing acts rather than single, perfect solutions.

The first mission tasks players with managing the emotions of four separate hostages while staving off rescue attempts and hacking a computer for target information. The second involves surviving a torture session by dividing the pain between two characters, and strategically lying and confessing to avoid the worst damage. Every chapter introduces a new situation and new mechanics to solve it with, all of which are creative and cleverly implemented, without sacrificing the acute tension and cerebral calculation that make their completion so mentally draining and utterly satisfying. In summary, the experience offered by Gods Will Be Watching is one of a kind.

Screenshot for Gods Will Be Watching on PC

There's a good reason no one's attempted a game like this before: it's extremely hard to make well. Balance is the key to everything in Gods Will Be Watching. That's obvious from the gameplay, where players are required to find happy mediums between all aspects of a mission, as well as determine when to use safe, time-consuming actions, and when to use fast, risky ones, but it's also a huge factor in the game's design. For a game like this to work, it requires two things. The first is perfectly-tuned probabilities and time limits, so that seemingly contradictory actions will still advance players toward their goals slightly, and to make success just barely within reach, to keep the tension high. The second is a multitude of options that partially overlap, ensuring that players can never succeed by simply alternating between two actions. Gods Will Be Watching delivers on these requirements masterfully - a feat makes the untested premise even more impressive. Only the last two chapters slip up by simplifying their solutions, and even they aren't especially problematic, as they still retain the game's intensity, and the final chapter is a narrative powerhouse.

That said, the game's reliance on chance is especially problematic. It's landed itself in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation; chance is the primary factor that allows the puzzle solutions to be so flexible, and minimising risk at the cost of time is a major game mechanic, but failing a tense, skilfully-planned mission because a random number generator was in a bad mood is maddening. Furthermore, when the game is at its most cruel, it introduces moments that are entirely chance-based, including a notoriously infuriating game of Russian roulette in the second chapter. The gameplay also contains moments of trial and error, but it's the most tolerable form of trial and error possible, as repeated dialogue can be skipped quickly, and the open-ended puzzles prevent players from simply memorising patterns and reapplying them. There are additional modes that remove chance and/or make the game easier overall, however. Using them kind of feels like cheating, but their presence can dull the sting of the game's brutality, and allows anyone to at least experience all of the game's content. These are both rare concessions in challenge-based games; good luck finding a mode in Dark Souls that makes the unannounced man-eating treasure chest any less unfair.

Screenshot for Gods Will Be Watching on PC

Allowing unskilled players to reach the game's conclusion was particularly important, because Gods Will Be Watching packs one hell of a narrative. Set far into the future, during a conflict between the (arguably) terrorist organisation Xenolifer, and the oppressive Constellar Federation, the game follows third party Sgt. Burden over the course of several years, as he works toward a peaceful resolution…or at least tries to minimise the casualties. With themes of choice and morality that tie in to the game mechanics perfectly, and a final player decision and ending that are both astonishing and thought-provoking, Gods Will Be Watching is a series of psychological gut punches distilled into video game form.

Not that it's entirely bleak; the first half of the game actually showcases a surprisingly strong sense of humour. It's mostly of the snarky variety (i.e. the most cynical kind of humour), but it's funny nonetheless. Furthermore, the characters are superbly complex, if only because half of the dialogue consists of ethical arguments. Finally, the story deserves special mention for unexpectedly justifying one of the main aspects of gameplay. Exactly what gets justified and how would be quite a spoiler, but suffice it to say, it's a pretty cool plot twist.

Screenshot for Gods Will Be Watching on PC

It is, however, very likely that the game's open-ended conclusion won't sit right with some players, so beware: this is a game about questions, not answers. The immediate events are resolved, but the full scale of the plot is larger than what the game depicts. Despite the title, the game seems rather agnostic - the plot's driving forces are all but explicitly stated to be unknowable. On the subject of its potentially irksome aspects, the game has real trouble conveying important information conveniently. As previously mentioned, players will need to keep track of several statistics and values throughout each chapter, and while some of these are persistently displayed on computer screens, etc. (or better yet, conveyed visually), others are buried under a layer or two of menus. This wouldn't be much of a problem, except that many of these numbers need to be checked before every decision, adding needless repetition to gameplay that's already built on a degree of repetition. On the plus side, the menu-based controls are flawless, and it's usually quite obvious what can and can't be interacted with.

That the visuals serve the gameplay well is something of a miracle, because the art direction is rather inappropriate otherwise. Pixel art (or at least, this kind of pixel art) doesn't suit a story with this level of blunt emotional impact. The backgrounds are nicely detailed, and scenes of violence are suitably raw, but the characters suffer from expressionless faces, and bizarre walking animations that look like their legs bend on a curve, rather than on an angle at the knee. As for the game's audio component, the soundtrack is excellent, featuring plenty of taut, shadowy compositions that thankfully remain understated despite their intensity, ensuring that repetition does little to wear down their allure. Sound effects, on the other hand, are hit and miss, literally - when the player strikes a hostage to keep them in line, it should feel forceful, not like they're poking a corpse with their toe. Most of the more trivial actions sound appropriate, however.

Screenshot for Gods Will Be Watching on PC

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Gods Will Be Watching is one of those rare games that deserves a wholehearted recommendation even though it is definitely not for everyone. It's punishing, occasionally unfair, and relentlessly philosophical, but it's also supremely rewarding and absolutely gripping from start to finish, all for the same reasons. If nothing else, it's a fantastic exercise in how to translate traditionally unplayable scenes into systems of gameplay - and not just token button prompts, but complex, engaging gameplay. For those who want more than just mindless fun from their games, and are looking for something with depth and maturity, playing Gods Will Be Watching should be at the top of the to-do list.

Developer

Deconstructeam

Publisher

Devolver Digital

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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