Deconstructeam’s pet project, Gods Will Be Watching, has finally seen its release after a successful Indiegogo campaign. GWBW at its core is a visual novel puzzle game that tests your mental skills, management of equally important tasks and, of course, the outer limits of your patience.
That last part wasn’t an exaggeration either — the selling point of this title is how mind-numbingly, teeth gnashingly difficult every single level is. In fact, it was so tough that the developers were forced to release a large update dubbed the “Mercy Update.” This adds a number of modes to suit the playstyle of players including Puzzle Mode, Puzzle Mode Light and Narrative Mode. The first two remove the random number generator (RNG) factors, this biggest complaint among fans, while the last lets those who want to experience the story without bothering with any challenge.
Note: This review takes place after the Mercy Update (released on August 7th). However, this review is based almost entirely on the Original Mode, which features the hardest difficulty and the RNG elements.
You play as Sergeant Burden, a man who finds himself dealing with both sides of the conflict between the Everdusk government and the rebellion group, Xenolifer. There are six chapters in total and each one delves into a high stakes environment such as hostage situations, torture and survival on a hostile planet.
These situations require careful but swift puzzle solving as you try to navigate each section and accomplish a specific goal. For instance, the first level sees you playing as the rebel group Xenolifer and your goal is to successfully hack into the computer network for vital information, while also managing the scientists being held hostage and keeping the security team at bay. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Except very quickly you will screw up.
Continued retries reveal that there is a time-limit of sorts, in the sense that each action you take passes time. As time passes certain things begin to change, such as the hostages’ emotional and physical state, the progress of the actual hacking and whether the security is about to force their way through.
Fail to monitor the hostage situation and the scientists will decide to make a break for it. Not paying attention to the computers being hacked into? The security breaches will compromise the hacking and your mission fails. Oh and if you balanced those tasks but forgot to suppress those security forces, they will find a way to drop a flash bang and ruin the rebels’ day.
That above overview doesn’t even begin to cover all the intricate mechanisms that the player must balance in this level; keep in mind that this is the first level of the game. Levels after this add on to the complexity of each mission. Frustratingly enough, there is absolutely no way to save during a mission so one misstep or (if playing in Original Mode) a RGN element thrown in and all that effort is wasted. This means that the player must exercise caution, develop deep strategy at every turn and hone truckloads of patience to survive.
However, this review does come after the Mercy Update and I found that the additional modes provide more options for the player. Puzzle Mode for instance, gets rid of the RGN feature, which is meant for serious puzzle affectionates. Puzzle Mode Light is the same concept but lightens the difficulty a bit. If you want to experience the plot quickly with little challenge, you can choose Narrative Mode.
These added modes may sound superfluous but they provide near vital improvements for many players initially turned off by the steep learning curve. While I prefer GWBW as it was intended and believe Original Mode to be the best way to experience it, but the variety is welcoming and allows for a more customized way to play.
What also helps to greatly take the bite off of the annoyance is the excellent soundtrack composed by the talented Fingerspit. Each tune blends perfectly with every every level, every tense moment of the game; the tracks are also more than strong enough to stand on their own due to the distinctive 16 bit style and masterful composition using the limited range. Graphics reflect the music in its “old-school pixel” style but also like the soundtrack, manages to fully transform the limitations in a unique way.
What may not be conveyed by hyper-realistic facial animations is instead portrayed with incredibly expressive body language — the visible changes in hostages from slouching over in despair to whipping their heads around and desperately searching for an escape route for instance.
Finally, I won’t spoil the plot for you but the narrative arc throughout the six levels are both satisfying and well written (with great characters). It’s tied together with sharp and at times hilarious dialogue as well as a refreshingly mature look at the realistic consequences of high-stress decision making. The game also shows how moral choices affect those within and without (so to speak) your main party and missions. Very few video games manage that feat at all so I commend the developers for pulling it off. My only complaint here is that occasionally the plot can be hard to follow due to the unusual presentation of the order of events.
Gods Will Be Watching is a deep game that has an interesting and unique story to tell, but without shoving the significant theme of morality down your throat. While is it punishingly difficult, this mechanic serves to reinforce the importance of proper planning and foresight during levels (although the Mercy Update provides plenty of new options, so difficulty is hardly an issue anymore).
Despite a few hiccups here and there, Deconstructeam has weaved together a solid title that will resonate with players long after the experience is over. As long as you’re willing to put in the substantial effort, of course.