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Gods Will Be Watching

By Bobfish04-08-2014
BloodyFanGirl (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
Gods Will Be Watching

The Defence

Devolver Digital
Adventure, Indie
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce 8800
AMD equivalent
2 GB
460 MB

The Case

Hey, you know how cutesy and innocent all that fluffy pixel arty farty nonsense is? Yeah, me neither. But a lot of people out there still can’t see past the stereotype. Pixel art is generally considered the forte of the ‘games are art’ style - perfect for kids, colourful and engaging and all that jazz. So they say. Well, Devolver, via Deconstructeam, are back to remind us that pixel art can be just as brutal, just as bloody and just as disturbingly ugly as the most accomplished, fifty-bajillion-dollar-graphical-powerhouse-shiny-bells-and-whistles-with-a-cherry-on-top horror game. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you hell.

The Trial

If you came here expecting an insightful study regarding religion in the modern world, or, well, anything to do with religion at all, you’re going to be sorely disappointed (or maybe relieved, depending on precisely what your opinion of games about religion is). The point is, despite what the title suggests, Gods will be Watching has nothing to do with Gods, or God, or any religious concepts...sort of. But we shall come back to that.

The game itself is, honestly, an entirely unoriginal, perfectly functional and immediately familiar point and click. It clocks in at barely ninety minutes of gameplay, probably less even, though expect closer to three times that for completion, because this game is hard. It is Balls to the wall, rip out your own spleen through your earlobe and feed it to yourself in paroxysms of rage hard. So much so, the difficulty settings straight up tell you that you will fail. Deconstructeam designed it this way. Even on easy you will still fail, just not as much.

Hi Doctor Nick!

Hi Doctor Nick!

This cannot be understated. Gods will be Watching is insanely difficult. Let’s take chapter 2 and that fucking torture scene! Dear Gods, that had me going for almost three days before it finally gave way. The worst part being it’s not about memorising patterns, at least, not entirely; there’s a certain degree of blind luck built into the mechanics as well. So it may functionally be a bog-standard, point and click adventure but there is more going on under the surface and this is where the game really comes into its own; there are multiple methods for completing each chapter. The opening scene shows you with a full crew compliment sitting around a fire and lamenting their fate. They are stranded on a desolate planet, on the brink of starvation. Once you return to this point, after progressing through chapters 1 to 3, there could very well be only three of you. It is fully possible, in fact quite probable, that several characters will die. Yet the game continues, and simply adjusts to having one less voice.

The final chapter tasks you with keeping your crew alive, healthy and sane for three weeks, whilst repairing a radio to call for rescue. You can try to strike a balance or just kill everyone and be done with it. As long as you have someone capable of repairing the radio (the ‘star’ can’t do it) you’ll hit the ending. Call the passing supply ship, it comes down and lands...and bam! Gods will be Watching comes scrolling down on screen and the game ends. That’s it, no lengthy conversations, no “oh my God what have you done?” just over. Beautifully anti-climactic, it perfectly demonstrates that it is everything leading up to this point which is important; the decisions you make along the way are what the game is really all about.

These, then, are the titular Gods; not the choices, but we, the players. By our bidding, by our whims, we have the ultimate control over who lives and who dies. Did you kill the hostages in Chapter 1? Did you eat your crew? Did you let them chop off Jack’s arm during the torture? Did he even live long enough for that scene to take place? The classic game over states are almost completely removed. Sure, if Burden dies you fail, but everyone else? Crew expendable.

Yes, all the corpses shall survive!

Yes, all the corpses shall survive!

The only factor which takes away the player’s omnipotence is random chance. The much mentioned torture scene has a day where you are confronted with a game of Russian Roulette. Entirely luck based, it is fully possible for the first shot to kill someone. The correct formula in Chapter 3 is also random. But none of these things have quite as much impact as you may suspect in the grand scheme of things, leaving the player with the final say. Start the chapter again and go for the ‘perfect’ ending, or just screw it and let that poor sap stay dead? They’re not important after all.

What we are left with is a brutally depressing, oddly liberating exploration of the human psyche. An exploration of the old axiom that, sometimes, the ends really do justify the means. Finding a cure for the Medusea virus, a particularly nasty piece of bio-warfare, surely that is more important than a few pesky soldiers and doctors? So what if you had to eat your best friend? You’re trying to save the entire species here! Sacrifices must be made.

Rather than working tirelessly to wear away the disconnect between player and player character, Gods takes it on wholeheartedly and embraces it. These people are not you, they are barely defined sprites on a screen. The only thing stopping you from casting them aside as insignificant is, well, you. You are the almighty - your ways are mysterious and none will be able to judge you. They just don’t understand, but its okay - they don’t need to.

Who farted?

Who farted?

To say that Gods is a dark game is a gross understatement. Visually, yes, it is just another silly pixel art game animated by five year olds. But tonally, thematically, narratively...it’s ultimately comforting that the visuals are so simple. Watching an axe tear through flesh, muscle, sinew and bone, knowing that it was my choices that caused it, that is not a situation I would ever want to find myself in. And it is for precisely this reason, the disconnect, that I worked so damned hard to ensure that it didn’t happen.

Far from being removed from the plight of my crew, I did everything in my power, restarting again and again and again and again, and then again just to be sure that everyone made it out alive. I am the God here. A loving God. I will not allow my loyal followers to suffer. Which leaves only one question. Will you?

The Verdict

Gods Will Be Watching is one of the most thought provoking, intriguing and genuinely disturbing games I’ve played in recent years. The length may seem disappointing but, considering the price, as well as the immense permutations of results your actions can engender, it is most decidedly not a disappointing experience as a whole. The only complaint, the only thing holding it back from true greatness, is that random factor. Just this side of being infuriating, but only just. In a word, incredible.

Case Review

  • Dark: And I ain’t talking about turning the light off.
  • Om Noms: I ate my crew. Just sayin’.
  • Multiplicity: The plot is linear. Your crew’s lifespan...not so much.
  • Visuals: Sometimes, it’s a good thing you can’t see everything in crystal clear detail.
  • Length: Short, but stupidly cheap and nigh infinitely replayable.
  • Luck: It is just this side of being rage inducing, but only just.
Score: 4.5/5
This God is watching and deciding your fate.
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