Hidden Agenda was announced at E3 this year and was developed alongside the PlayStation’s new PlayLink connectivity which allows multiple players to experience a game together through companion apps on their smartphone or tablet devices. It wasn’t the most well-received announcement at the event, but it managed to capture the eyes of a lot of gamers with its realistic graphics, narrative, and theme. Hidden Agenda stars Katie Cassidy (Arrow, When a Stranger Calls, Harper’s Island) as police officer, Becky Marney, who in collaboration with District Attorney, Felicity Graves, is on the trail of a twisted serial killer known as ‘The Trapper.’
Hidden Agenda is an experience that delivers a truly gripping crime narrative with Supermassive Games at the helm—the same developers responsible for Until Dawn and its upcoming prequel, The Inpatient. The issue with Hidden Agenda is that while it was founded on a unique and original idea, its execution suffers from utterly poor precision in more ways than one.
Without getting too much into the narrative at the risk of unveiling the mystery, The Trapper is an infamous serial killer that murders his victims and then booby traps the crime scene with the intention of killing the first responding police officers dispatched to investigate. As Becky and her partner come face to face with The Trapper, they learn that there’s more to the sick game than meets the eye.
It was an initial surprise that Hidden Agenda was a lot longer than I expected it to be. With its original announcement, there was no further information about the game presented between its announcement and its launch. It led a lot of people to believe that paired with the suspicious $19.99 price tag, the game would essentially only consist of two missions or chapters, the same two shown in the reveal trailer. There’s actually a lot more to the game than it lets on and I didn’t manage to watch the credits roll until after two hours—and that’s not counting the one bad decision that resulted in a game-over and forced me to restart the game from the very beginning.
There are two major issues with Hidden Agenda, and the first one is its execution. With the game’s taking advantage of the new PlayLink feature on the PlayStation 4, the game may only be played by using a compatible smartphone or tablet device, whether you’re playing alone or with up to five friends. There is no support for the DualShock controller at all and while playing Hidden Agenda alone, there is no justifiable reasoning for this. With the required Hidden Agenda companion app—which is free on the Apple Store and Google Play Store—you achieve all of your gameplay on what amounts to a touchpad. There is no gameplay to Hidden Agenda aside from dragging your finger across your screen to control the in-game cursor on the television—you will use this cursor to make decisions and to complete quick-time events. Hidden Agenda is nothing more than an interactive film—which is comical, given the fact that people were calling Heavy Rain and Until Dawn interactive movies when they were true video game experiences. The companion app is designed well and offers nifty information about the characters, the narrative, and the “Ripple Effect” (“Butterfly Effect” in Until Dawn) due to your choices. However, the app at times is unresponsive which is unacceptable due to timed decisions; nothing is more infuriating than watching a timer count down while you’re trying to search for clues or engage in a quick-time event only for the app to not register your movements. Due to this issue, there are some instances where players may truly and justifiably find the game unplayable.
The second major issue with Hidden Agenda is its premature endings. Like Until Dawn, Hidden Agenda is a decision based game and your decisions will have consequences, both minor and major. Some of these decisions are considered “wrong” and in turn, result in the early end of the game, without having experienced the entirety of the narrative. The issue herein is the fact that any time you obtain one of these early endings due to an in-game failure or “wrong” decision, you’re greeted with a post-credits scene that completely spoils the remaining narrative. In layman’s terms, the first time I played Hidden Agenda, I screwed up and my character died. After I sat through the credits, I watched a scene that completely ruined the rest of the game for me. So, after regaining my composure and letting the flames of my fury simmer, I had to start the game over from the very beginning; there is no chapter select to replay specific moments and make different choices. The kicker is the fact that I played through the game already knowing what was going to happen due to that final major spoiler cutscene. If you find yourself in a similar situation, do yourself a favor and quit the game before the rest of it is ruined for you.
Lastly, the minor issue within the experience is its transitions and overall rushed feel. It’s focused on delivering such a compelling story, but it is constantly interrupted by on-screen, game-pausing tutorials accompanied by an amateurish and irritating voice over; the same voice over appearing whenever the game’s acts come to a close. It’s an immersion-breaking frustration that need not exist and it would do well to be patched out. Just as well, the entire game is riddled with cutscene skips; segments that jump from one scene to the next without a single transition in between. For a non-spoiler example, a scene when District Attorney Felicity Graves is leaving an interrogation, the cutscene skips with a black screen from her leaving the interrogation room to exiting the cell block, suddenly talking on her mobile phone. Instead of the cutscene showing her walk down the hall, take the phone out of her purse, and dial the number, the cutscene simply skips from one segment to the next. It happens with literally every cutscene, and it was wasted opportunities to add more depth to the story or use the space to learn more about the characters.
Hidden Agenda is a significantly flawed experience. With an utterly fascinating, gripping, and gritty narrative, excellent performances from its colorful cast of characters, and absolutely outstandingly detailed visuals, the entire experience is overshadowed by poor execution and essentially, the entire experience being ruined if you make a mistake. Hidden Agenda really feels like a rushed attempt at a launch title for the new PlayLink feature and truly had the potential to be something much greater than what it is. It’s truly disappointing to see Supermassive Games release a game as masterful as Until Dawn and then release something as lackluster as Hidden Agenda in such a short period of time. Let’s hope that The Inpatient does not suffer from a similar lack of effort.
Hidden Agenda is available now, exclusively on PlayStation 4, for $19.99.