By Nathan Grayson on May 1st, 2013 at 8:00 pm.
The only sound I ever heard during my playthrough of Gods Will Be Watching was the crackling of a fire. Slowly but surely, its embers would die, because when you’re stranded in the freezing cold and slowly succumbing to disease, there’s no easy fix-all. Just increasingly high prices that buy you a few more moldy scraps of time. So I’d heap more wood onto the wheezing ash, and my group’s flame would spring back to life, but it never quite returned to the lively, hopeful blaze of day one. Neither did my people. One by one, the little squad of survivors I was managing fell apart. Distrust, discord, and madness flooded delirious minds while empty stomachs’ pleas fell on deaf ears. I wanted to hold it all together, I did, but one man can only do so much.
On my grave, I pray they write, “At least he didn’t let the dog die. All things considered, he was really good about that.” Also, I hope they omit the part where I strongly considered killing my engineer with my own two hands because he wasn’t worth his own weight in food. That was maybe one of my less glamorous moments.
And all of it was completely brilliant.
Gods Will Be Watching is a Ludum Dare 26 entry whose premise goes like this: it’s the bio-terrorist-ridden cyberfuture, and your research group has been ambushed and stranded in the paralytic Medusa virus’ desolate breeding ground. A radio’s your one means of getting in touch with civilization (you’d figure the cyberfuture would’ve come up with something better, but oh well), but it’s very, very busted. So the goal is to repair it in 40 days – before everyone starves or loses their minds or succumbs to the virus – but you can only take so many actions per day.
Perhaps, then, you want to keep morale up by talking to everyone yourself. Or maybe you’ll just let relations fray under the strain of survival and hope the psychiatrist – whose “group therapy” ability uses up all of one day’s actions – can get the collective brain train back on track before it goes right off the deep end. Because when you’ve only got 3-5 actions to split between repairing the radio, hunting, requesting that the doctor keep the medicine supply, er, existent, and petting an adorable puppy, you don’t really have time to be happy.
To me, Gods Will Be Watching felt like a single-location, incredibly bleak take on Oregon Trail. Smart planning is an absolute requirement, but even that will only hold out for so long in the face of natural, viral, and human unpredictability. Me, I thought I had everything handled. My fire was going strong, I gave everyone my undivided attention, and progress on the radio was steady – if not exactly lightning quick. I’d even figured out an efficient, ammo-conserving approach to hunting that leveraged both my soldier and his dog, so I was actually pretty fond of our odds.
But, day after day, the situation unraveled just a teensy tiny bit more. Bandits struck. My too-quiet doctor finally decided he couldn’t take anymore and went screaming off into the wastes. My soldier nearly died of disease. By day 10, things were maybe starting to take a bit of a downturn. By day 20, they were downright hopeless.
That, however, is the vaguely sick joy of Gods Will Be Watching. It’s a game that thrives when everything is finding new and novel ways to fall apart, leaving you weeping, violently ill, and alone. Also cold. Very, very cold. Really, my only complaint against it stems from its admittedly well-hidden origins as a 48-hour jam game. Each character only has a few lines of dialogue, and they don’t necessarily reflect rapidly deteriorating mental states. So that’s a bit incongruous, but then again, just look at these people. They make shivering and rocking back-and-forth in the fetal position into an Olympic sport.
So yes, it’s an excellent little game, and probably my favorite to emerge from LD26 thus far. Then again, there are still thousands more to go through, so I probably shouldn’t make any sweeping declarations just yet. Honestly, though, Gods Will Be Watching is strong by just about any standard. I implore you to try it out.