“Kiss a lover, dance a measure, find your name, and buried treasure. Face your life, it’s pain, it’s pleasure, leave no path untaken.” – Neil Gaiman
Developer: Hidden Track
Price: TBA/Pay what you want
How to Win is an anarchic and experimental interactive adventure in which players get to decide the rules of the game, what it is about, and what is required in order to win! During the UK COVID lockdown; and as a result of theatre closure, Harrogate Theatres and HOME, Manchester commissioned the production of How to Win by Hidden Track who teamed up with indie game dev Cael O’Sullivan.
In less chaotic times, Hidden Track are an award-winning interactive and game theatre company who “experiment with new forms of storytelling, live gaming and audience interaction to bypass the barriers that can exclude audiences from the arts; developing original theatre while delivering real audience care, strong, emotional narratives, and voices that aren’t often heard on a traditional stage.“.
How to Win is currently in development, but players can play the most up-to-date version of the game, see its progress, and provide suggestions by obtaining the game on a ‘pay what you want’ basis from Homemakers, with funds going to the artists and the HOME Response Fund. The live-story was ongoing until the end of August 2020 and the chapters will now be combined for release on Steam, where a demo is currently available.
NB: The version being covered in this review is the Steam Demo.
The Steam demo contains the beginning of two games, each taking around 15-20 minutes to complete. How to Win is a mouse-only, clicker game with minimal mechanics that mainly consist of dialogue choices. The main decision within each game have already been made at this stage and the opportunity to contribute has unfortunately passed, however, players are shown the options and poll results.
Although simplistic, the gameplay is fun and certainly feels like something new, possibly due to the fact that it was created by people who normally work outside of the games industry. The downside of this is a lack of expected features such as a game menu and basic options.
Narrative and Styling
How to Win has a child-like, hand-drawn art style, with crayon-esque outlines and vibrant colours. This is perfectly paired with an eclectic collection of eccentric and recurring characters such as Tina the Barbarian, AKA Senior Inferior Managing Assistant Tina! The music and sound effects are not especially note-worthy but are an important aspect of the game, providing an aural backdrop for the silliness!
The various short narratives within How to Win are unique and novel, drawing on classic storylines and embellishing them with subtle satire and air of absurdity. The game is largely text-based, which is not a problem since it is very well written, highly descriptive and unrestrained by outdated and stereotypical notions that gamers don’t want to read too much text and are simply eager to reach the action!
Overall, How to Win is an ambitious and original experience, created by people making the most of a bad year. It offers players a lot of laughs with it’s outlandish characters, zany dialogue and general silliness. There is also a certain novelty afforded by the knowledge that previous players have directly chosen the direction of the game as a whole and I’d definitely recommend taking a look!