Party Hard is, like a bad hangover, an experience that one would quickly like to forget. However, just because the hangover was terrible doesn't mean that the night before it was completely regrettable. I find myself in the curious position of both utterly loathing and oddly loving what I put myself through to complete the story. Much like a drunken bathroom selfie, something about this game was worth the pain dammit and I will explain this lapse away if it kills me!
Title: Party Hard (Review Copy Provided)
Publisher: tinyBuild Games
Developer: Pinokl Games
Platform: Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux, IOS, Android
Release Date: (Initial) August 25th, 2015 (Xbox One) April 26th, 2016
Party Hard is a mass murder simulator...It gets away with this by cladding itself in low resolution pixel art and weaving an utterly ridiculous story, about a man who just wants some sleep dammit, around its oceans of gore. The objective of the game is to kill everybody. You accomplish this with randomized traps and hit and run slaughters, while gaming the questionable AI and avoiding bouncers and policeman.
The preceding paragraph may very well have prompted you to want to possibly want to play this game by itself, unfortunately the premise falls completely apart on closer examination. Why, for instance, does the killer need to travel the states massacring random partygoers when he just wanted a good nights' sleep? Could he not have stopped after the first slaughter? Poor writing like this exposes the games' soulless core as it can't go one mission without being both completely obvious and utterly impenetrable. The framing device of a cop chasing the "Party Hard killer" spoils itself frankly, while still being mystifyingly stubborn in its refusal to delve any more into the motivations of its characters than "they're just crazy dude, lol". Comparisons will no doubt be made to Hotline Miami, which at least had the wit to abhor itself. Party Hard's execrable plot merely exists to bus us from one slaughtering ground to another, which would be fine if the gameplay was anything approaching great. Spoiler alert: it's not.
The randomized traps, placements and events are basically fine, adding an element of tenseness and strategy to your mass murdering tendencies. I can allow some element of randomization for the purposes of depth. What tips my anger into frothing berserker mode are the randomized AI behaviours of the vast crowds you are expected to off. There is a definite limit to my patience in a game that can have upwards of dozens of targets, which act in ways that basically force me to wait for merely one to wander off into a secluded space and rinse and repeat the same tactic ad nauseam. Trying to rely on traps and the occasional maniac or dancing bear to wander in is an exercise in madness when there are no discernible patterns or reliable ways to coax certain behaviours out of these panicky pixels.
The fact that your prey will frequently summon invincible one hit kill police (or, more likely, that you could be blindsided by the infuriating bouncers) and that our "hero" (noted as such by the game without irony) runs like he has hundred pound weights strapped around his legs, makes this game an intolerable slog through the RNG muck. You can escape from the police or kill them with traps, but those options quickly dry up after you use them (with a Mario reference arriving to block off your escape routes if caught using them, hardy har). Sure, you could get lucky and have a pile of zombies clear the map for you when you make a phone call, but you are more likely to accidentally summon even more targets to tediously clear out, quickly making that option toxic. Oh, and you will always, ALWAYS, get cornered and have to restart the same level fifty quintillion fucking times just a few kills away from victory.
Then there are the glitches, one level refused to trigger the ending, forcing me to quit and select the next mission to continue. This made me skip a vital cutscene thus making the story even more incomprehensible than it already was. That this cutscene came after the hardest level in the game quickly put paid to the notion that I was going to put myself through that torture again just to understand a story that I loathed at that point anyway. There are also the times where I got kicked to death from across a room and where I stumbled around a level for a good few minutes trying to find a suddenly invisible target. I often wondered if the game deciding to remove traps critical to my strategy was in itself a glitch, as they made many of the levels immeasurably more tedious, but I just chalked it up to bad design overall and rebooted the levels until I had the traps I needed.
So the gameplay is shit, the story is a mess, what does this game have to offer? Well it has an awesome soundtrack. Mind you, we are in an age where almost every indie game has an awesome score so this is less of a selling point than it seems. If you loved Hotline Miami's pulsing electronic fare, then you will probably take a liking to this. It doesn't quite have the distinct edge of that wonderful soundtrack, but it passed the time well enough for me to recommend downloading it when you have the chance.
The pixel art has a certain highly detailed charm to it, the kind of visual glee that the Where's Waldo books often engendered. There is a definite appeal to soaking up the scenery here. Funnily enough, I spent more than a few minutes on some levels just trying to find my character so I could begin operations and the density of the crowds would often make it hard to track where the OHK bouncers were, so even the best aspect of this game has some caveats to enjoying it.
So I mentioned that I loved this game in the introduction. My love is a bruised, weary kind of affection. I can understand the impish appeal of taking down a crowd in gleefully sadistic ways. The randomized nature of the game also allowed for some satisfying chaos to erupt, as the occasional homicidal maniac and dancing bears can attest. It's not outside the realm of possibility for some fun to be wrung out of this mess, but just don't expect that fun to last too long before you get a blistering headache.
Note: Images captured during gameplay.