PAX East Indie Megabooth Preview (Part 2 of 3: Hotline Miami 2 and Gods Will Be Watching)

This continuation of the PAX East Indie Megabooth Preview includes Hotline Miami 2 and God Will Be Watching.  Part 1, which featured Below and Aztez, can be found here.

Hotline Miami 2

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The tides have changed for the top-down shooter from Dannaton Games since mask-wearing murders first frustrated players two years ago.  While the original Hotline Miami was released with decent anonymity, its sequel carries expectation from a built-in fan base.  With a trailer already promoting the game publisher Devolver Digital released a second trailer prior to PAX East highlighting a handful of new masks and combat options.

Hotline Miami isn’t simply a series, it is a culture of video games, one designed to challenge players who want a unforgiving experience.  While I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game, I wanted to watch other players attempt to work their way through the demo to see if the game had lost a step.  The results varied, some people were Hotline vets, distracting guards, bouncing in and out of rooms, unleashing their attacks with destructive accuracy.  Then there were the poor souls who were simply lured in by the bloody violence and bright colors, they quickly found themselves being given a life quota as it was unlikely they would beat the level.

Hotline Miami 2 is the same ol’ game with a brand new budget.  It feels bigger than its predecessor, with more characters and other nuances – like driving a Scooby-Doo-esque van instead of a sleek, black sports car – making the experience feel fresh, but familiar.  In many ways a demo on a PAX show floor is not the ideal place to play Hotline Miami.  The crowds drown out the eclectic soundtrack, the line of waiting players lamenting your experimentation, it prevents you from losing yourself in the game.

My time with Hotline Miami 2 begins as so many missions did in the game before it, talking with a handful of mask-wearing crazies.  While Hotline Miami presented most of its conversations with its masked loonies in dark rooms, populated with buzzing flies and ambiguous dialogue, its sequel has these characters sitting on a couch a party.  The lights are bright, the mood is casual, it feels like these characters have become common place.  The group banters a bit about performing an act of some sort, but the dialogue – while still ambiguous – lacks its other-worldly quality.  It is slightly off-putting, but the true mood and objective of the scene is hard to determine with a convention buzzing around me.  Eventually I hop in my Scooby-Doo van and drive to my objective.

The masks in Hotline Miami 2 feel far more important than they did previously.  While simple upgrades like, “Kill Through Doors” or “Start With Shotgun” were nice little bonuses, the masks now seem to define playstyle.  The most interesting options I saw included having a chainsaw wielding buddy follow you and a dual-uzi set up, both of which were highlighted in the latest trailer.

Once I get into the building and start mowing down guards, the game fits like an old glove.  I am slicing guards up with knives, blasting them away with my machine gun, it is as gory and glorious as Hotline Miami ever was.  The tweaks mentioned before obviously change up the game here and there, but at its heart and soul Hotline Miami 2 is as true to its roots as possible.  The combat is all about twitch reactions and gathering a clear understanding of the level.  It is a brutal balance of patience and execution.  Those looking for more Hotline Miami, might be scared at first, but let me assure these fans that the game is truly more of the same.

Gods Will Be Watching

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Like any entertainment industry, video game is party to its share of trends.  People will point to the rise of the first-person shooter, the epic RPG, but the indie scene is as guilty as any of them.  The latest trend to hit the indie scene is the choice-based survival game.  The phrase, “tough choices” got thrown around a lot by developers at PAX, but it is rare these choices actually feel difficult.  Gods Will Be Watching, may follow the trend of “tough choices”, but the game is one of the few I played to actually deliver what it was pitching.

Gods Will Be Watching takes players through a multi-stage journey, each stage a completely different scenario, but still set in the same over-arching narrative.  At PAX East, the game’s developer, Deconstructeam, showed off three different scenarios, challenging players in a myriad of different ways.  When I sat down with the team they had their “survival” demo – the second of three they brought to PAX- set up, stranding me on a winter planet with the rest of my crew.

Deconstructeam did not like to elaborate on or spoil their story details, but it was explained the main character, Stg. Burden, and his crew would be the group of protagonists followed throughout the game.  While playing my demo it became clear characters would die, but was assured by the developers dead characters would come back through a plot device.

I sat down to start playing and was greeted with a pixel-art aesthetic.  A crew of survivors have crash landed on a remote planet and it was my job to keep them alive.  The scene opens the aforementioned crew sitting around a fire, arguing about the best way to escape their icy tomb.  Help is needed and the radio to call for it is damaged, within 22 days time will run out and the crew will die. One character argues the best way to escape is to fix the radio.  Another party member argues morale is the key to survival, they implore me to make a rousing speech.

The days begin to tick away and I move through the motions, trying to balance, morale, health, and progress on the radio.  The goal is to keep my party members alive until help arrives.  It is harder than it sounds.  I set to work on the radio, having my two electronic specialists focus our time and energy into repairing our only means of escape.  I send one of the crew out to hunt and he returns with a successful kill.  I am instantly confident in my ability to save my crew, certain I can rescue everyone.  While only five actions can be taken by your party as a whole each day, I allow everyone to sleep the first night.  Things are looking up.

That was when everything fell apart.  My limited actions became precious as I raced to get the radio done, meanwhile my crew began to disappear.  I asked a couple of the crew to pull all-nighters, hoping to squeeze some extra turns, but the late nights drive them crazy and they run off.  I kept my food in decent supply – though it wasn’t usually cooked – still my crew would panic and run away.  I attempted to give a speech about survival, but it doesn’t do any good.  Soon everyone is gone, the radio remaining unfixed.

I wanted another go-round with Gods Will Be Watching, but held off.  The fact I was ready to jump back in and try again, the fact I had other strategies I wanted to try, and a better grasp on the systems in-play inspired me.  Gods Will Be Watching is purposefully hard and purposefully vague.  The invites you to tinker, to experiment, and ultimately to to fail.  It makes Gods Will Be Watching less of a “tough choice” game and more of a puzzle.  Gods Will Be Watching is set to release this summer – hopefully June – on Steam, GOG and the Humble Store.

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