Some of the greatest films ever made are hard to sit through. Some of the greatest novels of all time are difficult to finish. The same should be true of games – just as not every movie is a breezy summer blockbuster, not all games need to have fun as the ultimate goal. Art can be difficult, even frustrating, as long as it still engages on some level – maybe it has a lesson to teach, or the promise of a sense of accomplishment upon completion.
It seems that Gods Will Be Watching, from Deconstructeam and Devolver Digital, was intended to be that kind of difficult experience. Not just challenging in its design, but emotionally harrowing as it puts you through the psychological ringer over and over and over.
The game certainly succeeds in instilling a sense of anguish and helplessness. That could be interesting, too, if the game gave you something in return for your efforts – characters to care about, difficult moral choices to navigate, or a sense of overcoming a great challenge. Instead, playing Gods feels more like getting kicked in the shins over and over again at random intervals by a misanthropic spreadsheet. My time with it has been some of the most frustrating and infuriating of my entire gaming career, and despite some excellent artwork and occasional glimpses of a much better game, I can't recommend it.
Gods Will Be Watching began life as an experimental entry in Ludum Dare 26, a 48-hour game jam with the theme of minimalism. The original iteration had you managing a crew of scientists, soldiers, a robot, and a dog who had been stranded on an alien planet. Within the game's single screen, you had to carefully manage the crew's health and morale while also making efforts to find rescue with extremely limited resources and time. It was a clever and effective experiment, one that left a large impression on many who played it.
The game jam version has been reworked into one of seven total chapters that are variations on the original mechanics, strung together with a more fleshed-out narrative. Unfortunately, it should have stayed as a half-hour long game jam game. What works as a short dive into a hopeless experience transforms into a monumentally frustrating exercise in repetition and futility when stretched out into a full-length title. More of a resource management game with point-and-click trimmings than a traditional adventure, Gods has little of what you would expect. It looks like a retro-styled point-and-click, but it plays very differently.
While each chapter varies in the specifics, most of the scenarios place you in a single room or area with several characters, resources to manage, and a time limit. Clicking around the environment brings up menus showing actions you can take or order other characters to take. Actions highlighted in red will advance the clock by a discrete amount, while green actions are free. In some cases, taking a single action will advance to the next "turn," while in others you can give orders to each character before choosing to carry them all out simultaneously.
Under the hood are a number of variables being tracked. For example, in the chapter adapted from the original Ludum Dare game, in which the player and his crew are stranded in an alien wilderness, each character has a morale rating that is affected by hunger, exhaustion, the condition of their colleagues, events like predator attacks, temperature, and so on. Each turn, their morale will fall unless certain actions are taken, like giving a pep talk or feeding them a cooked meal. But cooking that meal takes time that could instead be used to repair the radio that is your only chance off the planet, or to gather more wood to prevent the fire from going out, or to produce medicine to treat the virus that runs rampant on the planet's surface.
Each scenario comes down to spinning plates, managing each of these variables by spreading out your attention. If any of these variables falls too low, bad things happen, usually meaning that a crew member will go insane, get sick, or die. If that happens, the actions they could perform are no longer available and your chances of escape are that much lower.
The game obfuscates the state of these variables, as well as the effect that your actions have on them. Take hunger, for example. There is no hunger meter, and until you have tried all of the options, there is no way to know how much eating raw meat will affect that invisible number as opposed to a cooked meal or going hungry for a night. It's not clear whether having a character perform an action makes them hungrier. Nor is it clear if their hunger level rises at the same rate every night or if it is randomized, or even how large an impact hunger has on their morale. And so on, for dozens of variables.
While it's possible to eventually suss out the values of certain elements and actions through trial and error, it's nearly impossible to predict them ahead of time. Instead of each chapter testing your survival acumen or pushing you into uncomfortable moral territory, this lack of clarity turns the game into one of fumbling through each new chapter's arbitrary rules until you have seen each action play out enough times to hazard a guess as to what's happening behind the scenes.Continued on the next page...
What our readers think of Gods Will Be Watching
Posted by TrevimusPrime on Dec 12, 2015
Excellent and a must play
Challenging, infuriating but very rewarding. GWBW is a puzzle game, where you have to make all the hard choices. People may (and probably wiill) die, depending on the actions you take. Reasons to buy: Different scenarious, each with variantions on how to...