Party Hard is one of those games that’s a brilliant idea executed only passingly well.
It has a lot of things going for it, including the pixel art and electro-soundtrack (almost guaranteed ways to win me over). However, the disappointing narrative and the clunky, repetitive gameplay mechanics ultimately make this title fall flat.
Above any other faults, its principle error is its failure to address the immoral dimension of the gameplay. In Party Hard, you play a sociopath who has to kill every single person at various debauched parties which get progressively wilder and have more potential for carnage. The problem is that after games like Calm Time, which is designed to make you feel the horror of what murdering someone is actually like, it just doesn’t hack it any more. There was a time when games in which you have to massacre civilians were acceptable as flights of fancy, exercises in venting frustration. Now, they come across as a little sick and unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for playing video-games as a villain. I did terrible, unspeakable things in Skyrim. I love going on the run against the law in GTA. But fundamentally, these types of free-roaming game often offer us a huge variety of choice. They are roleplay games; you are embodying a character. You can walk into town and massacre everyone, but virtue is also possible (sometimes hand in hand with vice). They are complex, grey-area games that tell thrilling stories.
In Party Hard, there is no real justification for why these people need to die other than the serial killer “just wants to get a good night’s sleep”. This could almost work as a disturbing premise were it not for the fact it is not fleshed out in the slightest. It would not be hard to make us hate the party-goers, or to give us an interesting insight into why the killer thinks they are in the wrong, or to make us question our own societal rules. That is what killers and monsters are for, after all. They shine light on our failings. Their alternative, unusual perspective contains a kind of twisted truth. You’ll be disappointed if you expect any of this in Party Hard, I’m afraid. Stick to Stephen King for your killer input.
Party Hard is perhaps mildly aware of its failings on this front as it also tries to go for a humorous approach. The interlude cut-scenes between levels, in which a detective is being interviewed about the case of the party killer, are a brave attempt at satire of the cop-on-the-case-of-a-serial-killer genre, but sadly are too banal and at odds with the gameplay itself to make the game feel like real satire.
And what of the game-play? There are some neat things achieved here, but again, numerous faults which ultimately make it feel disappointing. The environments are full of interactive objects which can be used to kill the party-goers, but in my view there are not nearly enough and some of them get repeated from level to level (for example, every level features a car that you can hot-wire to mow people down). You can also use your good old-fashioned knife for killing. There is an element of random generation which keeps the levels interesting – if you fail, upon restarting the setup will be different. There might be less entertainers on the bandstand or more party-goers; the food might be in a different place (which you can poison); or there might be different items available to interact with. Unfortunately, the interactive kill methods are exhausted fairly quickly, and one has to then resort to killing people with the knife while no one else is looking. This can be challenging, but also tedious as you cut your way through 30 or more people, one by one. Kill someone in the open and the police will come. Though it is possible to evade the law it is extremely difficult, pushing you towards a less-than-satisfying one-by-one method. If there was more choice about how one went about the massacre – the brutal hack and slash, picking them off or causing as much chaos as possible, then the game might be more interesting, if still a little perverted.
Think of the Dark Brotherhood quest “Whodunit?” in Oblivion, the one where you are locked in the house with the corrupt politicians and have to kill them off one by one. There was a delicious satisfaction in the killing because the people you were murdering were all, in some way, deemed guilty. Furthermore, you could do it how you liked. Cut them down like a butcher – watch them squeal and panic; manipulate them into tearing each other apart, or pick them off, one by one, until it’s just you and your final victim left. If Party Hard was anything like that quest, it would be successful. Sadly, it fails to capture even a quantum of it. Perhaps the main reason is that there never seems to be any predictable consequences to your actions. It’s impossible to set anyone else up as the killer, unless they randomly decide to attack someone. It’s impossible to cause panic unless you get lucky with an explosion.
The best bit about Party Hard is that most of the levels contain secrets. Piss off the angry biker, and he’ll beat the living hell out of you. Use the secret escape route too many times, and a man suspiciously resembling Mario will come and board up the trapdoor, rendering it unusable. Leave the shady-looking guy on the corner alive long enough and a truck full of his friends arrives and they pull off a heist at the casino. You can interfere or let it happen, which will alter how the party plays out later. Sadly this last awesome secret is ruined by the fact that if you interrupt the heist whilst the robbers are bagging the money, the money will continue to bag itself even when the robbers are dead or chased off because the animation isn’t programmed correctly.
I wanted to like Party Hard. It had the makings of an edgy game that could push all sorts of moral boundaries, but instead, it was something that felt tired and half-finished. If you are going to make a sick and twisted game about a killer, you have to go all the way or you have to step back and offer us a moral judgement on it. This did neither. The sound effects of the various killing instruments are unsatisfying. If you are in that “venting frustration by killing innocent people on a video-game mindset”, then when you see a truck mow people down you want to hear the cracks and pops of bone. Like I said, go full sicko to make a point or don’t go there at all. There are some details which work in this game. Kill a police officer (which is extraordinarily hard) and the secret service show up. It’s a nice touch, alluding to the good old wanted level in GTA. At other times they completely miss the details that give a game gold status. For example, after you hide a body in a garbage unit, it disappears. No matter how many bodies you hide in the same unit, it never gets full. It would have been a neat moment of black humour for the player to be able to see an arm hanging out from under the lid if you put too many in there. Instead, you just get an achievement for hiding 50, which is basically unavoidable if you want to complete a level without getting busted or beaten to death.
Overall, Party Hard is not a game you need to play. There are some fun moments, sure, but predominantly it is boring, which is a cardinal sin when it comes to serial killers.