Picture the scene. It’s 3AM, you have work in the morning and you’re shattered from staying up all night playing video games (this is essentially every day for me). You can’t sleep though because of those damn neighbours having a raging party next door! So what do you do? Well I’m sure you’d do what every well adjusted adult would do: grab a hockey mask and a knife and go murder them all. Then decide that everyone that ever has a party needs to be murdered. And that, dear reader, is how serial killers are born.
Party Hard is a puzzle game in which you need to murder everyone at a party without getting arrested or killed. This seems like an odd theme for a game (because it is) that would surely annoy the Jack Thompsons of the world. Each stage takes up a single screen and is filled with revelers who need to die in whatever way you see fit. You could knife them, throw them on a fire, run them over or chuck them off a tower block. Y’know, normal every day stuff. The murdering isn’t the draw here though. Killing the other characters is really the puzzle solving mechanic. You need to carry out that mechanic without getting caught by the cops or killed yourself.
If anyone spots you doing something you shouldn’t, they’ll call the police to arrest you, so remaining hidden and luring party goers away is often a good move. You can do this in a variety of ways, such as setting off a steam vent or dancing so badly everyone leaves the room. Once you have a victim alone, you see them off however you see fit and hide the body if possible. If a body is spotted, the police will once again get called, but they may not suspect you meaning you could get away with it if you’re lucky. Some people are a little braver and may attack you (or sometimes just because they don’t like you – more on that in a bit) leaving you unconscious for a few moments and vulnerable to being chased down.
It is possible to escape the police thankfully, either by keeping away from them for long enough or setting off a trap and killing them. Killing the police can cause the FBI to arrive who remain for a long time trying to find out who you are and catching up to you immediately. Generally it’s smart to avoid having the police turn up at all by making use of environmental kills and keeping bodies out of site by hiding them in sewers or (seemingly infinitely large) bins. This core gameplay loop is fairly simple (most stages take between 5 and 15 minutes) but in practice can be more difficult and occasionally frustrating.
The thing is, the game doesn’t work quite as well as it needs to from time to time. Sometimes someone will accuse you of being a murderer without having seen you doing anything, resulting in your arrest and a level restart (no checkpoints here, folks). Occasionally a bouncer will decide that they don’t like the look of you and will beat you up which, unlike a normal assailant, will force a restart. Another murderer might show up and kill you, or a zombie horde will arrive, or a limo full of additional party animals will turn up to add to your required number of kills. All these random elements keep the stages fresh, but they can be incredibly frustrating if you end up having to restart over and over. And that’s if the game doesn’t decide to throw a bug in the mix that causes a character to not die or you to become stuck in the scenery.
But in spite of this, I found myself having fun. Going in, I didn’t expect to enjoy this much (I’m not big on puzzle games) but I found it strangely compelling despite the flaws. The combination of Hotline Miami‘s control and presentation with Hitman‘s murder and social stealth worked surprisingly well to my mind whilst the short level length made me willing to restart after failure. Whilst you do need patience at times to get people on their own, once you have an idea of how a level works you can piece it all together and come out on top.
There is a story (how I started this write up is pretty much how the game starts) that develops through between level cutscenes and has quite a satisfying conclusion that sets up (I assume) for the sequel which is on the way. The music is also pretty good, which makes sense considering the theme of the game, although it can get a little tiresome on your 8th attempt at a stage. Graphically, it has that retro pixel look that so many games in the past few years have gone for. It looks fine and can have a lot of characters on screen at once, but your character model can get a little lost in the crowd sometimes, especially if you use a shortcut. This can be an irritation if you’re trying to get away from the police.
Party Hard was developed by Pinokl Games and published by tinyBuild games. I played the game on XBox One and would recommend you give it a look as there isn’t really anything else quite like it out there. It’s a genuinely unique puzzle game that, although flawed, has a lot going for it. If you’re able to overlook those flaws and have the patience for it, you’ll probably have a good time. Just make sure you keep the volume down on your TV. You probably don’t want to wake the neighbours…