Hidden Agenda review
Why is Hidden Agenda called Hidden Agenda? Supermassive Games’ follow-up to its horror sleeper Until Dawn is a dark and rain-soaked police procedural about a serial killer called the Trapper who appears to strike again just as the man who confessed to the Trapper’s murders awaits execution on death row. Two women, a straight-arrow prosecuting attorney and a homicide detective, investigate the crimes. The detective is a little volatile and not above suspicion, but we players know from the start that she’s genuinely trying to get to the bottom of the case. The killer’s motives are plain. There are no hidden agendas here – so aside from sounding vaguely thriller-ish, what’s in that name?
It turns out that, despite being a purely narrative game, Hidden Agenda is named after a game mechanic – and it’s very telling that the title doesn’t fit the plot. Hidden Agenda has been chosen as the flagship launch title for PlayLink, a wave of accessible, smartphone-controlled party games for PlayStation 4. Players use their phones to hunt for clues within a scene, clear simple quick-time events, and vote on decisions that affect conversations and branching paths in the storyline. This formalises the way groups of friends have chosen to play games like this for years: talking over consequences, arguing about morality or motivation. A competitive mode spices this up by secretly assigning one player the hidden agenda of the title – a choice they must try to get past the group. They win points if their brief is fulfilled; afterwards, everyone votes on who had the hidden agenda and wins points if they guessed correctly. The scene is set for a duplicitously fun time of bluff and double-bluff in front of the TV.
It’s arguable how much PlayLink adds to a scenario that you could replicate as a drinking game with some scraps of paper in a hat, but let me state for the record that the tech works pretty well. You download a game-specific app to your phone which then connects without hassle to the PS4, as long as the devices are on the same wifi network. Six players are supported. You use a touchscreen interface to control a pointer on the TV, which is a little laggy but does the job. The app is rough, but the inclusion of a logbook where you can browse updated character bios and check the outcome of ‘ripple events’ that affect the plot is thoughtful. Sony deserves kudos for coming up with a casual gaming initiative which requires no new accessories to be bought or interfaces to be learned; everyone has a phone and knows how to use it. Consider the barrier to entry well and truly lowered.