Voting has the right idea, but misses the mark
At E3 2017, Until Dawn developer Supermassive Games seemingly simultaneously announced Bravo Team, Inpatient, and Hidden Agenda. We didn’t cover Hidden Agenda much, so to catch you up it’s a story driven game with choices and quick-time events much like Until Dawn. The catch is that up to four players can vote on choices in the game using their smartphones, or take control with limited and obtainable cards while trying to solve a serial murder case.
Until Dawn was absolutely fantastic, so of course I’m interested in Supermassive Games’s next new project. Me and two others sat down with a Sony dude to play an early section of the game with provided smartphones.
The story follows detective Becky Marnie and district attorney Felicity Graves. Our demo followed Becky as she stormed a building to apprehend a suspect. After his detainment, we control Felicity’s actions as she interrogates the suspect and speaks with others.
Hidden Agenda is very much like Until Dawn in the way it looks, its atmosphere, and the storytelling, but there’s one crucial difference: the gameplay is focused on voting with your phones, so you don’t control characters as they walk around or anything; it’s more of an interactive movie than anything I can think of thus far. Which makes me question when and how those QTEs will be handled, which we didn’t see any of in the demo.
The Sony representative/guide/dude’s smartphone wasn’t working properly, which made it very difficult for him to move his colored dot to a choice. Since you can change your mind about a choice, sometimes we could proceed by changing our votes to not have to wait on him, but there were other times that it required all votes to be in before proceeding (even if one choice has three of four votes). It seemed random whether it would wait or move on.
I used two of my three starting control cards to move things along, but I made the first one count when we reached our first seemingly big choice. When Becky confronts the suspect, we were presented with the choice to either shoot him or not. Like hell if I was going to let the others be nice; I shot his ass. As you’d expect, he’s an important character (important enough to be the main part of the following interrogation scenes at least) and it’s early in the game so he didn’t die. He only suffered a wound in his shoulder, which I don’t recall coming up.
That will likely come up in the future, as will opportunities to truly kill or be killed based on choices, but Hidden Agenda seems to have a story it wants to tell like Until Dawn or Life is Strange, so I don’t expect a lot of deviation.
I doubt a lot of people will want to sit around and watch an eight- to ten-hour game and vote on things, and I doubt they need a voting mechanic to have discussion or argumentation. Everyone I see talks out choices and comes to a consensus on what they want to choose anyway. The voting would maybe be more interesting if they let an unlimited number of people (i.e. stream viewers) vote along with the main four players a la Jackbox Party Pack, but I think I’d still prefer to actually control the character and explore the environment like in most narrative games rather than just watch scenes and vote.
On top of just voting on decisions, the biggest unique feature of Hidden Agenda is where the game gets its name. I didn’t get 100% of the explanation given to us in person, but every so often one player is randomly selected to have a “hidden agenda” where they get extra points if they can steer the vote and choices to a certain conclusion.
They must keep their intentions secret, while the others attempt to ascertain who the one with a hidden agenda is. At some point, players are asked to vote on who they think the culprit (not in-game killer, but real-life player) is. We all correctly guessed it was the Sony representative (to be honest I didn’t know who was what color and just randomly selected one) and received bonus points, because I guess there’s a competitive aspect to wanting to get the most points? I believe the points allow you to get more take control cards, but I can’t say for certain nor can I say what other purpose the points hold.
After the gripping and absolutely brilliant Until Dawn, I’m all in on Supermassive Games and their upcoming projects (forgiving them for Rush of Blood), even if I’m not totally sold on this voting and hidden agenda mechanic, yet.