Gods Will Be Watching is an adventure game of tense moments, where you’ll be forced to make tough decisions that straddle the grey side of morality. Unfortunately the tough choices are sandwiched between poorly defined puzzles and an amazing pixel art style.
You play as Sgt. Burden who leads his squad through a number of increasingly tense situations. First thing you’ll notice is that while the art style is pixel art and minimalist, it looks fantastic and one of the best examples I’ve seen.
Gameplay of Gods Will Be Watching is set up essentially as a bunch of loosely connected mini games around crazy situations. The first chapter of the game is a hostage situation where Burden and his crew have to steal data while keeping four hostages under control and the security forces at bay.
Completing your goal is all about managing your choices and the situation at hand. Each chapter presents you with multiple choices of what you can do at any given time. Choices that are highlighted red mean that they will advance the game by one turn or in other words move the story forward a bit. Every time you move things forward, the situation will change in some way forcing you to react.
Gods Will Be Watching is definitely old school in its design as you can easily fail a chapter in a number of ways and it leaves it up to you figure out what to do and what your choices will affect. The minimalist puzzle solving and resource management of the game is really quite interesting and gives it a different feel compared to other games.
However, while the premise and design hints at a deep game, instead we have a game that encapsulates the worst elements of old school adventure titles. It’s so bad that it took me about a week to beat the first level.
The problem with Gods Will Be Watching is that the premise the game was promoted on: This being a title where you make hard choices that determine the story is actually false. You will be making hard choices, but that’s because the gameplay is frustratingly difficult.
Every chapter of the game requires you to figure out what you need to do base on the choices available; however there are random elements that can get you killed through no fault of your own. In chapter one, you need to activate a hack boost to speed up the hacking process or there is no way that you can complete it on its own without things going to hell. But if you fail, it’s instant game over and you can only guarantee it by spending more time than you have to get it to 100%
The game also wants you to read animation tells on different situations, such as watching to see the mental states of your hostages. However pixel art isn’t exactly the best for expressions and I had cases where it looked like someone was fine, but then they tried to run for it.
The whole game is about a series of trial and error choices as you try to figure out the right order while dealing with the randomness of the events.
But that’s not deep gameplay but busy work. Your tough choices in each chapter aren’t really framed in any real morality but are simply options that you have to weigh into the mechanical nature of the challenge.
Telling me that my choices matter because other people did something else is not the same as having my choices affect the game. Reading descriptions of later chapters, the game becomes even more frustrating with longer chapters and no saves.
It’s a shame as the story was interesting, the art and music were great, but the gameplay is the worse elements of old school adventure design. Of course there will be some people who will muscle through and beat the game, but the vast majority will probably not even see past the first chapter.
I suggest if you do decide to pick this up, play the game on easy mode despite any lingering objections. I was able to beat chapter one on my first try on easy after being stuck on hard for so long and then promptly got stuck on chapter two. Where another random element caused me to die even though I was winning and that was a last straw moment for me.
There is a big difference between offering the player choices and giving them meaningful choices. Gods Will Be Watching has no real growth or learning to the game, it’s just about figuring out the twist of the day and hoping that the randomness doesn’t get you.
The random elements simply don’t work when you are asking the player to make hard choices with limited resources. But no matter what you decide to do, the entire game is just based on pass/fail design with little to no real thought needed.
Trying to play through the game, I’m not feeling myself get any better at the game or learning the mechanics, but simply going through the motions.
Chances are, in a few weeks someone will write up the perfect guide to the game, distilling all the choices and gameplay down into a step by step solution. For me, I have no desire to keep playing and fiddling with the game until hopefully everything comes together for me to beat the chapter and then repeat it for the next one.
It’s funny, for months I’ve talked about wanting to see real gameplay with my choices, something that Telltale has shied away from lately. And Gods Will Be Watching is essentially the anti Telltale experience, but that’s not necessarily a compliment here. I may eventually muscle my way through the game just to finish it, but that’s not exactly the attitude you want someone to have when playing your game.
Someday, someone will figure out the formula for making an adventure game that succeeds both in terms of storytelling and gameplay, but for right now this isn’t it. Love it or hate it, I’m sure Gods Will Be Watching will be as polarizing as last year’s Knock Knock.