Gods Will Be Watching review: A true life simulator
Life isn’t fair. You could die in a car accident tomorrow. You might have your career goals sidetracked by a sick relative. You might lose your mind before you ever reach that retirement in the sun. If Call of Duty were like real life, every mission would come with a 15% chance of randomly breaking an ankle on a rock and being discharged. If Dark Souls were like real life, giant bosses wouldn’t give you convenient openings to attack -- they’d just stomp you until you died. No matter how hard games get, they’re never as hard as real life. That’s my takeaway from Gods Will Be Watching, a game so unfair you may never see the end of it.
Gods Will Be Watching takes the mechanics of a game like The Walking Dead, where you must make decisions for an entire group of survivors, and places them into a strategy/puzzle game scenario where you can fail monumentally. The first chapter, for example, has you managing a hostage scenario where one of your teammates is hacking a computer and you’re left to manage your team, some antsy hostages, and advancing squad of soldiers. Each decision you make costs a turn, forcing you to carefully consider whether you want to negotiate with the soldiers, intimidate the hostages, or charge up a hack boost to speed up the process.
Any false move can cause the whole thing to fall apart, with hostages running away and soldiers attacking before you can repel them. It’s a complex balancing act where you must satisfy the needs of multiple, conflicting parties and often, make tough decisions in order to see the scenario to its end. The game quickly gets dark, with injuring or executing hostages offered up as legitimate strategies for survival. But the first scenario is child’s play compared to where Gods Will Be Watching goes from there.
Most, but not all of the chapters in this game introduce random obstacles which can make a scenario impossible to complete no matter how intelligently you play. Sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw, and sometimes the game puts you into corners where you’re forced to take gambles. Misfortune can weasel it’s way into the final minutes of half-hour-long chapters, forcing painfully frustrating replays where, no matter how much you learn, your chances of success may not increase. Very unlucky players could potentially never see the end of this game no matter how hard they try.
This inspired a love/hate relationship between myself and the game. At times I was loving the atmosphere and the fantastic pixel art, happily exploring my choices and learning from my mistakes. Other times I was ready to throw in the towel because I was battling a confluence of random elements that resulted in a half hour of lost progress. It felt like total bullshit.
In one chapter,you must navigate a desert in search of your team’s base. All the while, you are at the mercy of a randomly generated map, water and ammo scarcity, and sandstorms that require shelter points you may never find. No amount of planning can save you from a bad dice roll of elements. Some players may finish this chapter on their first try, while others, like myself, will spend hours trying again and again.
This is fundamentally bad game design to a point where I have to imagine it’s intentional. If the developers just wanted to force players to make tough choices, they didn’t have to take it this far. To me, this doesn’t feel like a game that’s twisting your arm into shooting your friends to survive. It feels more like a simulation of those times when life is out of your control. Gods Will Be Watching? More like God Will Ruin Your Day.
There are times when I absolutely hated Gods Will Be Watching, but I also respect it for trying something that goes against the fundamentals of Game Design 101. It’s a ballsy experiment that won’t be for everyone. I’m not even sure it’s “for” anyone, but it did make me think a lot. It made me think about the heroes we aspire to, and about the carefully constructed challenges they face. It made me wonder how much the stories we consume in games, movies, and books mess with our expectations about the world. Our heroes get knocked down by evil and get back up, but they rarely die of dehydration in the middle of their epic journeys.
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