Funny story: Both this and Punch Club were not only published by tinyBuild Games, but both were also games focused on 80s American pop culture and made by Russian studios. Funny how that works out. However, Pinkol Games’ Party Hard is a much more interesting story. The developer’s past efforts had mostly been in family friendly affairs, and then they made a prototype for a game jam where you were a slasher movie villain picking off party goers one by one. tinyBuild contacted them for a full game, and the end result is a brilliant dark comedy with some surprisingly ambitious ideas.
Party Hard‘s story is told through dim, neon-bathed cutscenes, as a detective named John West describes the Party Hard killings to an unknown someone. As he describes, a regular man was trying to get sleep one night, but couldn’t because of an obnoxiously loud house party next door. So, that man dawned a mask and slaughtered everyone there, and he soon found himself going all over the nation and continuing his rampage. Despite the ridiculous use of the phrase “party hard,” the story is told in a very effective, moody way, channeling the styles of modern retro re-imaginings like Drive and It Follows. The sprite work is solid, but the lighting is what really makes it all pop. Interesting that the game proper has a completely different atmosphere.
You can select from a range of different party locales with their own challenges, but the goal is always the same: Kill every single party goer and don’t get arrested or killed. To do so, you have a trusty stabbing move, and you can carry corpses and passed out party goers to move them to secluded areas for murder or hiding. You can even do a terrible dance that may cause party goers to break off from the group in disgust, possibly giving a chance to take them out in private. However, you can also make use of other tricks. Every party has different environmental elements that can be used to make something look like an accident, like spooking a horse, and opportunities for sneakier moves that can take out multiple people. In particular, you can poison the main food or drink source and cause random party goers to become sick, though this can be a double edged sword. When they finally keel over, the person closest to the dead will get blamed and the police will be called. The same goes for when dead bodies are discovered. It’s best not to stick too close to your handiwork.
These simple mechanics make the game a bloody, entertaining sandbox of slaughter and mayhem, especially when you find items like bombs. Party goers react to your actions constantly. Sometimes, they’ll get so panicked that they’ll run around and not even notices dead bodies. Other times, they’ll become alert and start making rasher decisions, or kick you if you try dancing around them too many times. They’re not particularly intelligent, what with being drunk idiots, but if enough of them start getting panicky, it can force improvisation. This helps keep each level lively and unpredictable, as does calling someone on the phone. If you try using the phone, you’ll summon someone to the party, like a mass murderer or aliens. Sometimes, you may even summon zombies. These guests can have almost no effect, or they can completely change the nature of the mission. This is also the source of a mechanic exclusive to Twitch streamers. The game allows people in a Twitch chat to choose one of three options at a time, summoning something new to the party, ranging from the mundane to the ridiculous. Apparently, this even includes sharknadoes. Yes, really. Of course, certain actions can also summon unexpected guests, like using a bomb may start a raid from a SWAT team. This can make things more difficult, but can also cause enough chaos that it works to your advantage.
The whole game has a sleazy 80s dance club feel to it. The lights are bright, but they’re not vibrant shades, mainly gross pinks and purples and a lot of night tones. Levels keep a washed out yet still varied pallet, but level editing leaves plenty more options. The game’s community level selection is pretty solid and creative, and a whole lot of people sure do like using it for vaporware themed aesthetics.
The music sticks with the party theme and makes great use of an electronic dance mix score. The themes are short and catchy, not too distracting, but great mood setters for every level. It can take up to half an hour to finish up sometimes, so the music’s easy looping is a major plus. I should also mention one of the songs has a single lyric, where a computerized voice simply belches out “DUBSTEP” at odd intervals and that’s pretty great.
Party Hard is another oddity of Russian designers capturing an American staple of pop culture, and it’s so convincing that you wouldn’t know it was developed out of the states unless you looked it up. All the right notes and ideas are used, and the game proper is both twisted and addicting. It’s a perverse fun time with some lofty ideas behind it, and the fact it manages to succeed in implementing those ideas is all the more impressive. Thirteen bucks is absolutely worth the price for this much polish and replayability… despite the occasional bug where the killer gets stuck on something after a killing spree. But he eventually gives up moving to wherever he was headed and just does a victory dance then and there, so minor gripe.