Sometimes there are no good decisions. Sometimes no matter what you do, something terrible is going to happen; you’ll be viewed as the bad guy even though you worked your damnedest to make sure a situation was resolved in the best possible way. Such decisions are the driving force behind Gods Will Be Watching, the upcoming adventure game from Deconstructeam and Devolver Digital.
Gods Will Be Watching is not a game you play to feel badass, or to feel some form of great moral triumph. At times, it is a nice look at the futility of life and human existence, but more often than not, it’s about doing what’s best for your team.
As I assume the role of Sgt, Burden and carve my path through the game’s first four chapters, the game necessitates my making more than a fair share of grim and unpopular decisions, several of which end up resulting in the deaths of my subordinates.
About midway through the play-through, Sgt. Burden has the option of playing fetch with Marvin, a pet rottweiler brought along on the crew’s research mission to a desolate, frozen world in the far reaches of space. The sequence goes on for as little or as long as you let it, and with each throw your long-time comrade-in-arms, Jack, recounts the duo’s time together, both prior to the game and in the previous sequence wherein the two are subjected to brutal torture at the hands of some very capable interrogators.
The scene really hammers home the intense camaraderie and loyalty of the group, as well as the importance of the mission. This makes the impending series of life-and-death decisions facing Sgt. Burden all the more difficult.
Shortly after bonding with your friend and dog, the group finds itself trapped in a collapsed cave, exposed to the very same deadly virus that the research team was sent to the planet to devise a cure for. From here on out it’s Burden’s (and your) responsibility to assess the situation and assign tasks to your crew. Some of your crew will have to dig through the rubble, others will manage the generator as your science team feverishly works on a cure. Finding a cure is determined through trial and error, however, and the only to figure out which serum works and which doesn’t is to experiment on members of the team, which, if incorrect, carries the risk of killing the subject.
If your test subject dies, you can still perform an autopsy and get data for your research, so it’s not a total loss. In truth, you can theoretically inject your crew with incorrect serum knowingly and immediately autopsy the bodies if you really want to access that data as fast as humanly possible, and I don’t doubt that some will take that route, as an ever-present countdown clock is constantly reminding you that time is of the essence. In doing so, you’d be selectively grooming and shaping your crew into a smaller unit with better efficiency and less crew fatigue to manage.
Looking at your situation objectively, the obvious take is that the dog is the most expendable member of the team. Whereas other members can offer helpful analysis of the crew and situation, repair the robot or synthesize serums, Marcus can only dig, and not nearly as well as everyone else. When he gets tired, he has to rest for quite a while.
So you may be faced with the difficult decision of whether or not you risk the dog or a different member of your team, whose loss could very well put the lives of the rest of the crew, even fate of the entire entire mission at risk.
I couldn’t do it. I lost an integral member of my team on more than one occasion, but I didn’t kill the dog, and I’m okay with that.
It should be mentioned that it is possible to escape the cave with your crew intact. It’s extremely difficult, but it is possible. Although in doing so, you’ll probably have to go through the gauntlet of anger and frustration, trying time and time again to get that ideal outcome. Gods Will Be Watching is a beautiful exercise in dealing with frustration.
I largely attribute the incredibly steep and intentional difficulty curve as to why it is so damn delightful. During the first chapter’s hostage situation, for example, the whole sequence is based around the concept of juggling a ton of balls at once. You have to make sure your hostages stay calm enough that they won’t lose their minds, making a run for it or attacking you. At the same time you need to keep them scared to a degree, as to prevent them for formulating a plan to overtake you and your crew. Between bouts of hostage management, you’ll also need to monitor the progress of your hacker into the database, running support for him by defending him from a counter-hacker and and bolstering network security as you fight off a wave of approaching guards. If you don’t keep your head in the game at all times, someone is going to die.
Failing time and time again, often in rapid succession, is the point. The game is designed for things to get drastically out of hand at the drop of a hat. You’ll think you have everything under control, and then you turn around to find that your entire team froze to death because you forgot to shoot the wood to light the fire, or you’re forced to shoot more than half of your hostages to keep them from fleeing or attacking you. You spend so much time delicately constructing the scenario, only to have the entire situation collapse and fold in on itself like a dying star.
While the failures are part of the game by design, it really can be quite heartbreaking to make your way to the last day of your grueling torture, enduring day after day, only to realize you made the wrong decision and died, forcing you to go all the way back to the start of the chapter, or when a team member dies even though the serum you gave them was formulated to have a 10% chance of ill-effects. Those feelings of heartbreak and frustration really will affect your leadership and decisions, potentially spelling disaster in the future.
Sometimes it really does feel like you wasted a lot of time and effort, but when you ultimately make your way through and succeed, the taste of that small victory cancels out even the most bitter feelings of defeat.
When I was given access to Gods Will Be Watching I was told that it was incredibly difficult, and that I should swallow my pride before I started. I assumed at the time that they meant I should swallow my pride in terms of accepting the fact that I would die. A lot.
Now, I wonder if I was supposed to swallow that pride and accept that neither Sgt. Burden nor myself could be the gleaming portrait of heroism that we’ve come to expect in games. Sure, we can win some battles and be heroic in our own right, but at the end of the day,the road to success isn’t pretty, and the sacrifices made to get to the end have the potential to be great. But hey, at least I didn’t kill the dog, right? It’s the little victories that matter the most.