Party Hard: it’s like Se7en but funny and without Morgan Freeman…
Party Hard is a pixel art, hide-in-plain-sight stealth action game about murdering party revelers. Players crash a wide variety of parties as a spree killer intent on putting an end to noise pollution by ending the lives of people attending those parties. A variety of environmental hazards, like air conditioning fans, barbeque grills and ramshackle amps, aid the intrepid murderer in his quest to get some peace and quiet. The tone of Party Hard is dark yet playful, but the game has some issues when it comes to storytelling and writing in general.
Party Hard is going for a satirical take on serial killer movies like Natural Born Killers or Se7en. The first problem with that is, those movies were fairly satirical in their own right which makes Party Hard a bit superfluous in terms of theme. The game isn’t taking itself seriously enough or doing anything original in terms of storytelling to add anything of note to the spree/serial killer sub-genre, or to be any kind of homage. All this leaves is satire and parody, which don’t really work for other reasons which will be covered later.
The second problem with the storytelling in Party Hard is that the writing tries way too hard. The game’s story unfolds over the course of interstitial cutscenes of an interrogation or debriefing of a police officer involved in the investigation of the killings the player commits during gameplay sections. As a frame story this works fine; the problem is that the dialog is over the top to an irritating extent. The dialog reads like a conversation between Brad Pitt and Kevin Sapcey’s characters in Se7en rewritten from a vague memory of the film.
The final aspect of Party Hard that is somewhat rough is the voice over performances. This may be an issue of direction more than performance, but the voices of the two characters in the cutscenes are so affected that it telegraphs a crucial plot twist. The films to which Party Hard references contain some of the best performances of the 1990s, so the overblown voice acting might be an ineffective attempt at satire. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what the intention behind the performances were; they really just don’t work. The performances might have fit if the game were more of a parody, but Party Hard has a bit too much of an axe to grind to be seen as a parody of anything.
One cool aspect of Party Hard is that the game has a lot of style. The art design is really strong as are the character designs and animations. While the cutscene dialog could be stronger, the in game flavor text is clever and funny. The level design is varied and fits well with the overall tone of the game.
Party Hard feels like playing through a Metal Gear, or Hitman game for the fifth time but in a good way. The game feels like the playthrough when all the story elements are old news and all that’s left are the challenges and achievements for killing every guard without being seen. Most levels require painstaking attention and patience from the player, as even the smallest mistake can lead to failure. In Party Hard it can take up to fifteen minutes or maybe more to finish a level, so failure can be tough to take, whether due to death or being busted by the cops.
The use of environmental hazards in Party Hard is pretty interesting. Players get bonus points for using them but also are less likely to be suspected as the murder. It’s a weird leap of logic to think that seeing a guy shoving someone into a spinning fan would arouse less suspicion than seeing that guy stabbing that same person, but that’s the world of Party Hard. Speaking of the world of Party Hard, this game has a really cynical worldview. Police don’t shut down parties when people get murdered at them, or even really investigate. About the only thing that’s a danger to the player character in the main game are bouncers who seem to be interested in keeping one specific person, the player character, out of parties. DLC levels add more challenging elements like guard dogs, but the main game is mostly about not getting caught in the act as opposed to not being seen.
There are not many games like Party Hard. Most stealth games work very hard to give players options of how to play their game, and those that don’t tend to focus on not being seen by anyone at all. Party Hard is a game about not getting caught in the act, about avoiding attention until the time is right to strike. The uniqueness of the way it plays is one of the best aspects of Party Hard. Another cool feature of Party Hard is that it’s one of the most environmentally funny games out there. This is the kind of game where a great white shark jumps out of the ocean to eat the body of a person you just murdered and then you laugh about it.
There are random elements to the way Party Hard generates its levels which doesn’t work terribly well because some of the random elements are more useful in certain situations. The basic structure of the maps are constant but the power-ups and some of the environmental hazards will change each time a level is played. Early on this is interesting but once a player finds their stride and develops preferences for certain power-ups it just leads to spamming restart until the game shuffles in a favorable set up.
Overall, Party Hard looks and sounds pretty good. Contemporary pixel art succeeds or fails depending mostly on color pallet and detail. Party Hard uses color well and is fairly detailed but there are times when the art style works against players on some maps. The sound design in Party Hard is best described as solid; the sound effects for the kills are suitably grisly. The game’s music is also pretty good but lacks variety which becomes grating if a player should get stuck on a particular screen. Party Hard is a difficult game so for the sake of sanity it should be played in short spurts.
Party Hard is available on Steam, Xbox One, and PS4 for about $13, but has been well-supported with DLC and can be found on sale with all DLC included for less than $20. The random elements of the stage generation, the challenge that it provides, and the strength of the gameplay add a lot of value to Party Hard.