I’m not one for political intrigue. Quite frankly, I think stories that revolve around complex political tricks and espionage extremely dull. If I wanted to see gossip ruin the life of someone, I could just go stand outside a high school with my ear pressed against the wall (in the least creepy way possible). That being said, I found myself in the strange position of reviewing We. The Revolution, a game that is all about trickery, backstabbing, betrayal and deceit all revolving around the Reign of Terror in 18th century France. At first glance, this game wouldn’t seem to be the sort to really rustle my jimmies. And yet having set for hours, reading and planning countless court cases and lies, I’ve found my jimmies to be incredibly rustled indeed.
The long and the short of it is that you play as the head judge on the Revolutionary Tribunal, a court set up just after King Louis XVI was dethroned. It’s your job to preside and judge those that have been arrested for all manner of crimes, but largely focusing on those that promote some form of counter-revolutionary act.
Of course, the game wouldn’t be executing its setting of the Reign of Terror if the validity of the committed crimes weren’t…questionable at best. The game does a fantastic job of mechanically simulating political survival during the Reign of Terror, with the smallest wrong decision having the direst of consequences. Playing We. The Revolution is like walking along a tight rope, except neither end has been fastened properly and you catch an anvil out of the air while doing a flip.
And below you is an angry crowd of commoners with pitchforks. Or revolutionaries waiting to kick you from the seat of power. Or aristocrats ready to stab you in the back (in the most literal sense).
Not only do you have to ensure that each of the three above factions find your decisions reasonable, you also have to take into how your family will react to your decisions (your wife isn’t too fond of that whole decapitation thing). Then you also have to take into account votes cast by the jury and potential actions taken by people who would try to remove your position as judge all while you’re trying to keep your family safe and rise through the ranks to eventually challenge Robespierre himself and I feel like I’ve lost control of this sentence because I’m trying to simulate just how frantic your brain is gonna be when playing this game and OH MY GOD THEY KILLED ME.
Shoot. Fortunately, the game offers generous save states to restart and try a new approach.
I love games that tell stories with their mechanics and We. The Revolution is no exception. While there is a story that draws heavily from the themes of Joseph Conrad and Victor Hugo (which, I might add is actually pretty good with some great twists, mar the occasional slump in voice acting) I was more interested in how the game was affecting me as a player. Going into the experience, I was determined to be just and fair to everyone, counter-revolutionary or not.
But then my influence with the common folk dropped too low and I had to condemn someone to death just to keep playing. But the aristocrats didn’t like that, so I had to set a guilty man free the next day. And slowly, day by day, I was becoming more and more corrupt just to keep myself playing. It reached a point where people were just numbers; tools and objects to keep me in people’s good books instead.
And that’s what I think is so special about this game. It translates a period of history where truth, justice and equality were meant to lift society up. The French Revolution, the destruction of the monarchy, was meant to fix France and yet it just made the corruption, the deceit and the power imbalances even greater.
We. The Revolution takes this setting and creates an oppressive, distraught atmosphere, forcing you to adopt the values and ideals of those that, while seemingly helping the people, were just acting for the sake of themselves and their power. As satisfying as it was to spread rumours of my political rivals and see them hauled before the guillotine at my behest, I was also conscious that I was becoming the bad guy. I was no better than any of the aristocrats of Paris enjoying their new-found power after the King was killed.
We. The Revolution is a thoroughly interesting game, one that clearly had a great deal of thought placed into how it would challenge its audience. There are further strategy elements like the controlling of agents (literally represented as pawns on a board, for those of you who enjoy a smattering of symbolism) as you jostle with competitors for control over different segments of Paris, but that system does feel far less polished and clunky in comparison to some of the game’s more detailed segments. However, all that paled in comparison to me when I was thrust back into the courthouse and asked to give a speech to a crowd that was angry that I had spared a guilty revolutionary, once again manipulating them to play my game instead of theirs.
We. The Revolution is without a doubt one of my favourite games of the year so far. It meshes political intrigue, engaging strategy and mechanical storytelling in such a way that I’m still itching to play more. With the countless decisions and random opportunities thrown at the player, this is an experience that could just keep on giving fresh and rewarding interactions. One of the most engaging, unique and thoughtfully designed games I’ve played in a while. Liberté, égalité, fraternité, fellow revolutionaries.
Last Updated: April 15, 2019