Becky Marney is a rookie beat cop when she makes the arrest of a lifetime, taking down "The Trapper" an infamous serial killer who has been rigging victims with explosives in order to take out first responders. She's a detective five years later as the execution date draws near, but all of a sudden the apparent Trapper, who was caught red-handed, claims he didn't do it. This sets in motion a dark detective drama that channels abuse and corruption, Hidden Agenda.
Supermassive Games' latest release takes about 90 minutes to play through (maybe a bit longer if you're a group of friends making the various decisions) and as such is ideal in length to be played with friends as a replacement for a movie. Any longer and you'd likely have some people growing restless, and to be perfectly honest it wouldn't do the plot any good to be dragged out more, especially as you'll no doubt start to figure things out about halfway through the case.
It's a fairly standard plot that you'd find in any run-of-the-mill detective movie. It's a less complex Heavy Rain if you will, that borrows from dark detective stories like David Fincher's Seven or something like the original Speed. It covers the seedy underbelly of law enforcement as well as a dark background with abuse at an orphanage that serves as motivation for The Trapper. Apart from playing as Becky Marney, you'll also play as DA Felicity Graves, and depending on your actions they'll co-operate more or less closely on the case.
Hidden Agenda is a PlayLink title and it actually does more than just allow players to pool together for decisions. Much more. And this certainly adds to the replayability factor, something that a narrative-driven detective story usually doesn't feature. First of all, there are two ways of playing the game, story mode and competitive mode, the second being a score-based version of the game where one player is given a hidden agenda to complete while the others are tasked with figuring out who has the agenda and spoil it. It removes the focus from how you want the plot to unfold to more of a tug of war between players, so we'd suggest you play story mode first to fully enjoy the narrative rather than focusing on your fellow players.
Multiplayer in story mode also adds something. It's not just down to communal decision-making and majority votes, as you'll also make group decisions on who's the most trusting, observant, stress tolerant and so on, and then the chosen person will make certain decisions on their own. Then there are takeover cards (earned by finding clues first) that can overrule a majority decision. It's a very clever dynamic, and the votes are something that will typically bring out laughs and banter, particularly in groups where people know each other inside and out. Up to six players can participate using their smartphones, but even with just two players playing together it adds something to story mode (for the competitive mode you'd need a bigger group to truly enjoy it).
As far as the PlayLink app itself, although we found it well made, we experienced some issues with tracking on Android, whereas the iPhone version worked flawlessly (although we have spoken to others on the network who experienced crashes in story mode when voting on key points in the game). We particularly appreciated the constantly updated notebook on the various characters that was kept in the app as it made it much easier to follow along, and tell suspects, cops, victims, and witnesses apart.
Apart from dialogue choices (limited to two here), you'll also make quick decisions to react to events (bring the cursor to an exclamation mark on screen), and search crime scenes for clues (with a time limit). It's fairly basic stuff, but you'll need to stay on point nevertheless. Missing one clue in a scene can rob you of finding out about a particular branch of the story, and missing a prompt can even mean the death of some characters. There are also points where you can choose to use your gun or not and you're given decent time to ponder the choice. One neat thing here is that all players need to be in agreement for a gun to be fired.
The writing is a bit cliché and we're a bit torn as to whether that is something that is necessary to sell the narrative, or if it could have been a bit more nuanced and pointed. As it stands it's more CSI or Law & Order than True Detective, which isn't necessarily a bad thing given the social nature of the experience.
Hidden Agenda offers an art-style that is very dark and reminiscent of something like, say, Seven. Singular colours are highlighted in what are otherwise dark, grey, and brown environments. It clearly shares a lot of DNA with Supermassive's best known game, Until Dawn, (we'd love to see a shortened version of that game using PlayLink to be honest). It's clearly a step up in visual fidelity to most narrative-driven adventure games, but at the same time the flaws that are there stood out more. The water on the skin of your partner Tom in rainy scenes, for instance, looked off, as did the way a phone was held a few inches from the ear (clearly because of technical limitations to how the hand of the character model could be manipulated) in another scene.
We enjoyed the voice work and sounds of Hidden Agenda for the most part, though there was an exclamation or two that just felt off. Katie Cassidy (Arrow), who plays Becky Marney, does a great job of portraying the rising star who now finds herself trying to solve a case she's already solved once before.
We enjoyed Hidden Agenda and hope Sony and Supermassive bring out more similarly styled games in the future. Perhaps one could ask for a more open-ended narrative with some degree of variation to truly make it enjoyable over multiple playthroughs? The cover charge may seem steep for a game of this length, but the branching nature of the game (there are lots of possible endings) means you'll no doubt replay this a couple of times (we didn't even have half the trophies after two playthroughs), and it's a fun game to bring out if you've got friends over for a movie night and it turns out you can't find a movie that no-one has seen and still wants to see.