Hidden Agenda is an interactive crime thriller from Supermassive Games. The developer previously worked on horror adventure Until Dawn which remains one of my favourite titles on the PS4. They also created Until Dawn: Rush of Blood for the PlayStation VR headset.
Hidden Agenda is one of the first titles for Sony’s new PlayLink technology that aims to make gaming more social. One way it does this is by allowing players to use their existing phones and tablets as controllers. In Hidden Agenda players must download a 150Mb Hidden Agenda app before they can join the game.
The game follows a homicide detective called Rebecca Marney and others from her department in the hunt for a serial killer named the Trapper. As you might guess, The Trapper captures his victims and then rigs them with deadly traps. Throughout the story there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. I’m not going to spoil any of those in this review.
Watch the Hidden Agenda E3 2017 trailer below:
Hidden Agenda is designed to run for about the same length as a film. You can expect a playthrough to take around 2 hours. The length may sound short but I think going for a movie length is a smart decision. The game can be played solo or with up to five friends. It has two modes of play which are Story or Competitive.
In Story mode, players get to choose decisions at key moments during the game. This is done using the touchscreen on your device and seems to work best on higher end devices. Each decision you make causes a ‘ripple effect’ that allows the story to branch in different ways. So for example a choice might be if two cops stay together or split up when investigating a scene. Another might mean a character lives or dies.
Competitive mode is a little more complex. As well as making the same decisions, players are presented with hidden agenda’s on their devices. So you might get tasked with ensuring a decision goes a certain way. If successful you earn points and your fellow players get to choose who they think had a hidden agenda. If they guess right then they also get some points.
Most of the interactions with the game are just choosing between two choices. There’s no direct control of any characters and it’s like watching a movie where you get to influence what happens. It’s a really cool concept and I can definitely see future titles taking a similar approach. At times the game will ask players questions about themselves and the player with the most votes will get to make an important decision.
In addition to the choices, the game also has some quick-time events where players need to move their cursors to an on-screen target. A final interaction is one where the game has you searching for clues. These parts are a little clumsy as the objects that you need to find are near impossible to see in the dark environments. It becomes a frantic sweep of the screen looking for magnifying glasses that indicate you have found a clue.
The Hidden Agenda app keeps record of events and lets players see what decisions were made. You can also look at bio’s of the characters and use it to refresh your memory of what has happened.
As I mentioned earlier I love the concept of Hidden Agenda but I also have some issues with its implementation. The way the choices are handled is a bit clumsy and I don’t understand why players can’t just pick their choice on their device as the game runs. Instead the game stops while you’re making decisions on-screen and it spoils the flow of the story slightly with these endless interruptions.
The story is quite gripping but it’s possible that your decisions result in you missing things. Multiple playthroughs are worthwhile to see the different ways that things can turn out. Some of the endings are much better than others.
Another issue I found was when you play the game with an even number of people. Decisions are taken based on a majority but an even number means it’s possible that half of the group will want to go one way while another go the other. When this happens there’s a stalemate and the game seems to want you to chat about the decisions to influence each other. Again this can spoil the flow and it really becomes a bigger issue with just two people. If you’re both stubborn you’re more likely to just argue than give in. Playing with an odd number of players makes this problem much less of an issue.
The game does have takeover cards which help this issue somewhat. These are rewarded during play and allow the person that plays one to trump everyone else with their choice. The game is quite generous with the takeover cards and you can end up with one person constantly playing cards and making all the decisions.
When the PlayLink tech works everything is great but during my time with the game I ran into connectivity issues. The first game I tried two players, one on iOS with an iPhone 8 Plus as the primary controller and another on Android with a Google Pixel. The devices were all using the same Wi-Fi with excellent signal but the Android device would lose connection before every single decision for a couple of minutes.
The second game I played was with the same devices and people and everything ran flawlessly. The third game I put the Android as primary and then the iOS device keep dropping out. The game allows you to use your PS4 as a Wi-Fi hotspot but I had the same kind of issues. Sometimes it worked and other times it struggled. When you have to keep restarting apps and turning Wi-Fi on and off it quickly becomes an incredibly frustrating experience. Add more players and there’s even more probability that things are going to go wrong. Hopefully these are just teething problems with the tech that will be patched.
View more Hidden Agenda screens in our gallery:
Graphically the game isn’t quite up to the standards set in Until Dawn but it does feel like you’re watching a movie. At times the immersion is spoiled a little by some of the strange faces the characters can pull. The voice acting here though is top notch and there are some excellent performances which keep your attention.
Hidden Agenda mostly succeeds in what it sets out to do and provides a few good evenings of entertainment. The story is a little slow at times but it does keep you guessing. The PlayLink tech is both impressive and frustrating but I’d definitely like to see more titles like this from Supermassive Games and other developers. Despite the issues, if you enjoy crime thrillers then you should find plenty to enjoy in Hidden Agenda.
Hidden Agenda was reviewed using a free digital code supplied by the Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe.
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment Developer: Supermassive Games Release Date: November 22, 2017 Reviewed On: PS4/PlayLink