Gods Will Be Watch­ing


Gods Will Be Watch­ing is tragic. As a pixel-art cri­sis man­age­ment game that deals in the the­matic murk of tor­ture, hu­man test­ing and ter­ror­ism, it was never ex­actly shoot­ing for feel-good blockbuster, but that isn’t what we mean. Across its hand­ful of story vignettes, GWBW mis­takes dark­ness for ma­tu­rity, suf­fer­ing for mean­ing, and bar­ring progress for chal­lenge. Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion can mask many of its fail­ings, but a litany of struc­tural prob­lems spurn your read­ings and role­play, mak­ing it a poor mir­ror.

That’s dou­bly dis­ap­point­ing given the game’s promis­ing roots. GWBW was con­ceived at Ludum Dare 26 as a study in min­i­mal­ism. With a sin­gle screen and a tiny set of in­ter­ac­tions, you – as re­turn­ing pro­tag­o­nist Sgt Bur­den – were given a hand­ful of ac­tions per day to keep a small team alive, sane, fed and dis­ease-free on the sur­face of a hos­tile planet. You also, cru­cially, had a time limit and a ra­dio to fix. The im­pos­si­bil­ity of keep­ing all the plates spin­ning forced you to face hard choices over what to let drop, while the slight struc­ture left room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion and per­sonal re­flec­tion.

GWBW’s fleshed-out re­make be­trays that as a fluke, de­tract­ing with al­most ev­ery ad­di­tion. In at­tempt­ing to tell a con­tin­u­ing nar­ra­tive, it squeezes out much of the The lab sce­nario of­fers no wig­gle room over test­ing on some­one; the only ques­tion is whom. But while the choice has the ca­pac­ity to shock once, squeamish­ness is set aside when you re­alise no last­ing harm is pos­si­ble room for in­tro­spec­tion, drown­ing its echo cham­ber in reams of poorly spelled ex­po­si­tion and clever-clever self-ref­er­en­tial ex­changes. The story’s struc­ture also dic­tates that key char­ac­ters can never truly die, but are sim­ply set aside un­til the mis­sion’s end. The game winks coyly at this jar­ring se­rial rein­car­na­tion as if to ex­cuse it, re­serv­ing a thinly veiled plot twist for the end, but nei­ther di­min­ishes the ru­inous ef­fect on your ca­pac­ity for em­pa­thy or the rel­e­vancy of your choices.

In the vanilla game (see: ‘Mercy mercy me’), those choices are many, and the sys­tems be­hind them are by turns opaque, in­trigu­ing and ir­ri­tat­ingly ran­dom – es­pe­cially since fail­ure means restart­ing th­ese lengthy chap­ters whole­sale, un­skip­pable text and all. Progress soon de­volves to base cryp­tog­ra­phy, with you dis­card­ing all en­gage­ment to fig­ure out which set of ac­tions will per­mit progress. That’s on Easy, too; Orig­i­nal, with its pas­sive-ag­gres­sive menu plea for se­lec­tion, will have you grind­ing your teeth to pow­der. Tight con­straints force you to­wards morally un­palat­able op­tions, yes, but so lit­tle free­dom or con­se­quence erodes the mes­sage.

If the browser ver­sion of GWBW is some­thing of an al­le­gory gen­er­a­tor – demon­strat­ing why killing some­one to make your life eas­ier rarely does, say – its re­make is a game of ‘Would you rather?’ It’s not afraid to ask the tough ques­tions, but its fram­ing of them is too clumsy to give you much rea­son to an­swer.

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