A bold warning greets you on the first screen of Gods Will Be Watching. “Enjoy the challenge. You will fail a lot, but this is how we designed the game.” Truly, nothing could better prepare you for what this game ultimately is: a near-impossible set of scenarios whose sole existence is built on making sure you fail.
As Sargent Burden – yes, that name means exactly what you think it means – you’re tasked with infiltrating an extremist organization in an effort to dissolve them and cool their intentions of revolution. While doing so, you’ll be faced with handling all manner of situations in which the odds are stacked incredibly high against you.
As we’ve learned from more challenging games such as Super Meat Boy, Dark Souls, and even Ninja Gaiden, difficulty can be rewarding, so long as the game follows a set logic and gives us a clear idea of the rules. In each of the aforementioned games, any failure is one that players can readily accept because of their own actions. In Gods Will Be Watching, the game has interesting ideas and random moments of greatness, but it too frequently plays fast and loose with its logic, tweaking things in its favor for the simple reason of making sure you’re met with a game over screen as often as possible.
The missions are basically management challenges, in which players are given some guidance about the options they have to approach the matter and are left to their own devices to deduce how to eventually solve things. It’s a messy loop of trial and error as Burden is forced to go through task after task, picking up on different ideas and combinations that work in order to finally put them in the correct sequence. Meanwhile, different aspects of the mission will go awry with little to no warning at all, and it’s up to you to fill in the gaps and try to make sense of its nonsensical logic.
In the first chapter, Burden - or Abraham, as he’s called while under cover - is forced to manage a dangerous hostage situation while helping the extremist group hack into a mainframe to steal data. During this mission, you’ll have to keep hostages from running away, make sure the security on the system remains intact, charge up boosts to make the hacking more efficient, and make sure to keep the guards at bay. Any failure to successfully balance these will result in the entire mission going belly up as the team is taken out by one of the guard’s grenade launchers.
It definitely has a bold sense of tension and impressive style, but there’s a lack of consistency to it that makes things more frustrating than difficult. At any time, the security seems to go on the system without provocation. The situation is basically turn-based, but this is never made clear, resulting in the guards creeping up on you on every turn that they aren’t negotiated with or fired upon. The hostages go through different stages of calm and panic, but often haphazardly decide to run. There’s no real, tangible way of knowing exactly where the situation rests, leaving it perpetually out of your hands.
Perhaps this is exactly what it’s going for. But even if it is, then I have to question what the point of the exercise is. Is it a commentary on the futility of choice? A scenario meant to make you feel small and ineffectual? Whatever I’m meant to feel seems lost in Gods Will Be Watching’s desperate insistence to be practically impossible.