will you survive?
While you may not know the studio by name, Supermassive Games was the team behind the successful, yet somewhat overlooked, Until Dawn; a choose-your-own-adventure game about a group of teenagers being hunted down one by one by a mysterious killer. The game was designed as a single player experience, yet, it found success as a game to share with friends, swapping the controller from hand to hand, or via the community with streaming services like Twitch and Youtube. It was this very social dynamic that led to the creation of Hidden Agenda, a title that feels far more shallow and stripped down than its predecessor but thrives on its replayability.
The most immediate difference between this title and Until Dawn is that you won't use a controller at all. Each action and choice will be made via the Hidden Agenda mobile app, which is downloadable to your smartphone or tablet. Up to six players can join in, compete, and attempt to mold the story to their liking, as each player will be able to take over the choice, receive bonus objectives to make happen, or merely want to cause a little chaos to see what plays out.
The story follows homicide detective Rebecca Marney, as played by Arrow actress, Katie Cassidy. At the start of the game both her and her partner respond to a tip regarding a serial killer named The Trapper, and upon entering the location in question, they catch him in the act and bring him in. The remainder of the game follows an investigation just 48 hours before he is put to lethal injection, as a new break in the case may end up proving his innocence.
Until Dawn wasn't just choices and characters, it allowed you to walk around the environments and explore the world it had built. Hidden Agenda has backgrounds, but that is all they are, backgrounds. What was interesting about Until Dawn was the cabin, the ski-lift, the tunnels, the outdoors, each location felt memorable, but here, they are just backgrounds. Hidden Agenda takes away the control aspect of moving your characters around and turns the experience into quick-time events and point and click adventuring.
Through the mobile app, your presence on the screen is via a colored cursor, and you'll use this cursor to select your choice, find clues in a few select backgrounds, and target key quick-time event markers during an action scene. The problem with the choice aspect is that you will see each person's cursor select that option, taking away the surprise of what your teammates have chosen and sometimes this will force you to go with the majority as that choice will then play out. I wished that the chosen scene would have just played out and you wouldn't have known which scene won the majority until it happened. Currently, you can feel pressured to make certain choices, and it feels counter-productive to the social aspect the game is aiming for.
The app also contains the current plot your choices have led you to, character bio's, and what events you have set in motion. The app provides a fun amount of detail and story, but the story and characters are just not that exciting to really dig into this content. I also found that since the app is constantly running during the 2-3 hours that a single playthrough will run you, that you'll need to plug your phone in or use a charging pack before you wrap up the story.
While you can play through the game with friends and just make choices with the plot, there is also a competitive mode where you can earn points attempting to make certain choices happen. At various points in the story, you will be dealt a Hidden Agenda card, but only one player will receive an objective to set in motion with the other players trying to figure out who this secret player is. While this may sound exciting, it is anything but. These choices often are during mundane and pointless moments in the story instead of big events that can shape the narrative. To make matters worse, these moments are telegraphed with a "here is a Hidden Agenda moment" tutorial screen that informs players that the next choice will determine if the Hidden Agenda player succeeds. Had these moments been secret and occur without the fanfare, it would have made players question every single choice and not just the one the game decided us to focus on.
Where Hidden Agenda succeeds, however, is in its replayability. There are so many options, choices, and outcomes that it can be staggering to see how wildly different the story can go. My first playthrough with a group of friends had the detective framed and the killer free, whereas my follow-up playthrough was the exact opposite. I wish that the game had some sort of chapter select to make exploring the other options easier instead of having to play through the entire game again, but at only 2-3 hours long, it isn't a huge investment to start all over again.
As with Until Dawn, Supermassive Games used a few well-known actors in the lead roles and while the only recognizable face here is Katie Cassidy, the game still features a slick AAA look despite the few graphical hiccups that occur. Some faces can look a bit creepy and there are a few times where animations don't quite sync up, but it doesn't in any way ruin the experience. As I mentioned before, the backgrounds here are merely there to fill space and the camera will zoom in so close to the faces that you will rarely ever get the chance to look around. The faces do have a fantastic amount of detail, but there are times where the models won't look near as good and it may be due to the game using some models for far away and others for the times the camera is set very close to them. This is somewhat similar to in-game characters and in-engine cutscene characters not quite matching up visually.
If the various Telltale adventure games are not scratching that choose-your-own-adventure itch, and you had a great time with Until Dawn, then Hidden Agenda may fill that gap. While it can feel far more like an interactive movie than an actual game, the choices you can make, and the outcomes that result from those choices, make Hidden Agenda a great time with a group of friends.