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Random Frustrations: Gods Will Be Watching Review

Don't play Gods Will Be Watching.

In fact, you CAN'T play Gods Will Be Watching, so don't even bother trying. The game gives the illusion of choice, but in the end none of it matters. All one can do is pray to the aforementioned Gods that the random number generator is kind enough this time to allow Sgt. Burden to advance to the next chapter. What could have been a fascinating look into how far someone is willing to go to survive quickly turns into a back ally shell game that always feels stacked against you.

This one scene sums up how playing the entire game felt.

Each of Gods Will Be Watching's seven chapters takes place from the viewpoint of Sgt. Burden, a name so laughably heavy-handed it gives Avatar's unobtanium a run for its money for the Captain Obvious Award, a deep cover operative infiltrating a galactic terrorist organization knows as Xenolifer. Xenolifer fights for the emancipation of all alien life in the galaxy, and while their goals may seem noble, their actions are not. In pursuit of those ideals, Xenolifer resorts to kidnapping, murder, and genocide to create a better universe.

This idea is what Gods Will Be Watching's largest selling point is supposed to be. How far are you willing to go to accomplish the mission? Do the ends justify the bloody means? Well, regardless of what you do, the Gods clearly don't care. No matter what series of choices you make, the end result doesn't change one damn bit.

In one chapter there wasn't enough food for the entire group to survive the twenty some-odd days it would take to be rescued. My plan was to work the engineer to death repairing the radio I would need to contact the ship. After all the work he put in I would get rid of the tubby bastard. I said all the right things, forced him to work through out the night, and the moment it was finished, I blew him away. This, in turn, caused the group's doctor to run off screaming into the woods never to be seen again. Great, I thought, I needed two fewer mouths to feed if I wanted to make it through the next couple of weeks anyway.

"Enjoy that meal, fatty. It'll be your last."

So alright, it was a harsh thing to do, but if I hadn't, we all would have starved to death. After twenty days without further incident, the rescue ship arrives and the rest of the survivors escape. The next chapter starts up and I fully expect to be reprimanded for my actions, but nope. You see, the fat-ass engineer and the cowardly doctor are both right there in the briefing room as if nothing had happened.

Here is where one of my two largest complaints about the game lies. If my actions have no consequences, they have no meaning. There is nothing preventing me from blasting the hell out of everyone the moment they stop being useful to me. There is NO REASON to keep anyone safe beyond the bare number of people needed to accomplish your goals. Everyone else can chomp on a laser sandwich with Burden suffering nary a care in the world since nothing influences the next chapter.

When the entire premise of your game is living with the burden (do you get it yet) of command, yet nothing you do affects the end outcome, then every action feels hollow. Sgt. Burden could be a living saint or history's most terrible mass murderer and not one damn would be given. The next chapter would start up, everyone would be fine, and the game would continue.

Just kill the little bastard if you get what you need. It doesn't matter anyway.

I would be a tad more forgiving of what Gods Will Be Watching is trying to accomplish here if it weren't for the broken randomness of its game play. I have no problems with chance in what I play. A bad room in The Binding of Isaac or poor jump in FTL can cripple a run. In both of these cases, however, I at least feel as if dying is my fault. I can adapt, learn, and come back with the skills needed to get around the problem.

Gods Will Be Watching makes no such concession. Sometimes you will just die and there is nothing that can be done about it. No matter how many stragglers you abandon, no matter how much water you ration, no matter how hard you press there are times your random number just comes up and you will die with nothing to show for it.

At no time is this more apparent than when the game places Burden in the hands of a rather sadistic torturer early in the game. After days of the Sargent being knocked around, burned, stretched, and having his teeth pulled out, the torturer loads a gun and literally plays Russian roulette with both the Sargent and your progress. There is no strategy here. No matter what you say or do, there is the chance of Burden's captor pulling the trigger and blowing his head off, forcing you to replay the last 20-30 minutes of scene over again.

No, please do, for the love of the Gods please do.

I went through this torture, in more ways than one, four separate times only to get Burden's brains splattered against the wall within the first two clicks before finally catching a break on his fifth attempt. Each death forced me to replay the chapter from the very beginning, over and over again, without any relief in sight. There was no crafty way of getting past it, you just have to hope you get lucky.

I would normally never talk about the ending to a game in a review, but I feel it necessary to bring it up here. Without spoiling anything, the plot tries to justify the randomness and the apparent lack of continuity between chapters in its final moments. I'm not going to go into detail, but in no way did I feel the game earned the way out it presents itself with.

Not until the last quarter of the game is the ending even hinted at. The reveal comes at you so fast that there is no sense of build up, no feeling of suspense as the game gives up its secrets. Like a arrogant dying man, Gods Will Be Watching spends its last few moments shouting out "Look how clever I am!" before breathing its final breath with a faux choice that simply felt like one more parting troll from the developers.

I'm positive there are those out there who will claim Gods Will Be Watching is a great game. These people will point out that the punishing difficulty and reliance on chance help serve the narrative, that the entire game itself is a case study in futility and nihilism. The problem is that unless someone is feeling particularly masochistic, they will never put up with the game's bullshit to reach that sense of rushed clarity at the end.

Gods may be watching this game, but no one should be playing it.

Capitalistpig (Steven Brown) prays he will never have to think about this game again. You can follow him on Twitter if you want to hear him ranting about more or less anything.
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About Capitalistpigone of us since 5:48 PM on 02.11.2013

Reach exceeds grasp. Not that I lack skill, I just have small arms.

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