I failed the first level of Gods Will Be Watching over ten times before I finally managed to balance hacking a computer mainframe, watching over a bunch of jittery hostages, and staving off some grenade-happy soldiers successfully. Even when I had, I still wasn't certain that I'd actually done it through my own skill and deft multitasking rather than some sort of fluke born from frustration.
The game's first level gives you four hostages and a computer system to crack. Soldiers inch their way towards you down a nearby corridor, and the only things you have to halt their progression is the threat of violence to the hostages or a spot of blind fire, both of which freak out your captives.
The hacking progress bar takes its sweet time, and though you can charge a hacking boost in increments, each time you do, your own cyber security takes a hit. Occasionally, your corridor-covering chum will have a crisis of faith, sometimes your hostages will tell you that they're about to run or fancy ending it all or don't think you're looking, and you'll have to decide how to deal with the situation.
Sometimes, seemingly without any sort of warning, they'll just randomly run for it, and the only options you have are to let them go free or shoot them in the head. Lose three of them, and the soldiers will flashbang everyone and it's game over. You can see the hostages quiver with fear or stretch out in a relaxed manner, the idea being that their body language will tell you if they need a few calming words or a kick to remind them who's boss.
Except it doesn't always work like that. Sometimes they'll just bolt randomly, somewhere in between suicidal and opportunistic, and you'll be left staring at the fail screen for the eleventh time, inventing new swear words.
I thought the gods were supposed to be watching, not pissing on my parade at every opportunity!
Gods Will Be Watching looks like a pixelart, point-and-click adventure game, but in truth it plays out more like a text-adventure crossed with a turn-based resource management survival title. Your primary mode of interaction with your environment is conducted via clicking things, but instead of exploring, grabbing items and combining them with other things in weird and wonderful fashions, this game places you in a number of sticky situations and tasks you with survival.
Typically, surviving means weighing up a whole bunch of variables, juggling several crucial activities, and making sure your companions don't run off or get themselves killed. One particular scenario sees you trapped in a cave with a lethal virus, and only 48 hours of game time in which to find a cure. Not only do you have to try and dig your way out off the cave, but you need to use the two scientific researchers in your squad to find this cure, using trial-and-error and human testing, while trying to maintain electrical power via a robot who can only be fixed and recharged by one person. Throughout all of this, you have to manage the fatigue of your crew, and watch out for the paralysis that can strike anyone down at a moment's notice as a result of the virus.
Another chapter sees you trying to last three weeks on a frosty wasteland planet, counting down the days until the next ship is due to dip into orbit, and trying not to die of hunger while rebuilding an old radio in the hopes of attracting help when the ship arrives. Except only two of your seven-strong crew can actually fix the radio, only two of the others can hunt, you have to deliver motivational speeches every once in a while because low morale can lead to people running off and getting themselves killed, and the short days mean you can only perform five actions per day.
Of course, in those circumstances, a few unfortunate deaths might actually help.
Gods Will Be Watching is supposed to be tough, you're supposed to have to make tough decisions and weather unexpected storms. The main character's name is "Burden", pointing towards a dark, grim narrative that half takes place in flashbacks, where players are perhaps supposed to reflect on the things that they did or allowed to happen. At the end of each of the game's six chapters, you're given a little floating stats chart so you can compare your actions to the percentages presented by the rest of the player base.
That works fine in The Walking Dead where the choices are pretty much all you have -- how you reach the end of the story is more important than the act of completion -- but here, the reverse is true. Progression is everything, and the devilish difficulty is part of the procedure. Unfortunately, with each and every repetition, the impact of your choices becomes more and more secondary to the mechanisms and systems at work underneath. The more I played, the more monotonous and sterile the game became.
Te fifth chapter sees you traipsing around a desert one map square at a time (not that there's a map, of course). You commandeer a battalion of soldiers and send out one or two every now and then to see what's over the next sand dune or three in any of the four compass directions. Oh, and you have to manage water and fatigue and bullets and WHYTHEHELLAMISTILLDOINGTHIS?!
Every so often there's a line or a snippet of dialogue that makes me think this game is taking the piss. At one point, one of the characters argues against following orders for orders' sake, and it's difficult not to think about that when you wander past the same picture of a desert rock formation for the umpteenth time. There's a torture scene early on where you have to endure so many days of being kneecapped and racked and punched in the mouth, and the whole point is to not die, except one of the characters makes a throwaway comment about wishing that they could learn the repetitions of the torturers' methods by having unlimited lives.
That's the game essentially telling me that there's no way through except by trial-and-error. In Super Meat Boy, with its instant respawns and perfect platforming mechanics, I can get behind that. In Dark Souls, where the demand is that you practice and become better and more skilful and work to beat the game with its own devices, that's laudable (even if it's not personally my cup of tea). But this, this does so little to earn my interest, smugly throwing in purposeful setbacks with no warning (think you've cured that disease? PSYCH! YOU'RE ONLY HALFWAY THERE!) that the repetition only serves to frustrate.
Even when I put the difficulty level down and the game presented me with more time with which to figure out the systems apparent in each level, the experience still proved disappointing. The story isn't strong enough to really prove attention-grabbing. It's not the sort of tale I particularly cared about seeing through to the end. Of the characters involved, I probably cared more about the dog than any of my bipedal comrades.
It's a visually striking game, the pixelart technique used to fine effect here. The soundtrack is particularly impressive, and it's a nice touch making alternative music the rewards for certain completed challenges. I really wanted to love it, and I can't help but feel that there's real space for a game like this -- the idea behind Gods Will Be Watching is a fine one indeed. But the game started out as a Ludum Dare project, and I can't help but feel like it might have better had it stayed that way -- a singular musing on the theme of "minimalism" rather than a one-trick pony of a larger point-and-click survival game.
- It looks fantastic
- Cracking soundtrack
- Fiendishly challenging if you enjoy difficulty for difficulty's sake
- Inventive resource management crossed with PnC gameplay makes for a refreshing experience
- Moral conundrums abound
- It's entirely predicated around trial and error
- Occasional, seemingly-random elements can prove disruptive
- Weak story means there's not much to get stuck into outside of the repetition
- Chapter five's desert slog is abominable
- If the grind doesn't get you down, the bugs will
The Short Version: Gods Will Be Watching is an interesting experiment -- a game that puts a fresh new spin on PnC conventions and delivers are pretty unique experience. But its lack of narrative impact, its ultimately empty moral decisions, dependence on trial and error, and tendencies towards deliberate frustration rather than challenging fun make it something of a flawed curiosity piece rather than anything else.