This is the second in a series I hadn't heard of until last week when Pinokl Games approached me with a review key. After no small amount of research, I discovered this bizarre style of game that I can only describe as a mash-up between the latest and greatest of the Hitman series and Hotline: Miami. A comparison of those two may pique your interest, as it should, because as it turns out, these Pinokl chaps seriously know what they're doing.
What you see is a low-fi arcade-style serial killer sim, but what you get is game art that's been beautifully crafted and animated, and a seriously challenging and entirely random game. My first delve into the game began as a ten minute feeler, but ended up descending into the early hours of the morning – but boy did I feel frustrated. The game is published by tinyBuild.
I also made a video review, see below:
The general idea is that you're trying to sleep, but the locals are, well, partying hard. You're going to stop that racket by any means necessary, and as the once famous Party Hard Killer, you're gonna slip those old boots on and start the mass carnage. Part of me thought "Harry Brown", but in all fairness, that film was a touch more thoughtful and tempered – this very much feels like you're the bad guy, and I think that's the point. Don't get too hung up on the detail as the game is about bursts of entertainment and no small amount of frustration. You do kill some drug dealers and what not, but when one of your optional objectives is "kill everyone", you pretty much lose the moral high ground (you underestimate my power!).
I feel like I should start you off with the fact that yes, oh god yes, it has co-op multiplayer. It is local co-op, however, so keep that lack of online functionality in mind. The game is most definitely more amusing with another person next to you either screwing up all your plans Magicka style or helping create an elaborate mechanism by which you climb the Multi-Kill meter. Don't let the graphical style fool you either since this is not a breezy, relaxing arcade game to blow a few minutes on each day. Party Hard 2 is indeed hard. I walked in expecting high-octane, high-speed carnage. What I got was annoyingly clever AI, walls of challenges, and surprisingly methodical requirements in terms of gameplay. It doesn't hold your hand, but doesn't tell you a great deal either. It sounds cliché, but the game is very much built on the player's exploration of mechanics. I frequently found myself asking "I wonder if the developers coded for me to use that item this way?" only to find out that, yes, indeed they did. There are the occasional disappointments in terms of how far you can stretch things, but I honestly couldn't complain in terms of the tools at my disposal and how freely I'm allowed to use them.
In regards to these tools, the developers have implemented a crafting system, which the previous game did not have. You might immediately think "crafting window and materials", but that's not the case. Crafting is very much a shallow affair, and very much a spontaneous one. After about five hours of gameplay, I still had no idea what I could do with a bottle of pills since no use prompt popped up when in proximity with an NPC, and I hadn't picked up the bingo item that makes the crafting button appear. As with the rest of the game and its mechanics, crafting is very much an exploration of your options and trial and error, and it's in this same vein that I felt like I could draw my main criticism of the game. It is largely a stealth serial killer simulator and yet features a multi-kill meter, which I feel does not synergise. If you have multiplier meters, you expect a fast-paced arcade game. When your survival hinges on not getting caught and sneaking around and using obscure and complex means to do away with your targets, the last thing on your mind is going about your business as fast as humanly possible. I'm not entirely certain the game understands what it wants to be, or whether it absolutely doubles down on the methodical approach, but added the multi-kill meter as an afterthought. It's a small criticism, but reeled its ugly head a number of times.
Along this train of thought is the difficulty. If you mess up, the odds of coming back from it are slim. I think players who enjoy this game also don't mind losing a lot of progress after a fatal mistake. In the video review, you'll see me take on one of the early levels, which took me around nine tries at about five to six minutes each. Map difficulty only increases from there, and the maps become a hell of a lot larger with multiple targets and objectives, so you can easily expect to lose nearly an hour on a single level. There are 16 levels in total, I believe, some of which feature bosses. Now, while I can say that the game is hard, the boss levels take it to Battle Toads levels of difficulty, and that's when the repetitive nature of going back to a level over and over again begins to make frustrations mount.
Level design is extremely complex and busy enough in terms of NPCs, cannon fodder, and interactable objects and items. Run up to a poster of the circus and you can call them and set a circus bear loose on the denizens of the streets. Need gasoline for your empty jerry can? Murder someone and dump their body in plain sight so someone will call the paramedics. Just run over to their ambulance while they're busy with a corpse and rob them of their fuel. You can even search police car trunks for useful items. Thankfully, the levels themselves aren't randomly generated, but the item drops, NPC behaviour, and pathing are all random, meaning each time you fail, you'll have to formulate a new plan of attack. I'm not the most patient of people so failure was quite frequent for me. I'd start off methodical and then get caught 99% through the completion of a level and end up cheesing it on a later playthrough. I'd end up caught again and having to take a breather to approach the game with a fresh, un-aggravated mindset.
Each mission is broken up with little cutscenes explaining why you're doing what you're doing, but this is a bit meh; I wouldn't personally play it for the story, but I guess it needed meshing together somehow, and the devs didn't do a bad job. You can unlock a few more characters through interesting means, all of which are "better" than the main character, which is a shame. I was hoping they'd all have unique strengths and weaknesses, which is half correct, but they're all better than the starting character. At the end of each mission, you get your little scoreboard of what kind of points you earned, whether you murdered people through grand hijinks or just jumped on a motorcycle and started lobbing petrol bombs. There are also benefits to hiding bodies, but I found a mixture of all the styles was needed to complete a level without too much faffing about (and your first character is slow, so it very much feels like faffing) and getting frustrated or bored.