The team behind Until Dawn is at it again with its next project, Hidden Agenda, a crime mystery title that moves away from the tropes of modern horror titles to those found in crime-based entertainment.
Mechanically, there isn’t much to Hidden Agenda, as it’s a Play Link title. Syncing with your phone is easy enough, however: Download the app onto your phone and connect to the same internet connection as your PS4. It’s in this ease of access that can make Play Link successful, but I think that it could be made even easier if all games were managed in one universal phone app rather than having to clog up your phone with a bunch of apps for different games (but that’s another article for another time).
As events take place in Hidden Agenda, your app records every piece of information so you can go back and check. However, the information is delivered in a very matter-of-fact way that almost makes that retained information redundant rather than something worth exploring.
Another peculiarity with this is a double-edged sword. When you’re in a game session, the app keeps track of all events past and present that take place, but when you leave that session, the app clears itself of all narrative information. In doing this, the connection between app and PS4 allows you to join any game at any given time and only have the information that’s been discovered in that playthrough.
With this in mind, you can only sift through the information while connected to that game, so you can’t just leave and research the information while you’re commuting or away from home. Again, it’s not a bad thing, since the narrative doesn’t cloud itself with much mystery, but it loses the impact that a cache of case information could bring to an experience like this where you could scour what’s happened like an actual detective and move forward with what you yourself find.
While Hidden Agenda has some rather intense moments and appropriate set pieces, it lacks a certain intensity or significance to it all. Indeed, you ride along with Officer Marnie as she finds herself in different levels of conflict between other cops, the media, and the criminals she’s trying to deal with. The parts are all there, but there’s very little in regards to how these scenes are delivered that gives it that extra weight.
This is not to say that any of it is bad, but it all feels quite staged with middleground writing and underwhelming voice acting. Officer Marnie has less rigid movement than anyone else in the game, but that’s because she was the only motion captured character of the lot. Facial animations looks fine for everyone, sometimes even impactful, but most of the good animation is lost in limp voice work, mostly from the supporting cast.
It’s hard to deny that the game looks both good and mediocre. Some characters are highly detailed, like Marnie, Judge Vanstone, and fellow leading lady Felicity Graves; while others tend to look washed out or almost last-gen, like the police captain or some of the supporting police cast.
Venues on the other hand have had a lot of effort put into them, but what makes these little crime scene-scouring mini-games rather underwhelming is in how those clues are found. Controls are a bit delayed, the camera taking enough time to notice delay and tiny animations once clues are found that leave you just watching the timer trickle down while you can’t move the cursor. The timer itself brings an urgency that is more frustrating than intense. A fair amount of times, I had my cursor over the last clue when the time expired, so I couldn’t get all of them.
This is important because Hidden Agenda is driven by how little events and snippets of information come to affect the overarching circumstances within the narrative, an effect that despite all else works wonderfully well to create consequences to each event. So when a piece of crucial information is missed – only because the game wouldn’t allow a half second to press Cross- it leaves a sense of frustration in having an opportunity taken away rather than missing that opportunity entirely. It’s clear that this is intended to make co-op play more engaging, but when playing solo? Really, what’s another second in a crime scene?
In all of this, the one person who stood out for me the most (whom I will avoid spoiling) in regards to both performance and my personal preference in the cast ended up being the one I suspected all along as the game’s serial killer, The Trapper. I can’t say that I was let down by this, because the performance that this person gave had more in it than most of the other supporting cast, and many great scenes involved this person and Officer Marnie, but it all seemed way too obvious that this person was The Trapper all along; a real wolf in a hen house, sans any facade whatsoever. Either way, this person really did an outstanding job accompanying the facial capture with wonderful voice work while helping turn Marnie’s circumstances into a more significant and engaging struggle.
So, all in all, the narrative itself is too straightforward to hold much grip on the viewer outside of immediate scenarios, such as bombings and chases that take place along the way. It’s a shame because, as I mentioned earlier, the game itself is not inherently awful. It simply lacks subtlety in its writing and has too much subtlety in its acting. In that, it does boast beautiful set pieces with wonderful themes that quite honestly fit current events well. To top it all off, it allows both local and online players to play together in solving the mystery of The Trapper.
HIdden Agenda turns the crime scene drama experience into a party game. While it’s not all bad, with some performances and great set pieces carrying the narrative along, it stumbles in many ways that keep it from being a must-buy. It has its moments, but a lack of believable subtlety keeps it from really shining brightly.