Game review: Party Hard

It’s probably not going to be much of a surprise that immediately after playing the last game with a near total “kill everyone” mindset, I decided to get a game where the objective is to literally kill everyone. The main difference is, in Party Hard, your character is allowed to be seen by all their potential victims. They’re just more concerned with making the stabby bits stealthy.

I had tried to play the mobile version back when I was sampling Google Play Pass, but it kept throwing up a debug error menu that blocked the entire screen. Despite the PC version also being made in the Unity engine, it doesn’t have the same errors, and it was a whole lot more stable than Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, another Unity game with far worse performance. While there were a few glitches during my playthrough (more on those later), Party Hard was a mostly smooth gaming experience. Even better, despite its grim premise, it’s a mostly fun, if somewhat difficult game.

What makes one hard game fun for me, while another drove me nuts? I can’t offer a blanket explanation, but I think Party Hard succeeds because of the way every run is slightly randomized. The placement of items, traps, victims, and guards changes each time the killer fails to get the job done, so rather than try to look for a pattern, I just went with the flow and improvised until I found the right plan to “Kill them all!”

Before I go any further, let’s cover the story. The killer is a guy who just wants to get some sleep and partying people MUST DIE. Other killers can be unlocked later, but the cut scenes and plot all revolve around this killer and his relationship with a certain hard-boiled cop.

Similarly to the easy to explain plot, the controls are super simple, and are covered in the tutorial in a little under a minute. I did find it weird that I had to set up a Steam controller configuration to get the game to recognize that I had a controller plugged in, but once I did, the game worked fine.

So, as I said, I played the phone version before, so I had a slim idea of what I was supposed to do. After finishing the tutorial, I got to the first house party, and I was still looking over my options when a SWAT van rolled up and a squad of dudes ran into the house to kill five guys in the back. (I later realized they were cooking meth.) Another party-goer walked in on the carnage in progress and shouted, “I’m calling the police!” So they ran to a phone to do that, and the arriving patrol car ran over my killer and spread him like so much raspberry jam across 20 meters of road. After a few more seconds of contemplation, I asked the most relevant question that came to mind: “What?”

On the following play-throughs, I had to learn to sort out when to move in fast, and when to take my time to see how the rest of my crimes were going to play out. Poisoning the punch bowl is great for a lot of kills, but if one of the victims falls dead in front of the killer, odds are good someone will pin the blame on him, even if no one saw him by the punch bowl. This is ridiculous, yes, but it can also work in my favor. If I can steer the killer away from the rash of dropping victims, the cops or the other party-goers might misidentify someone else as the killer, leading to them being arrested and taken away.

For a game with simple controls, there’s a surprising number of ways to use tools, traps, and the environment to the killer’s advantage. There’s also the ability to make a phone call in each stage, which summons “help.” In the first stage, I summoned pesticide fumigators, and they went right to the room I was standing in. I hadn’t figured out who they were because they were dressed just like the meth cooks from the previous failed run. So they poisoned me, and I died. On another stage, I summoned a chainsaw wielding madman, who cornered my killer in a bathroom and unzipped him. On yet another, I called and got a couple zombies. So I was laughing as I watched the zombies slowly take over the beach…until I realized I was the only food left. Yep, dead again.

None of this bothered me. I had a blast making those phone calls to see what would arrive, and then deciding if I could maybe plan around them for extra mayhem. Each stage took me several runs to get a feel for the best ways to mow through the party, or to escape the police if I happened to get caught. Running from the cops isn’t easy, either, as the killer has all the stamina of an asthmatic elderly bank teller. But it can be done, and it all has to be factored into pulling off “the perfect crime.”

That’s really the key point that made this one of those “one more time” experiences. I might get really close to clearing a stage, only to fumble at the last moment. It might be because I got greedy and was convinced I could pull a three-fer, or it might be that one of the last victims had gone into full on panic (indicated by a red flashing bar over their heads) and decided to kill the killer. And it might just be some random thing I couldn’t have predicted. In all cases, I’d utter a short curse and press the button to reload the stage and try again.

It wasn’t a perfect experience, though, as there were a few glitches here and there. On one stage, if I killed the drummer of the band before the singer, the cop who arrived would accuse the singer, and then lock up trying to sort out a path around the drum kit. This was a repeatable glitch, and the only way to reset the cop was getting close enough to get his attention, which resulted in arrests and restarts every time. The other glitch involved a final party-goer who somehow got stuck in a walking cycle on top of a tree, and nothing I could do could get him down. So I had to reload and start again.

Then there’s the final level, which spawns a pair of federal agents, and these guys are pure bullshit. Even sneaking up on their backs and stabbing them did nothing. They would kick out in front of themselves, and even though the killer was behind them, he would still go down. I won the game by way of dumb luck because I’d set up a trap for a guard, and the two agents spawned and ran right past me to both take the blast face first. But before that? I’d had maybe twenty runs, every one of them ending to those assholes curb stomping my killer.

Setting those complaints and lamentations aside, Party Hard was a surprisingly good time in spite of its difficulty. The story is bog standard horror fare, so if you’ve watched a few films, odds are you’ll figure it out long before the final cut scene spells it out for you. The acting is hammy, but eh, its mimicking B horror films, so that’s fine, too.

I’ll give Party Hard 4 stars and recommend it to folks looking for something chaotic, absurd, and utterly addicting. It’s definitely worth your time if you can learn to embrace the chaos and become one with your hockey mask sporting madman.