It is a languid Sunday morning and I have a hangover. The kind of sinewy hangover that I feel in my arms, my thighs, my lungs; my vision blotched by the residue of excess, with this I decide to launch arse-first into Party Hard. As I sit in my office chair, my upper body sways to and fro of its own accord. Why is it doing that? Is it correcting for the lost balance that was pawned off the night before? I don’t rightly know. And I don’t know anything about the game, either, for that matter, beyond the damp notion that this game is neon, brash, indie. This is probably a bad idea.

“I begin to wonder if I should dry out for a while and do this properly.”  

The opening screen pulsates with energy, blasting a four-on-the-floor electronic dance track. It sounds like maybe the same guy who did Crypt of the Necrodancer? I enjoy that game but even the thought of playing it now makes me feel sick. The thought of playing this game makes me feel sick. I feel sick.

I begin.

It’s a pixely cutscene. Before I even have time to get annoyed by the amateur, breathy voice-over, another ‘80s music track launches. All clappy drums, MIDI guitars, and vocoded vocals. I wish I were able to get jiggy with this. I begin to wonder if I should dry out for a while and do this properly. This game does seem like it deserves me being able to approach it with a throaty “Yeah!” and a funk-laden neck flex, rather than the current “Eurgh…”, my forehead down, drilled into an open palm, for ballast, perhaps. But here we are.

The game itself you’ve probably seen. It’s a simple little sandbox, a top-down map of a raging house party, filled with people scurrying around, dancing, chatting, eating. You, armed with a hammer, are tasked with murdering everyone in the scene. You can set traps, Spy vs. Spy style, or if nobody’s looking you can always off your victims with a simple keyboard press. The graphics are low-fi enough, and the various traps creative enough, that it doesn’t feel particularly torture-porny.

Party Hard 2

The controls don’t have a visceral connection to their surroundings, as in games like Hotline Miami. Using items has a detached floatiness. Nothing really sticks, and your character just kind of glides from interaction to interaction, leading to a strange sense of hollowness to the sprites surrounding you. There is some small glee to discovering what the interactions do, heightened by the fact that many of these objects are randomly placed each time you restart. My favourite was a horse, stood stoically by the dance floor. You could go up and disturb the horse, making him kick up his hooves, ending the night of whoever was in their way. Get caught in the act, and the police are summoned. I couldn’t tell you if there’s more than the one map – I never made it past the first level. When you win (I couldn’t beat the first level but I had at least won the tutorial!), the screen flashes an array of bright colours. It’s really fucking bright. Why am I being punished for winning?

“Tender-brained, ears ringing, sweat diffusing from areas which I didn’t even know could sweat, I braced myself…”  

I’ll always remember when as a student I went on some package weekend thing to Amsterdam. We took a coach there and back — 24 hours total travel for a few scant days of frenzied undergraduate decadence.

It was the kind of thing where they gave you hoodies with the tour name on, where people were encouraged to go on the tour-mandated bar crawls by overly chipper career holiday-reps, and there’d be a tacit encouragement to get off with each other. I had avoided most of the above, but I had still been in Amsterdam for a few days, I was still 19, and as such, I still had a raging hangover on my return. Tender-brained, ears ringing, sweat diffusing from areas which I didn’t even know could sweat, I braced myself for a 12-hour coach trip back home. Except the rep in charge decided to load up two DVDs, sound cranked up for us all to hear. These DVDs were Anchorman and The South Park Movie, and I don’t think I’ll ever forgive the tour company for this. Shrill, skull-piercing sounds of brash bro comedy and shrieking cartoon voices assaulted my brain, a brain which only sought stillness. People love those films and I’ll bet those people would enjoy Party Hard. People who wake up from a night of overindulgence feeling absolutely fine, crack straight into a fresh tin of lager and manage to make the whole exercise look nothing like the cusp of alcoholism it really is. Those for whom noise and commotion are not a grave warning, but a call to action.

Party Hard 3

The game, flimsy as it is, has a peculiar generosity. It has extensive workshop support — this means that all manner of weird internet-grown scenarios are there for the taking. I found particular catharsis in one, in which the creator had made the smallest room possible, filled it with the most amount of people possible, and armed the player to the teeth. They’d removed any entrances and exits. It was vintage torture of the kind one would enact after getting bored in The Sims.

“It was like that old Flash cartoon of the hamster in the microwave…”  

I didn’t play for long. A hangover is high time for hollow experiences, this is true, but this was an experience both hollow and jarring, flashing one too many barbed sounds and fluorescent images. It was like that old Flash cartoon of the hamster in the microwave, no hook beyond the promise of seeing animated gore and hearing swear words in a funny voice.

I mentioned the game to a friend, and began to explain the gist.

“That sounds horrible,” she said. I found myself quickly justifying why it wasn’t as murder-porny as I had made it seem — that the graphics were too low-fi, the controls too ephemeral, to constitute gratuitousness. But then, on reflection, those were exactly the qualities that made it well-tailored to sociopathy, the weightless controls and superficial sense of interactivity putting you at a cold distance from the action. If the game does one thing right, it’s that it makes you feel detached from the carnage in a way that’s singularly Patrick Bateman-esque. And he was a man who knew how to party hard.

About The Author

Oliver Fox hasn't had a poem published in years and writes too little. He plays sitar and blues harmonica and will forgive most of a game's sins if the soundtrack is good enough.

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