Hidden Agenda PS4 Review
Hidden Agenda is yet another one of those adventure games in the modern mold. Whilst some look to time travel to enhance gameplay and others are literally out of this world Hidden Agenda’s gimmick is much more tactile – it’s your phone. In fact, everything about Hidden Agenda ends with “…your phone.” You get to make choices… but with your phone. You perform QTEs… on your trusty phone! You read character info and bios… phone. The TV is just there to show the action, along with a few prompts. This is a game that has taken what many like from the narrative adventure genre and transformed it into a party game by removing controllers from the equation. There is a single player there too, but regardless of if you are playing alone or with 5 friends by your side you must play using a phone.
Forcing the use of an extra device will not please everyone, but the idea manages to rise above more than a simple gimmick. The most pleasing byproduct of the change is having access to pertinent info displayed on your personal screen as and when needed. If you are introduced to a character, or have a break to make a decision, your phone is filled with text to read. This is text that would otherwise be locked away on a pause screen journal (or confined to a manual – if they still existed).
The story of Hidden Agenda follows homicide detective Rebecca Marney and district attorney Felicity Graves as they work on a case focused on the Trapper, a mysterious serial killer. Like his name suggests the killer portrays fetishistic tendencies towards setting traps for his victims. The idea of the Trapper is definitely not a unique one. Serial killers that use boobytraps have been done for years on TV and film – and probably in a game I am forgetting. The unique element of the Trapper’s agenda, that sets him apart from antagonists like Jigsaw, is his use of boobytraps on the bodies of his victims to target first responders who then become victims themselves.
Hidden Agenda’s biggest departure from its peers is that it tells it story without letting players have direct control over characters. This means no excess wandering or rummaging in corners for hidden extras unless the game itself deems it necessary. This is due to the game’s classification as a party game. It would be impossible for six people to move a character at once, so even if one person plays alone they do not gain the control either. Thankfully, at least on my WiFi, the required Playlink app worked well. I was able to take a call, browse Twitter for cat photos, then come back without the app or game desyncing.
‘Story Mode’ and ‘Competitive Mode’ are the only options available when starting a game. Competitive is where the game’s name originates; as players will randomly get secret messages on their app telling them to push the story in certain directions. If you get a message it’s your task to try and covertly influence the group without appearing too obvious to win points. The other members of the group will only get points if the story goes the other way. None of the choices in Hidden Agenda are ever the obvious wrong one, so this playstyle is a great way to inspire hearty debate between a group of friends. It’s an interesting idea for sure but I do feel its inclusion is too detrimental to the game in other areas for it to be seen as a rousing success.
Until Dawn (Supermassive’s previous non-VR effort), was an 8 hour game. It had a story that took place over the course of one night. With this setting events could advance slowly, and you could grow to love (and love to hate) certain characters. In contrast, the main chunk of Hidden Agenda’s story takes place over a couple of days with that timeframe condensed into a little over 2 hours of gameplay. It’s a much faster paced game for sure.
Whereas Until Dawn was happy to highlight character relationships, and their feelings towards each other (ranging from disdain, flirting, and outright lust), everyone in Hidden Agenda is very focused on their job. No backstory is fleshed out as much as it could have been. This shortcoming ties back to the decision to make Hidden Agenda a party game – one that can be completed in a single sitting. There are attempts to delve deeper into the cast’s personalities, but it is a struggle to build chemistry between characters in that short of a timeframe. On my second playthrough I did manage to get Felicity to ask Becky out on what I thought to be a pseudo-date, but the end result was once again highly job focused. If you come to your adventure games to let your imagination run wild, and ship characters together, Hidden Agenda does not give you much to work with. Nevertheless I am sure I will see a #TeamFelcky at some point in the future.
The biggest draw of the game is the divergence your decisions can bring. Hidden Agenda is swimming in a much bigger pool compared to other adventure games. I played through twice, and am dabbling in a third playthrough, and I am constantly seeing new scenes as I go. Sure, I am now intentionally choosing different options, but those options are not just avenues to different voice lines. They lead to completely new scenes in locations not offered the first time through. Hidden Agenda can be completed in 2 hours, but its likely there is at least 4 hours of content in total – if not more. Everything is just split apart from each other. It’s nice to see such divergence in a game such as this but it leads to another issue. Whilst dabbling in the murder mystery genre there is a certain joy to uncovering a motive explaining the killer’s actions, but due to the structure of Hidden Agenda this is not always guaranteed. It is possible to finish the game still lacking handfuls of key information. Playing Hidden Agenda can sometimes feel like reading a book someone may have ripped a few pages from when you were not looking.
Until Dawn was an eye catching game although some visuals fell into the uncanny valley. Mix that with some stiff animation and there were a few times the game looked a little less human than hoped. Hidden Agenda opts for the same style, but the end result is much cleaner. However, as with any game that opts for a realistic look, with little stylisation, there are a few flaws. It is clear Supermassive know their characters can emote better than before as Hidden Agenda has an almost unending amount of close up shots on character faces and eyes as they talk and react.
The most well known actor for this outing is Katie Cassidy – who has spent more than 6 years on Arrow. The other characters, to me at least, are not as high profile. Compared to Until Dawn who had Hayden Panettiere, Brett Dalton, Rami Malek and Peter Stormare this might be seen as a step down. Regardless of their fame ranking all involved do a good job. I did however notice some characters in some scenes sounded a bit monotone. It felt peculiar at the time, but because decision making is at the core of the game, I later realized the actor may not have known what emotion to portray in a particular scene, so opted for a more dry low-key read on the line instead.
Hidden Agenda is a game built to be played with friends, but ultimately I found the most fun in single player. It is also a game made to be finished in one sitting, but I grew to like it more after two playthroughs. Wrapping the adventure up in the guise of a party game does it no favours, but it proficiently overcomes these issues to be a worthwhile experience. I’d love to see this series have another outing, and hope for a more ambitious sequel if it were to continue