Hidden Agenda is a great Supermassive Games title, but a horrible PlayLink one.
First, PlayLink. For those unaware, it’s Sony’s answer to Jackbox Games and the engrossing Party Pack franchise. PlayLink games are essentially party games, meant to be enjoyed by a group of friends with a beer (or two) in hand. The formula works extremely well for Jackbox, and the same is true in regard to Sony’s first implementation of the system: That’s You!
Hidden Agenda is a different beast entirely.
Similar to Supermassive Games’ past work, Hidden Agenda is a thriller that’s boosted by the likes of real-world actors; this time around, it’s Katie Cassidy (Arrow, Supernatural) who leads the pack. Despite getting top-billing, you won’t spend the entire game playing as Cassidy’s character, police officer Becky Marnie; equal time is spent with District Attorney Felicity Graves, played by Christy Choi.
Hidden Agenda is quite similar to Until Dawn, though the slow-moving sequences where you control your character and walk around have been removed for this experience. Instead, you — solo or in a group of friends — will watch as a story unfolds on your television screen. Logged into the PlayLink app on your iOS or Android phone, you’ll be called to interact with the story at specific points, going down branching paths, making critical decisions or looking for clues that further the case. Potential character responses are fairly heavy handed, almost to the point where they’ll impact how you decide. Whiel the options give you an idea of what you’ll say, they summaries really spell it out; a lot of options are labelled “Restrained,” as an example.
Most of the time, your phone’s screen will act as a giant mousepad; for branching decisions, you’ll move your thumb on it to control an on-TV cursor, going to the left or right depending on how you want your character act. When looking for clues, the same is relatively true — you’ll move your thumb around on your phone to move the on-TV cursor in an attempt to locate items.
It’s not the best implementation of PlayLink; most of the time, it’s quite difficult to use your phone as a mousepad while looking at the screen — there’s a weird disconnect that’s hard to explain. When playing solo and against a timer, finding multiple clues at a crime scene is all but impossible; the functionality is just just too slow to work properly. Even when choosing between two decisions, there’s a snapping quality to the cursor, so if you move the slightest bit towards an option, bam — that’s the one you’ve decided upon.
Despite most of Hidden Agenda being a series of cutscenes, the game forces you to keep the app open and alive while the game is being played. If the leader moves to a different app, even for a second, the game will pause itself and wait (patiently) for the app to be re-engaged. That poses two problems — one, you’ll have to fight the urge to multi-task at all times, and two, your phone battery will hate you for the drain.
As a party game, Hidden Agenda is simply too long, especially if you gather a group of friends to play through it. Despite a decent save system, an in-app log that reminds you of where you’ve been and a break-down of the story into several Acts (which encourage you to grab a drink between ’em), you’ll need to devote a handful of hours to the endeavour. If you have to complete the game in several sittings, you’ll also have to ensure you’ve got all your friends back together (well, unless you’re mean).
While Until Dawn grew in popularity because group-think was encourage via Twitch streaming, Hidden Agenda was designed with this group-think in mind. You’re encouraged to play in groups; consensus is needed to actually decide upon an action. Other little trick offers the ability to lock members of the party out to impact the group-think itself. It’s a neat idea, but again, the length of the game limits when you’ll actually be able to do this. For the purposes of this review, I had to play solo.
In the end, I wish Hidden Agenda was more of a traditional PS4 game rather than a PlayLink gimmick. Still, with a solid (yet slightly predictable storyline; at least, the one I played through), it’s well worth a go. Supermassive is quickly becoming my favourite Sony developer.
Hidden Agenda was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4, as provided by the publisher. A corresponding PlayLink app was also used on iOS. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.
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