Rating: M for Blood, Drug Reference, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence
Available for: PlayStation 4
From the creators of Until Dawn, Supermassive Games’ Hidden Agenda (2017) turns decision-based games on their heads by making it a cooperative or competitive effort. Split between Story Mode and Competitive Mode, up to 6 players navigate the narrative by using a phone app to vote on which decisions to make. Story Mode requires cooperation for players to catch the serial killer while Competitive Mode stays true to the name of the game: individual players are given “hidden agendas” in order to throw off the other players. My sister and I played Story Mode for this review, so I can’t speak for Competitive Mode, but Hidden Agenda really puts the pressure on the players to work together to find the killer. As we discovered, decisions are much harder to make when they’re done by committee.
Hidden Agenda is the story of a detective and a prosecutor trying to solve a case that was seemingly already closed. With the supposed serial killer due to be executed in 48 hours, other evidence suddenly reveals itself and both Detective Becky Marney and Prosecutor Felicity Graves must search for clues before time runs out. You switch between both perspectives and the decisions you make will affect how much information you can uncover throughout the case. Most importantly here, your decisions actually matter: my sister and I played this game three times and each time we uncovered something different with different scenes and different characters. We weren’t able to get the True End, but we were close enough to it on the final run.
In many ways, Hidden Agenda reminded me of a board game, only with a PS4 and a phone app. The game’s purpose in cooperative or competitive problem solving strategy is something that is more commonly found in a board game/game night environment. I believe that the game succeed in its purpose: it very easily lends itself to replayability, especially with the idea that you might want to try the game out with different groups of people to see how your decisions change. I imagine Competitive Mode lends itself to this idea even more. It’s very refreshing to see a game push for couch multiplayer (something that seems to be going away recently) and that favors people playing a game in a room together.
What makes this game interesting is the mechanics: while other decision-based games will give the illusion of choice and the weight of the decision is left to a single player, Hidden Agenda focuses on the varying personalities of a group of players in order to move its narrative forward. In addition to the voting mechanic, this game also used Quick Time Events for finding clues and avoiding obstacles, Takeover Cards to claim the decision for yourself, and most interestingly, throughout the game you would get personality questions. These personality questions would ask things like “Which of your friends is the most courageous?” or “Which of your friends keeps calm under pressure?” Whoever received the majority vote would be given an important decision in a later scene that only they can answer. Sometimes the decisions will play towards their personality and sometimes it would play against and it really made that player question what was the “right” decision. Being unable to use Takeover cards for these scenarios also added tension to the other players, because they might be able to persuade the player in real life but only that chosen player can make the final decision. In another mechanic forcing cooperation, there would also be situations that required all players to agree on a question. Since it was just my sister and me, we would have to agree on all decisions based on the fact that the game does not allow a tie in order to proceed, but if we were playing with other people, it is easy to imagine how much harder the latter types of decisions would be.
Hidden Agenda’s story is short (though your phone battery life might disagree), short enough so that you don’t feel you’re taking too much of your friends’ time. While I can appreciate why this is the case, I think in other ways the game felt too short. This game is at most 3 hours long and we were able to get new information each time but sometimes it felt like we still weren’t getting the full picture or that we found out information too soon. This game might have benefited from maybe a 4th Part or some additional scenes, something that doesn’t make you feel like you’re still missing information at the end of the game. Moreover, some of the motives or clues brought up weren’t always used in a way that deeply intertwined with the narrative: they were brought up to make links and connections to find the killer but didn’t go beyond that. Extrapolating on conflicts and clues might have made the game feel more complete and a greater understanding of what was motivating the game’s characters. That being said, the story was still able to create a certain level of tension and conflict that still made the players want to think critically about their decisions for fear of messing up. In a way, the game was relying on the players’ reactions to raise the stakes and it did that well.
Hidden Agenda is a game meant to be played with more than one person, and my sister and I had a great time trying to discuss our decisions and working together to make sure we got all the clues in order to catch the true killer. Even though we’ve played this game three times, we’re looking forward to inviting our friends over to see how well Competitive Mode works. The story is short and simple, but it still lends itself easily to replayability and is really fun to play with other people. I enjoyed the variety in mechanics, especially when the game required full agreement on a decision or had personality questions to decide player exclusive decisions. This made the game far more interesting that just simply voting all the time and really added variety to the formula. If you’re looking for a game to play with a group of people, I would recommend Hidden Agenda for a fun Game Night, and I would look forward to Supermassive Games doing a similar game in the future.
As a side note, I fully recommend either charging your phone before playing this game or having a charger handy nearby. My sister and I have two different phones, and we both experienced around a 40% battery loss by the end of the game. For specifics, she has an iPhone 6S (6 months old) and I have an older iPhone 5S (I was using Battery Saver Mode), and we both achieved the same battery decline. I can’t speak for Android at this time, but if you have played this game with an Android, please let me know how well it worked!