By Chris Melchin / October 22nd, 2015
|Release Date||August 25, 2015|
|Genre||Action, Stealth, Indie|
|Platform||Steam (PC, Mac, SteamOS)|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Mature|
Party Hard is a game with a very straightforward concept – the protagonist is sick of people partying at 3 a.m. and just wants to get to sleep. He decides that the best way to stop them is to go into the party and murder everyone there. I mean, I’d probably just deal with it, but I guess not everyone is as heavy a sleeper as I am. Some people decide that mass murder is the better solution. To each their own, I suppose.
Party Hard originally started out as a game jam project by indie developer Pinokl Games, who had previously developed some more casual, family-friendly games. The original game jam prototype is actually still available for free on publisher tinyBuild’s website, serving as a demo of sorts for the full game. The final product was released on Steam for Windows, Mac and SteamOS on August 25 for about $10 USD. (It’s $12.89 CAD. I don’t know the exact price in USD, since my Steam is set to Canadian dollars and I don’t know if Steam converts the currencies exactly.)
At first glance, Party Hard looks quite similar to games like Hotline Miami, in both graphical style and premise – a top-down action game with colorful, pixel-based graphics, about killing large numbers of people without dying yourself. However, Party Hard immediately sets itself apart from Hotline by being much slower and more methodical in its play style. While both games encourage trial and error to beat their levels, Party Hard is much more focused on experimentation, and finding out how you can use the different elements in the environment such as traps to take out as many people as possible without being found out. You start out with only a knife, but it is possible to pick up other items, such as a stun bomb, a regular bomb, a sword, a pizza (apparently, but I never got it), poison, spare clothes, and my personal favorite, the smoke grenade. You can also only carry one item at a time, and you either pick them up from suitcases you find in some levels or get them from a gentleman in a trenchcoat you sometimes encounter.
The AI in Party Hard is all right and fairly well designed considering the game’s nature. Upon seeing a dead body, NPCs will usually call the police, and either they or a group of paramedics will arrive within a few seconds to deal with the bodies. If you happen to be seen near the bodies when they are discovered, or a police officer sees you near a body when they first find it, you will be arrested and will fail the level. You can also get the “busted” result if you get too close to one of the bouncers that appear in later levels. It is also possible to die, such as if you get caught in one of your own traps or get attacked by a zombie or chainsaw murderer you summon. The AI is not particularly bright, but this is the type of game that would be nearly impossible with smart NPCs, so it works out. It can, however, make the game quite easy to exploit on certain levels. For example, whenever a level contains a trap that leaves no body and can be reused indefinitely, such as a gap in the railing of a rooftop, a giant saw blade, or a group of sharks, you can throw anyone who goes by into it without any repercussions. Even if someone nearby watches you pick up a sleeping victim and deliberately throw them off a rooftop, you’ll still be fine because of the way the traps work.
My biggest complaint about the game is that it is too reliant on trial and error, especially when the levels take as long to play as they do in Party Hard – my average completion time was between 10 and 15 minutes, with the exceptions being the extremely easy party bus level and the boat level, which I’ll explain later on. One of the most frustrating things that can happen is when you get the party down to only a few people, and a cop just happens to see you in the same minute as he discovers a dead body and you get arrested, and need to start the level over from the start. Not only that, but there seem to be two variations of each level (with the exception of the party bus), with different items available, different set events over the course of the level, and a different trap layout.
The game drops players right into the action, with just a couple brief tutorial levels to teach them how to stab people and use simple traps before jumping right into a level with 47 people to kill, with no direction aside from telling you to “Kill them all.” The game leaves it completely up to the player to explore how the different traps work and learn how to effectively kill large groups of people. From the first level onward, the only tutorials you get are newspapers scattered around the levels that have remarkably unhelpful bits of information that either tell you something you already know or something that is not useful at all to your current situation. These newspapers, for example, are the only way that I know that pizza is an obtainable item, and apparently you can hide in certain furniture, but I never figured out how. A bit more tutorial and easing the player into the game would be appreciated by me, but, at the same time, I like the “trial by fire” sort of approach that it takes by forcing you to adapt to its rules or get out. It’s important for a game to strike a balance between these two approaches, and where that balance lies is really just a matter of personal taste.
Being a simple top-down game without particularly flashy or detailed graphics, the system requirements are quite forgiving, with the game generally running smoothly even on my three year old, low-spec laptop. Everything, that is, except the boat party level. I don’t know why; maybe my graphics drivers were outdated, or maybe it’s because the water and flotsam in the background was constantly moving, but for the entirety of my time in the level it was running at an inconsistent, single-digit frame rate that made the level virtually unplayable if it weren’t for the shark trap exploit I mentioned above. Amusingly, despite taking longer in real time than probably any other level, the in-game playtime was the second-shortest of any in the game, at just over two minutes of in-game time passing while I did the level as compared to other levels’ 10-15 minutes. Party Hard also gives you a score after each level, but, since there is no in-game ranking system or online leaderboards that I could find, the score is just a meaningless, out-of-context number with no point of reference for what a “good” score is.
The music is generally not anything particularly special, but, since levels can easily go on for upwards of 10 minutes, it gets repetitive in every level. It’s all fairly standard rave music, looped ad nauseam throughout the level until you ultimately just tune it out and it all becomes background noise. The only one I consider a standout track is the one that plays during the rooftop pool level (called “In the Lights”). Every song is decent when heard on its own, it’s just that, when you’re playing the game and spending sometimes upwards of an hour trying to methodically work your way through a level, you get tired of it and start tuning it out. “In The Lights” was the only one that I didn’t get sick of, even after I’d attempted the pool party level for the umpteenth time trying to work out how to beat it.
The game also has a story, and it uses a police officer discussing the so-called “Party Hard” serial killing spree with what appears to be a psychiatrist as a framing device. It does get pretty cheesy and ridiculous at times, but I will say that there’s a plot twist at the end. I won’t spoil anything, but just let it be known that the story isn’t entirely just there for the sake of giving the game something to tie everything together. It isn’t much, but I’d be lying if I said it all wasn’t at least somewhat entertaining. Things also get a bit more surreal in the new levels added in a recent update, adding in robots, aliens and other planets to a game that, aside from the zombies, was generally pretty bound to real-world objects.
Party Hard is a game that takes a cheesy, B-movie-esque premise and turns it into an entertaining, if slow and frustrating, game. Each level is an investment, and the countless times you’ll retry each one makes it all the more satisfying when you finally crack the code and succeed. The final stretch, when there’s just five or six people left, is at the same time the most nerve-wracking, yet gratifying thing in this game, as you can kill the stragglers almost without worry, but at the same time you’re paranoid about one of them catching you and forcing you to do the whole thing over again. But, the graphics are simple, colorful and weirdly charming, and the music provides a nice beat to serve as the background to your murder spree. Party Hard is like a big party — it’s crowded and frustrating, and it can be hard to get used to the rules; but when all is said and done, you’ll look back and remember it as an enjoyable time.
Review copy provided by publisher
Indie gamesparty hardPC reviewPinokl GamesReviewSteamtinybuild