Hidden Agenda review: Tie-breaker

Credit: Sony
Credit: Sony /

Sony begins their major rollout of PlayStation Playlink games with Hidden Agenda, a title from (surprise!) the same people who made Until Dawn.

Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release date: October 24, 2017

My friends are no strangers to me inviting them over to play big, group video games. This usually means one of the Jackbox Party Packs, but at times other party games like Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. So no one batted an eye when I told a group of them to show up with charged phones in hand for Hidden Agenda.

“Is that a new Jackbox game?”

“It is not. It’s like Jackbox in that you use your phone, but that’s it.”

“Sweet, I love Jackbox.

It’s not that, but you’ll forgive anyone for thinking that about anything PlayStation Playlink-related, since up until now Jackbox has really been the only title that paired groups of people with phones as controllers with a console game. But whereas Jackbox focuses on board game-style antics, Hidden Agenda takes the tech to its logical next step: actual story games that everyone can participate in. And the idea behind Hidden Agenda is certainly a promising one; I’m just not sure that the combo of Supermassive, Sony, and the Playlink was able to execute it in the best possible way.

hidden agenda
Credit: Sony /

Hidden Agenda is a cinematic game of choices, lasting for the duration of a long movie night with your friends. The story surrounds a homicide detective, an attorney and their 48-hour search for a killer known as the Trapper who they thought they caught years ago. The cinematic sequences are often paused to allow players to vote between two (most of the time) dialogue or action choices, with the winning action being taken. No ties, though. Everyone has to pick and agree upon a choice of action, or the game won’t proceed, so you may have to argue with your friends to change their votes.

Those arguments might sometimes be resolved with Takeover cards earned through the game’s handful of “find the hidden object in the room” scenes. These allow one player to decide for the entire group. The cards are key in the game’s competitive mode, which gives one player a “Hidden Agenda” for certain situations that they must accomplish while the others attempt to foil them. In the more laidback story mode, everyone works together, but you occasionally must vote on the most “trustworthy” or “calm” person in the room to make certain key decisions.

hidden agenda
Credit: Sony /

There’s no way to drop in or drop out of the game once you’ve started.

For a group of up to six adults hanging out for a few hours together, Hidden Agenda is an entertaining experience even if the plot is a bit predictable. But it’s an experience you only really want to have once. Even though there are plenty of choices that can play out in very, very different ways, it takes a hefty chunk of time to get to the story bits that matter, and there’s no way to skip around. You’ll be stuck watching about 45 minutes or more of repetitive cutscenes to get to the things you want to experiment with, and let’s face it; when a group of friends is hanging out together, no one wants to watch the same hour’s worth of movie on repeat.

That’s not to mention the fact that Hidden Agenda is full of tiny, technical annoyances that will discourage replay …or even play. You have to download an app on your phone specifically for the game, and everyone has to be connected to the same WiFi network. The latter isn’t as big a deal as the former, as you can guarantee no one will have downloaded this app when they show up to your house. Six people on the WiFi trying to download a large app all at once is a frustrating waste of time at your get-together, especially since they’re just going to delete it again when they leave.

hidden agenda
Credit: Sony /

Furthermore, there’s no way to drop in or drop out of the game once you’ve started. If you shut down the app for any reason, even an accidental technical issue with your phone, you’re done. You can’t rejoin the game, and no one else can join for you. The game just continues with whoever is left. If one person’s phone has troubles 30 minutes in, you’re faced with either replaying that 30 minutes so they can rejoin, or leaving them out for hours.

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When Hidden Agenda works, it definitely works. It’s an intriguing, visually pleasing experience, and a logical first step if PlayStation wants to make PlayLink a thing. I would love to see the formula and tech tightened with user experience in mind down the line for story-based games like this. As it is now, you might enjoy Hidden Agenda once, maybe twice with different friends. Just tell them to download the app ahead of time on their own WiFi, seriously.

6.5. Hidden Agenda is a great first step down the road of story-based games for multiplayer audiences. Technical hurdles can be frustrating to overcome, and there’s very little replay value with the same group of people, but if you regularly host friends and family, even those who don’t play games much, Hidden Agenda makes for a surprising and enjoyable evening.. Supermassive Games. . Hidden Agenda

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.