One of our favorite entertainment genres is the survival story. It's ingrained in Western culture; the idea that heroes will overcome a series of obstacles by being outright harder than those they're up against. Generally, this means being a bit of an asshole, but in most of these stories it's fine because their opponents are worse. The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Lost; a parade of protagonists who are fascinating to watch, but you wouldn't want to be friends with. They all ask viewers the same question: How would you react and survive in a situation that's alien to you?
The God Will Be Watching puts you in the same boat. You play Sgt. Burden, a career soldier who runs up against Jack Bauer and John McClane's record for the worst days ever. Over the course of its seven chapters, the game gives you a series of choices, most of which are outright unpleasant. Very rarely is there a route that'll make you feel like you accomplished something heroic.
The beginning has Sgt. Burden in charge of the survivors of a research group, stranded on an unknown planet. There's no context here, but the game knows that, because it immediately jumps back in time a year to lay the groundwork. Here you're leader of some potential terrorists holding a group of hostages, while attempting to hack a system and hold off enemy forces. Thus begins the loop. The loop is everything in Gods Will Be Watching, having you make repeatedly choices on a set interval with the hope they're the choices that will keep you alive.
And that ultimately becomes your focus. Where something like The Walking Dead succeeds and Gods Will Be Watching falters is in the connection between you and the other characters. The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us lay solid groundwork in characterization before asking you to sacrifice or kill someone. You care about the people, so you care about the choices being made. The most sympathetic character in Gods Will Be Watching is the dog, and at some point, you'll come to the realization that it's only because of our emotional connection to pets.
Anyways, back to the loop. In that first scenario, it falls to you to choose the right options to keep the situation in line while a timer counts down. You need to keep things quiet so you hackers have time to do their job. Keep the opposing guards away from your crew. Keep the hostages in line, while still holding onto your authority. Do you kick them? Shout at them? Calm them down and lose their useful fear. It's the push and pull of every choice you can make.
Honestly, it feels like life. There's always something else drawing your attention or resources and you have to prioritize what's important to your morals and your survival. Gods Will Be Watching isn't the game you play to escape.
Overall, Gods Be Will Watching is a resources management simulation with a narrative wrapped around it. Sure, your resources aren't laid out in a list with specific quantities, but they're all there. You're managing people: their capacity for fear and empathy, their ability to perform under pressure, and their desire to survive. When you remove the emotional aspect (who do you want to survive?) of Gods Will Be Watching and treat it like an sim or puzzle game (who do you need to survive), things start to make more sense.
Death is always just a few steps away and trust me, you will die. Each scenario is rather long and the loop ultimately makes them pretty repetitive. Some chapters feel like they trail on forever into infinity; you'll think that you're almost done only to be told you're halfway there. Even when things go right, there will still be a bitter taste in your mouth. Maybe you survive, but the dog had to die. Or you let your buddy be the focus of torture. Perhaps you made an antidote to cure a disease - by injecting random stuff into your people - but the effort made there means there's no food to eat. Major story characters will die, but I couldn't bring myself to care about them beyond their usefulness to the cause.
It's the repetition that ultimately gets you and wears you down. Eventually, you'll realize that you're treating your fellow group members like disposable cattle. The game itself doesn't tell you what you're doing is wrong or horrible, but eventually you'll bring that mounting horror to yourself. You'll look at what you've done in abstract and realize, "if I was in that situation, I'd be a horrible person, too." The point isn't brought across as empathetically as it was in Papers, Please, but it still works.
And like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, the game will show you the horrible choices that everybody else made. It's a small comfort in the midst of everything else, knowing that your Sgt. Burden isn't the only monster in a multiverse of Sgt. Burdens.
I've left the look of the game until the end here, but it looks great. Gods Will Be Watching draws everything it can out of the pixel art on display. The game started off as a Ludum Dare game jam project, with a theme of minimalism. The art style in the original Flash game has been mostly carried forward into the final product. It looks good and does its job; a more graphically intensive art style would've made many of the choices and situations much worse, leaning towards Saw-like gore porn.
The Gods Be Will Watching isn't the type of game you play to escape. It's about getting into the mire and feeling the full weight of your bad choices. The gods will be watching and judging, and in the end, you might not like what they see. What I saw ultimately wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. It's a solid concept that still needs a few rough edges sanded off.
The pixel art style looks great and allows the game to get away with some situations that could be rather gruesome.
The soundtrack is solid, but unremarkable.
The interface is as minimalist as the graphics themselves.
Once you've played through the campaign, there's a bit more mileage in trying out some of the other choices, but the long and repetitive scenarios may dissuade most players.
Thought it shares some similarities with Telltale's The Walking Dead, Deconstructeam's Gods Will Be Watching isn't the same kind of game. Instead of a heavy narrative, the game is more of a resource management sim, with the resource being the other characters. When taken like that, it's a solid puzzle game with some rough, repetitive edges.