We’ve all been there. It’s 3am on a Sunday night. You have to get up for work in three hours, and the inconsiderate gobshites next door are still in the middle of a party, with no end in sight. The paper-thin walls do nothing to stop the endless thump of awful dance music, the cackling of coked-up tosspots and the inane prattle coming from the smokers outside. You roll over, and try to get to sleep, bemoaning your next door neighbour’s truly terrible taste in music and company. You’re wondering why you haven’t heard any Andrew WK all night (which is, officially, what you play when you want to Party Hard). Eventually you drift off for all of five minutes, while fantasising about storming next door and murdering every last one of the bastards.
Well, now you can live out all of your wildest 3am homicidal fantasies with Pinokl‘s Party Hard. Best described as the murderous bastard child of Hotline Miami and the Commodore 64 classic – How to be a Complete Bastard, Party Hard puts players into the blood-spattered shoes of the Party Hard killer, a man driven mad by a lack of sleep due to his neighbours incessant partying, who not only decides to go next door and murder everyone, but then (for reasons unknown) to go on a country-wide killing spree around the US.
The narrative isn’t told from the perspective of the killer/players, but through the eyes of the detective who is tasked with tracking the bugger down. I can see what the devs were going for, attempting a sort of subversive narrative where you’re forced to face your crimes after every spree and the father of one of your victims laments his inability to catch you. However, the overwrought dialogue and attempts at grit during the retro-styled cut scenes that bookend each of the game’s levels make the game feel tonally inconsistent, as the actual in-game action is played for macabre laughs.
Though it has a similar pixellated style and pulsing electro soundtrack to Hotline Miami, Party Hard is a far slower and methodically-paced game compared to Dennaton’s break-neck murder fest. As the Party Hard Killer (and other unlockable characters), your goal is simple – kill all the party goers. It’s not quite a simple case of running in and stabbing everyone, as doing so quickly ends with the po-po turning up to ruin your fun. So, like a cut price Jason Voorhees, it’s best to stick to the shadows and pick off the teens that have decided to go have a shag out by the bins if you’re going to get stabby; thankfully, before you have to resort to such crude tactics, you can interact with the environment to cause all kinds of ‘unfortunate accidents’.
Dotted around the map are all manner of items you can use to literally kill the mood, with staples including: poisoning the buffet, rigging electrical items to blow up in front of unsuspecting party goer, shoving a brick on the accelerator of various parked vehicles to mow down every poor bugger in the way, and plenty more besides. Each level is its own mini-sandbox, with the tools available procedurally-generated before each attempt. Thus, it’s up to you to wander through the party and pick the right time to set off incidents, while picking off any stragglers and dumping them in the trash, all the while avoiding any cops that turn up to investigate. It’s a fun little game of cat and mouse while it lasts, and watching a series of unfortunate events kill half a dozen party goers (and panic the rest) never fails to raise a sadistic mile.
Once the environmental kills have all been used, up the action transforms into a ghoulish game of stab-and-stash. Killing lone victims and tossing them in the nearest dumpster, closet or…shark becomes essential. The police actually do their job for once, and are relentless in their pursuit of you. It is technically possible to kill cops, but it’s a risky move that rarely works and they’re replaced with even more tenacious Feds, while escape routes are boarded up by a local handyman in a red shirt and dungarees. Jerk.
It’s at this point that the pacing of the game slows to a crawl. Polishing off the last dozen victims becomes a slog, especially after the initial outburst of anarchic comic violence. With no options left to split up the remaining revellers, the last half of almost every level degrades into a repetitive waiting game, lurking in a corner and hoping for someone to randomly wander close by so you can safely off the bugger and hide them before someone else shows up.
To help things along a little, you’ll occasionally find a random power-up, such as smoke or stun grenades, that allow you to get stab-happy without suffering the consequences, a change of clothes to throw the cops off your scent and bombs that you can happily ditch in the middle of a dancefloor and detonate from a safe distance to cause a massive amount of damage. Using a bomb leads to a SWAT team turning up and shooting everyone they see. Including you, if you’re unfortunate enough to be caught in their crosshairs.
Party Hard is genuinely funny game, crammed full of silly little pop-culture references to slasher films and teen movies, which in turn form the bread and butter of the game’s ridiculous premise. It’s an odd choice to set itself in the 00’s, despite its retro trappings and frequent 80s/90s references, and combine with a strangely straight-laced script to make it feel a bit jarring at times. But it’s still fun to watch the party unfold, waiting in the wings as your prey get drunk, pass out, or dance with bears wearing shades and a gold chain.
Despite losing some of its lustre a little towards the finale, Party Hard doesn’t exactly outstay its welcome. There are only 12 parties to crash (and one is a bonus stage and another a remix of an earlier level, so really there’s only 10). It’s over in about the same time as your average shindig – and can be finished in a single evening.
Like the song that inspired its name, Party Hard is simple, silly and a hell of a lot of fun. When it’s time to party, well… you know the rest.