From the mid-’90s onwards countless franchises made the jump from 2D to 3D. Some, such as Super Mario, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid and Zelda flourished; others struggled to convert their trademark mechanics to the third dimension, with camera issues often to blame. Even in 2020, the proposition of making the transition to 3D is doubtlessly a daunting prospect for any indie developer – so much could potentially go wrong.
2016 sleeper hit Party Hard took players on a murder spree, as they stealthily made their way around a single-screen environment killing every party goer in sight, hiding bodies, and eluding police along the way. There was little to no leeway for error – in the absence of checkpoints, one shot is all you got.
This is the typically ‘90s bigger and better sequel. It cranks up the carnage by adding vehicles and dozens of other new playthings, significantly increases the stage sizes, and introduces new playable characters with their own skills. Most importantly though, it now has 3D environments. Character models remain in 2D, which is a smart move. Not only does this help retain the look and feel of the original but it also allows for eye-catching animation, with the majority of party guests having suitably silly gestures and poses.
Using 3D character models would’ve been overkill, we feel, only complicating things – a lot is going on behind the scenes, with each party-goer able to think and move around freely. Calling back to the opening paragraph, a lot could have potentially gone wrong.
Thankfully, it hasn’t. Like a good party host, Party Hard 2 is accommodating – rather than a simple tutorial stage, the first location is fully featured, allowing veterans to jump into the action without being told how to suck eggs. Newcomers are still welcomed in and catered for, with optional text prompts used to explain the basics. It also helps that the premise isn’t particularly complicated – to wit: kill targets without being seen or caught by the cops – and that the list of mission objectives is always on screen, some of which are optional. If one task is proving tricky, you may be able to complete two or three easier objectives instead to get the job done.
Perhaps the biggest change is that only a few missions task you with killing absolutely everyone. In fact, it isn’t until the fourth mission – which took us around 2 hours of play to reach – that a rampage to this extent is on the cards. Unsurprisingly, it’s here where the difficultly level rises – your notoriety has led to hired goons, who are quick to end your murderous ways. Their presence is so deterring – remember, one shot is all you get at ticking off multiple objectives – that it’s often wise to deal with them first.
Getting close to finishing a stage, only to make a careless mistake and get caught by a goon, can be vexing. Never does Party Hard feel unfair, though – it gives you the tools you need, along with advance warnings whenever somebody is about to call the cops.
The real beauty lies within its open-ended approach – you’re free to roam and explore, looking out for things to tamper with or pick up to use later. Occasionally you’ll think you’ve hit a brick wall only to discover a Molotov or stun grenade that’ll help get back on track. Unscripted events are more common too, presumably due to the larger stages being more populated, with careless drivers quite fond of making your job easier.
Wandering around a new stage and gauging the potential chaos is thrilling, and there are plenty of ways to escalate things further by spilling water near electric hazards, strategically placing bear traps, or causing a commotion by throwing dollar bills. Vehicles are purposely tricky to control, meanwhile, preventing them from being a crutch.
Each stage takes a dozen attempts, at the very least, to complete – it takes time to learn, memorise and discover everything within each meticulously crafted setting, which this time range from a hospital to a seedy motel complex. Trial and error is part of the experience – which isn’t going to be to everybody’s taste – but it does make that final blow all the sweeter – each stage takes considerable time to finish, making each success feel significant.
The package is complemented by bold and brash presentation, and an appropriately pounding soundtrack which you can cycle through at any DJ booth – a nice touch.
Party Hard 2 is the epitome of a bigger and better sequel, reminding us of the days when they weren’t just quick and tiresome cash grabs – hello, yearly franchise updates – but something to look forward to. It improves on the original in every way to offer a boggling array of ways to cause carnage, which in turn makes it far more engaging than its restrictive predecessor.