Hidden Agenda – First Impressions

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Hidden Agenda is an interesting one. It’s a fairly new game from Sony, utilising their new “PlayLink” feature, from Until Dawn developers Supermassive Games.

You play solely on mobile devices – tablets and smartphones that can handle having the Hidden Agenda app, and can choose one of two modes. You can play alone, but I feel you need company to get those most out of the game.
This is Sony’s new gimmick – PlayLink, and the first game in a long while that uses this control method to get around local multiplayer without the need for several, expensive, controllers. The Jackbox games also utilise phones and tablets for players to join in, but generally pit players against each other, rather than try to tell a story through decisions.
It meant my mum could (and was happy to) have a go and play with me, something that’s incredibly uncommon in my house.

So, apart from the slight novelty factor and having a game my parents may join in with, what drew me to Hidden Agenda?
Firstly, you don’t get a whole lot of crime solving mystery games. Secondly, there was a lot of emphasis on the butterfly effect – something that has become somewhat tiresome in recent years as games increasingly want to make the players feel like their choices matter. Telltale games are notorious for telling players their choices matter and then pulling that rug out from under them.
Until Dawn, Supermassive Games’ claim to fame (and more recently The Inpatient), also played heavily with the butterfly effect, reminding the player every 5 minutes that your actions have effects.

Despite its flaws, I enjoyed Until Dawn. So, logic dictates that I may enjoy other games in a similar style.

I bought Hidden Agenda on sale, because I thought £15 was a high price for a game that ultimately may not be played by anyone but me, and I was wary of the issues that I felt Until Dawn had.
Myself and Thero played the first section together, in co-op mode. I had to then restart in order for my mum to play with me, again in co-op mode. There is a competitive mode, where the “Hidden Agenda” comes into play but I feel that this a mode better suited to 3 or more players.
As such, my first impressions are based soley on the first section in co-op mode.

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During set up, each player, on their own tablet or phone, chooses their name and colour to represent their pointer on screen. The tablet/phone acts as your controller – dragging and tapping your finger acts as the pointer.
Once you are ready to begin, you are thrown in. Tutorials and guides on how to play are mixed between on-screen, in-game and through the app in the ‘journal’.
As the plot unravels, you are presented with decisions to choose between – in co-op mode the players must come to a consensus before their action will be chosen. With Thero and I this was fairly painless as we both have the same sarcastic, snarky personalities. With my mum playing, there were a few instances of standing our ground on our choice.
Every so often the game will present a question and ask the players to nominate someone who best fits a characteristic (such as “who is the most trusting?”). This choice then appears later, forcing the player to make a decision on their own.
These are the two major actions that will appear, though there are a few others that come up through the story.

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Away from the nuances of controls, Hidden Agenda looks surprisingly pretty. I wasn’t the hugest fan of the graphics style of Until Dawn – there was just too much ‘off’ with some of the characters, the high detail models weren’t used well, and there were far too many exaggerations of facial expressions to take them seriously. Hidden Agenda, in the two years since Until Dawn, has seemingly improved those faces. Although there is still the problem of the Uncanny Valley, I’m impressed with the detail and definition in the game.
Despite the grim dark, the black and the grime, Hidden Agenda can be astonishingly beautiful.

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Enough descriptions. What do I think?
I think it’s trying, I’ll give it that. I’m not entirely convinced by the PlayLink aspect – certainly in co-op it’s not hugely beneficial. As I mentioned, I’ve only played through the first section, but I already feel like some of the choices won’t matter. When I played with Thero, we chose one route. With my mum, another, and ultimately it didn’t make a huge amount of difference. I understand there’s an overarching plot line but (As with Telltale games and Until Dawn) if you’re pushing the “choices matter” and “the butterfly effect”, make it feel like decisions matter, especially if you are encouraging multiplayer.
I haven’t really seen enough of the story to make a judgement on it – that’s why this is First Impressions and not a review. I’m not jumping at the bit to keep playing, but if and when we get a chance to continue, I’ll charge my phone.

Khin out

2 comments

  1. Ooh interesting… I’ve not played Hidden Agenda yet but we’ve got this lined up for our gaming marathon next month. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts once you’ve finished it. 🙂

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