You’re lying in bed, trying to sleep. Your blood begins to rush. Your heart beats a raging, nearly insurmountable noise, only overcome by the techno cacophony that has yet to cease, even at this unsociable hour of 3 AM. You could buy some earplugs. Or maybe even call the police. But for some reason these options flee from your consciousness. Instead, a knife and hockey mask seem like the most efficient method of silencing your noisy neighbours.
This is the story of of Party Hard, a game about killing large amounts of party people, and getting away with it. It’s been developed by Pinokl, and published by Tiny Build, who seem to have taken a departure from their family-friendly games such as Snail Bob 2. That being said, the party-killing game does contain the puzzle elements that were in their previous titles, and can best be described as a tactical stealth game. Think Hotline Miami slowed down, mixed with a sprinkling of Hatred, and you’re getting pretty close.
There are a large amount of parties you’ve to work through, including house parties, roof parties, pool parties, party buses, and anywhere else people decide to lay down some dance moves. The music of each stage is catchy, and you’ll find yourself humming the techno tunes long after you turn the game off. Environments are detailed and painted prettily in a pixelated style akin to Hotline, but the camera is panned out so you see the whole level. You need to be able to observe all your surroundings so you can make a plan of action. The environment is your main accomplice.
The straightforward way to kill is simply to stab your way through foes, but doing this will quickly lead to you being chased down and dragged off by a cop, or being mauled by a disgruntled crowd. You’ll need to kill people out of sight; perhaps two lovers who have gone around to the side of a building, or somebody who has decided to take a nap. You’ll then have their corpses to struggle with; being spotted next to one will lead to you being the suspect of the murder. It all harks towards slasher films and there is something satisfying about interrupting a pair of smoochers who’ve left their guard down, or killing someone who’s just about to reach a phone.
Killing witnesses before they get to a phone will prevent the police from showing up, but because of the small sprint metre, this is often impossible to do; a similar problem you’ll get when fleeing from police. The best thing is to quickly flee from your victim, or, if you don’t want anybody to call the cops at all, you can cover your tracks by getting rid of bodies in a variety of ways. These might include storing them in a trash can, burning them, or throwing them into a sawmill. In one level, I efficiently threw most my victims off a roof; fortunately the game seems to ignore how pedestrians would react to this. Another effective method is to predict a witnesses movement: killing while blocking a room’s sole door from witnesses is one strategy, and there are other methods to discover that reward the tactful player.
You can also use a wide variety of traps that are scattered across each stage. These are randomly generated, so levels can be completely transformed depending on what’s available, but, while this adds some replayability, it also leads to some issues. Some traps are extremely efficient, while others seem completely pointless. Poisoning food or drink can be one of the most potent methods of killing, especially in comparison to another strategy which involves a horse that you can startle. It’s the same with items you pick up: a stun bomb is rarely of use in comparison to a regular bomb. While over time, you do become familiar with when to use items, there is still a feeling of unfairness in that your ability to complete a level is overly reliant on what you’re given.
People you can call to the party through a telephone do add a nice dash of colour. Aliens can show up and abduct people, while a man swinging a chainsaw around kills people indifferently. These can also be manipulated if you use Twitch: people in the chat can affect your surroundings by calling certain people to the party. Unfortunately this is a feature dependent on you using the service – which I don’t myself – and upon people actually watching your stream.
Killing can become a monotonous, methodical task when your items and the environment fall short. Oftentimes it’s easier to simply kill people by stabbing them, and slowly picking people off one by one can become the name of the game. Combos that boost your score can be built up by killing rapidly, but this feels much too taxing to do. The controls aren’t deft enough to allow it, and the view given by the camera can make it difficult to focus on obstacles that are in your way. There’s also no rating system after levels, so there’s no score for you to aim for. What’s also of note are a number infuriating bugs I experienced. I scraped painfully through a boat level that was completely broken because of its ridiculous framerate, and another level had one partygoer constantly scrolling through levels, floating off the screen and through walls – even while he was sleeping.
Another issue comes with the story. Cutscenes take place between levels that develop the narrative further, with the protagonist talking to someone who seems to be a police officer, and making reference to the parties that he has just annihilated. It’s all fully voiced – not brilliantly, but quite good for an indie game. But, after the first cutscene, the game takes a turn too far from the humour of someone simply being annoyed about noise from a party. The protagonist becomes whiny, unlikable and a stereotypically smart, manipulative psychopath, trying to mess with the cop’s head, while the officer sounds boring; just some angry but conflicted cop.
Party Hard’s gameplay can be fun, challenging and interesting, but ultimately lacks depth and feels somewhat unfinished. Each level is a puzzle to be completed, but the pieces feel jagged and unwieldy, and this leads to frustration and boredom. However, there are some innovations such as the integration of Twitch, and the story has had some good work put into it – but none of these can make up for the problems with the gameplay.
More of a Quiet Get-Together Than a Wild Party
Party Hard has some fun and innovative mechanics, but a combination of repetitive gameplay and infuriating bugs mean these don't work out too well in the long run.