Deconstructeam’s Gods Will Be Watching attempts to innovate the adventure game genre by adding a unique (and frustrating) element of survival. This mechanic creates an overall mood that is very different from what is normally available in the medium, and it will certainly be discussed by those in game design for a while. From the first chapter, the presentation simply shines. The pixel design is well executed in all of its detail. The game takes a minimalist approach of confining each chapter to a single room and it’s apparent that a lot of care and thought went into the design of every screen. I can’t help but feel some respect for the artistic vision and risks the game takes, but its punishing nature will divide opinions into “love it” or “hate it.”
Gods Will Be Watching is at its heart a trial and error game. You’re given a vague idea of how things are supposed to work, but you’re not completely told the details of how each option benefits you. The only real method of success is experimenting and memorizing the cause and effects of your actions. This will lead to numerous failures, usually resulting in a loss of fifteen to thirty minutes of progress. Because of this, the first and second chapters are extremely formulaic endurance trials. They require you to monitor health and sanity until you have waited out the task presented. This treacherous balancing act quickly becomes tedious, though the later chapters are refreshingly more complex and manageable.
Punishing the player in this way does not normally merit heavy criticism, but Deconstructeam decided to also inject random elements into the mix to make the formula volatile. This was likely introduced to add tension to decision making, and when the risk is assessed it actually accomplishes that goal. However, some events can happen at completely unexpected times. For instance, in the first chapter Jack might have second thoughts about the hostage situation and will refuse to shoot at the advancing federation guards. Sometimes this never comes up, but when it does it can completely destroy your strategy.
This makes Gods Will Be Watching more akin to a gambling game than a puzzle game. You will hear from the media reports that the game is “Challenging,” but I respectfully disagree. You wouldn’t call rolling a dice “challenging.” Granted, there is a winning method in your decision making, but you can also succeed by pure blind luck. Think of it as a game of poker which you will almost always lose until you learn to start counting the cards. The game does have an easy mode which takes the edge off a little, but it doesn’t prevent your teammate from dying when their chances of survival are 90%.
With that said, these mechanics force a connection between you and the characters. Each team member contributes something necessary for the survival of all, and their lives are in your hands and the hands of the dice gods. When someone dies, you feel it – not because the game only told you that the character is important, but because he truly represented a loss to everyone. This accomplishment at least deserves applause.
This connection is what drives the story; I needed to know what happened next. Sadly, in my case, the pay-off for all of these efforts was met with apathy. The main concepts of the narrative are incoherent with each other, and they are very reminiscent of ideas explored in other games, even some popular ones. Most importantly, in spite of all of the pretentiousness in the presentation, I don’t feel like I came away having learned anything useful from the experience.
Gods Will Be Watching captures what it might feel like in the drastic survival situations that it depicts, and from an artistic standpoint that could be considered a triumph, but many won’t like such a real feeling and that limits the game’s overall enjoyment. It’s an experience that will undoubtedly draw a cult following, but without some kind of universally applicable lesson the rest of us can skip it.