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How to Win: Season One Review

How to Win: Season One Review

 It’s a long-running argument as to whether games are art or not, and what elevates a simple piece of entertainment into an art form. Various different approaches have been tried to varying degrees of success, but the debate still rages despite the perfect artwork having already been released by Size Five Games a while ago now. The latest entrant is theatre company Hidden Track, who has entered the world of gaming with How to Win; its debut title which mixes elements of gaming and interactive theatre to produce a videogame that’s as much socio political commentary as it is entertainment.

How to Win was originally released in five separate chapters, with players voting on what would happen in the next chapter after the conclusion of each by voting on the win condition or on the next fork in the storyline. This complete season package brings all of those chapters together, albeit without the option to vote any more because it’s already happened. 

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Some of the options were very unexpected. This one was adorable.

This “gaming by democracy” attitude seems like a great idea in theory, but you can see that the developers have been very careful with their wording in order to show that even the best sounding ideas can have unintended consequences. For example, one chapter saw players vote for “have the most fun” as a win condition, but it turned out that all the fun was just a distraction from the horrid things happening in the world and it slowly seeped back in anyway. 

When I talk of things happening in the world, I mean the real world as well as the in-game one. Like a repeat of a political satire comedy, each chapter is preceded by a rundown of what was happening in the news to add context. A number of statistics are used throughout in order to highlight some of the inequalities and injustices in the world. These include such sobering topics as racism, inequality of wealth, media influence, and sexism for example. Genuine news stories or polls are cited, with references available to the player should they want them.

Whilst I applaud the use of such things, I would have appreciated a warning so I knew what I was letting myself in for! There’s no mention of this in the Steam blurb for the game so I was taken aback by the presence of such a dystopian theme. There’s nothing wrong with it, but if you’re hoping to forget some of the awful things in the world at the moment and play a cute cartoonesque title, this isn’t it. How to Win is very much an inflated version of our world and society to make a point, much like how someone like Pratchett lampoons our world by making their own a caricatured version of it. 

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Don't let the cartoon style graphics fool you, this is a pretty dark game at times.

The world within the game all stems from the same art style, but used in very different ways through each chapter. For example the initial level is full of greys and muted pallets to represent the mundanity of the dull office job you start with, but this is changed to fire and brimstone for another level and bright colours for another. Gameplay mechanics vary between chapters as well. In one chapter, I was playing what amounted to a clicker game, and in another it was more like a visual novel.

The interactivity can be minimal though, with a number of choices seeming to not actually have that much effect on the outcome of the story or the fate of the characters. It’s worth remembering that this is a game from a theatre production company, so their approach is quite different from other game designers. As the chapters progress, it does start to get a bit more interactive, but then for the final chapter, I didn’t feel like I was doing that much other than reading an epilogue.

Overall, I did enjoy my time with Hidden Track’s debut, but it’s hit and miss as to how much of a game there is here and how much is just slightly interactive storytelling. This is something of a shame as I do love the concept of How to Win, but I would have liked a bit more substance to go with the style personally.

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He's not actually as fun as you might think.

7.00/10 7

How to Win: Season One (Reviewed on Windows)

This game is good, with a few negatives.

If you’re after something action packed or something that will take your mind off the outside world then this isn’t it. But if you want to see what a theatre group can make when they cross political satire with a videogame then this is it.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review

Gary "Dombalurina" Sheppard

Staff Writer

Gary maintains his belief that the Amstrad CPC is the greatest system ever and patiently awaits the sequel to "Rockstar ate my Hamster"

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