When we have a party, we will always Party Hard!
As one gets older, you’ll find it’s more often you’re the one politely asking neighbors to turn the noise down than the one dancing half-naked on tables. Party Hard is about a man who takes his grievances at excessively loud hootenannies slightly further: by killing everyone to get some peace and quiet. As the mysterious masked man, it’s up to you to commit mass murder on a road trip of the hottest parties across the USA. With its pounding synthwave soundtrack, pixellated environments and psychopathic protagonist; Party Hard seems to idolize Hotline Miami, and it pays tribute to its idol by being even more repetitive, neon-drenched and incoherent.
The first divergence from Hotline Miami is that the name of the game is single-screen isometric stealth, rather than scrolling top-down shootouts. Every level starts off with out masked hero entering a bustling shin-dig, tasked with killing every single reveler there. At first, most party-goers will treat you like just another guest. There’s even a “dance” command that will cause you to bust out some moves to an indifferent audience. The moment you start stabbing people though, every witness will become understandably alarmed, and run for their lives, attempting to contact the police or even attack you as their fight-or-flight response kicks in. Once the police are called and one of the boys in blue catches you, it’s game over. To clear each level, you have to be a little bit sneaky.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to inconspicuously eliminate people. You can poison a punch-bowl, causing nearby punters to stumble around a bit, before collapsing. You can pick up sleeping partiers – with onlookers probably assuming you’re the victim’s friend – before finding a quiet spot to toss them off the side of a building, or onto the road where they’ll get mashed by the next oncoming car. There’s a good number of ways to creatively combine aspects of your environment for more efficient, discreet, killing. At one party, I changed the music at the mixing deck so a crowd quickly formed up into a conga line. As they were dancing in single file, I set off a golf cart that accelerated forward and pulverized the lot of them into a shower of red pixellated giblets.
When you’re seen jabbing someone with your knife, or near a freshly murdered body, the five-oh will be called in and a blue-suited copper will arrive in his car and dash towards you. You can give him the slip by escaping through a window or other passage and the policeman will usually give up, shrugging his shoulders and giving an excuse like “I’m too old for this”. You can only pull this trick once though, as this will cause a engineer to come along and seal the window shut, meaning you can’t use it to easily traverse the landscape anymore. Likewise, you can lure the pursuing po-po into a trap, killing him and solving your problem that way. Do this once too often though, and secret agents will arrive on the scene and continually patrol the surroundings, making your life very difficult (unless you figure out a way to kill them as well). Party Hard’s game mechanics do a good job of giving you a slap on the wrist for getting detected, while giving you the chance to wriggle your way out with some quick thinking.
However, while partyers can use the phone to call the police, you can use the phone to place a call yourself, with some amusingly random effects. In one party, my call caused a UFO to appear on the scene, with aliens abducting hapless people, making my job a little easier. Another time, placing a call led to a group of zombies stumbling into the level who proceeded to stumble over to guests and zombify them too. I ended up with a level full of zombies who tried to bite me on sight, but at least they didn’t call the cops anymore! These phone calls always add some wacky mixed blessing to your task.
Luckily, you’ll also have some power-ups to aid you in your quiet-seeking quest. These can be attained from briefcases left around each party, or from a mysterious man who wanders around each stage, sometimes opening his brown overcoat to reveal death-dealing goodies for you. It was worryingly satisfying to toss a smoke grenade onto a crowded dancefloor, anonymously stabbing everyone inside the greyish cloud before dashing away –leaving some other poor bugger amidst the bodies, framing him as the murderer and causing the police to cart him off to jail instead of me.
The main problem with Party Hard is the basic tempo of each level. When a party has just started, there’s plenty of people to catch you in the act as you’re trying to discreetly stab someone, and plenty of fun possibilities for combo kills. After you’ve thinned out the proverbial herd though, the proceedings get much easier, feeling almost tedious as you walk around the level, knifing the last few stragglers without any risk. It seems pretty implausible how the hedonistic partygoers seem to keep on dancing and grooving despite all the body bags piling up around the scenery. A better way to end each level would be to have the spooked partiers group up and arm themselves against the psychopath in their midst, or try to escape somehow. Sadly, the tension in each level peters out like a wet fart rather than building to a crescendo.
Another issue is Party Hard’s cliched and cringeworthy story. Told through cutscenes between levels, Party Hard’s narrative is given from the perspective of a cop relating the details of his investigation into the Party Hard killer. Don’t expect a dark journey into the heart of a madman though. The voice acting during the cutscenes sounds a bit like Matt Stone and Trey Parker from South Park doing deliberately bad impressions of celebrities. It’s goofy and corny as hell. The ending has a “twist” that’s so hackneyed and telegraphed, a short-sighted person could see it coming from several miles away – while facing the opposite direction. This ending also has the dubious distinction of being utterly predictable, but also making absolutely no sense in spite of it.
Party Hard has the aesthetic of its beloved Hotline Miami, but plays like a poor man’s Hitman. There’s no real pacing to the experience. In Hitman, executing the perfect murder could be a thought-provoking exercise, full of tense moments where your carefully laid plans almost unraveled. In Party Hard, there’s so many oblivious people to kill, it can almost become a chore at points. You can be a little bit creative in how you stealthily dispose of your victims, but there isn’t really enough depth to the gameplay to make completing the levels truly satisfying. Still, if you need a fix of synthwave-soundtracked-socipathy – and don’t mind a goofy story with some repetitive levels – then live by the example of the great Andrew WK and Party Hard.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Playstation 4, PC (Reviewed); Publisher: tinyBuild ; Developer: Pinokl Games ; Players: 1 ; Released: April 26, 2016 (PS4) ; ESRB: M for Mature ;
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher