Gods Will Be Watching Review: Forever Fighting Failure

You could lump several games of the last few years together into a new genre that might be called “Worst-Case Scenario Simulators” with a fair degree of success.

Gods Will Be Watching would fall into that category. The point-and-click-style game is basically a string of such scenarios, each more trying than the last. The gameplay element is to put the player to tough choices full of serious risk and little reward, challenging her to manage everything, save as many lives as possible, and not let everything go to hell.

Beginning its life as a Ludum Dare game jam experiment focused on a single scene, Gods Will Be Watching expands the idea into several one-room moments in which the players must contend with impossible situations. As Sgt. Abraham Burden, it’s invariably your roll to take command — you alternately have to get through a hostage situation in which a radical organization (with you in its ranks) works to hack a government computer; a torture scene in which you must balance how much punishment you can survive with the need to keep your secrets; a cave-in that also has your team fighting to cure a virus to which you’ve all been exposed; and more.

The game fills these moments with moral struggles and impossible choices of who to sacrifice for the good of the group, and presents them with brutal gameplay difficulty. You’re not always able to save everyone — the point is to force you to struggle and see what you do. It makes Gods Will Be Watching a powerful incubator for those tough moral choices and lose-lose scenarios that make titles such as The Walking Dead so enthralling, but it can also result in a lot of brutal replays as players struggle with trial and error just to figure out how to advance.

Gods Will Be Watching
Platform: PC (Reviewed)
Developer: Deconstructeam
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: July 24, 2014
MSRP: $9.99
Available: GoG.com, Steam

Sgt. Burden’s, uh, burden is that he’s constantly finding himself responsible for the survival of everyone in the room. The idea is that the game’s difficulty pushes players to find just making it through a given situation incredibly difficult — and getting out with everyone intact is nearly impossible.

The difficulty, of course, is the point, and Gods Will Be Watching achieves that difficulty mostly by making players work to balance limited resources across a number of needs. In the hostage situation, you need to control the hostages by making sure they neither get too scared (and bolt) or too relaxed (and try to overpower you). You also need to keep the assaulting guards away from the room either through negotiation or gunfire, and you need to make sure your hacker isn’t locked out of the computer system by a counterhacker’s attacks. Each time you take an action, other elements of the situation change — meaning you need to keep lots of plates spinning at once.

It gets more intense as Gods Will Be Watching progresses. In a much-discussed scene in which you’re stranded on a hostile planet, you need to get a radio repaired within a certain amount of time in order to call for rescue. You also must tend to your team’s other needs, like food and heat, and maintain their mental stability. You can only complete so many actions per day, so every thing you focus on leaves some other thing undone.

What you choose as your priorities, how you treat other characters, and whether you sacrifice one person for the good of the others is all up to you.

That the game is as difficult to manage as it is makes Gods Will Be Watching a tough sell at times. Many things are related to probability and it’s possible, though rare, that you’ll get a bad roll of the invisible dice and fail a mission or lose someone integral despite your best efforts. Not everyone will appreciate that the fluctuations of chance are part of the experience, but they can be some of the game’s best moments, as a random failure forces you to rethink a strategy and your priorities, or a lucky break saves a character from otherwise certain doom.

A conceit of Gods Will Be Watching is that it can be frustrating. While that’s often the point — the more frustrated and complacent you are, the worse a leader you become — there’s also no good way for the game to punish total failure outside of forcing replays. This can mean skipping the same cinematics and dialogue over and over, which is often a detriment, since some dialogue is randomized and skipping can cause players to miss interesting things. One or two missions become a battle of attrition as well. In one, you’re meant to navigate an inhospitable landscape searching for a particular place, and getting nearly to the end only to have circumstances crop up that can cause failure — and thus redoing the whole mission — will try just about anyone’s goodwill for the game.

Gods Will Be Watching also takes a few liberties with logic in order to make the choice-based experience work. In the castaway scene, for example, players and their group can only execute five actions in a given day. For some reason, that means that you can either have one character hunt for food or have another one work on the radio, but they can’t do both at the same time, even though division of labor would make much more sense. Not every scene presents these arbitrary limitations, but the game does sometimes force the difficulty in order to create interesting situations.

It’s hard to fault developer Deconstructeam too much for making the game tough, though, especially because it creates so many challenging moments. And mostly the story is strong and interesting enough to support them, although it can bog down in esoteric sci-fi babble that gets in the way of the broader themes and characters.

Many of the moments in Gods Will Be Watching will legitimately challenge players both as puzzle-solving requirements and, potentially, as moral quandaries. Mileage will likely vary as some players will come to see characters more as mechanical objects to be manipulated, rather than as people whose lives have value and can be lost through mismanagement. And that issue is exacerbated if you wind up failing too much. So many of the cues for what’s happening are contextual, requiring you to watch and interpret characters’ body language, and the result can be a lot of trial and error to figure out what they mean, adding to the grind.

But Gods Will Be Watching is a clever exercise in “what would you do” that works hard to keep you guessing what the answer is. And it makes no apologies for kicking your ass to get you to feel what it wants you to feel.

In fact, the difficulty is something to be appreciated, because Deconstructeam clearly wants to use gameplay creatively to exert pressure on players in a certain, thoughtful way. It’s hard work to be a hero, Gods Will Be Watching reminds, and invites you to try to answer whether, given the challenges, you might not become a cold-hearted villain instead.

Pros:

  • Inventive resource management gameplay creates some tough puzzle-like challenges
  • Unrepentant difficulty makes for a lot of failure, but also creates new moral challenges on the fly
  • Scenes put players through a number of tough scenarios and most are different enough to be interesting throughout
  • Lots of solid story moments that legitimately challenge players to make tough choices
  • Intensity level is almost always high

Cons:

  • Story can be a bit thin, which can lessen the impact and importance of individual character
  • Not everyone will like the punishing gameplay
  • You spend the whole game losing, and that will definitely frustrate some players

Final Score: 85/100


Gods Will Be Watching was reviewed using a Steam code provided by Deconstructeam. GameFront employs a 100-point scale when reviewing games to be as accurate about the experience as possible. Read the full rundown of what our review scores mean.

Phil Hornshaw is senior editor at GameFront. Read more of his work here, and follow him and GameFront on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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