Review: We. The Revolution

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This game was selected as one of our August 2019 Reader’s Choice Reviews. Learn more on our Patreon page.

I wish there were more games that represented the struggles of different historical periods. I’m not talking about war games, either, I’m talking about titles that immerse the player in the challenges of life at points in the past. We. The Revolution is notable for how deep it goes into simulating the political intrigues of the French Revolution. Not content to simply pose the player with moral quandaries in their position as a judge, it also challenges them to manage their personal affairs, conspire against enemies, and strategize against an entire city in turmoil. It’s complex and diverse enough to span multiple genres, though it does suffer in pacing for its ambitions.

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The year is 1794, and revolution has seized Paris. The Bastille has been stormed, the king is endangered, and tribunals determine the fate of citizens who fall on the wrong side of the new law. You are fortunate enough to be a judge of the tribunal, though those fortunes are subject to some terribly fickle whims. The public and the revolutionaries will have strong opinions about the judgments you hand down, as will your family, who already disdain your many vices. As unrest grows and plots among France’s new rulers come to fruition, you’ll have to reach beyond the walls of the courthouse for stability and safety. If you can manage a careful balance of support, leverage, and skulduggery, you might just get to see the revolution run its course.

It won’t be easy, though. Your main concern in We. The Revolution is maintaining popular support among the citizenry and the revolutionary government. This will ultimately be your primary concern in the cases you preside over, as opposed to actual truth or justice. Each day you’ll have a new case to hear, starting with a written report of the crime, circumstances, and evidence. From this you must pair facts from the case with their relevant concepts like motive or evidence to form questions for the defendant. Asking questions influences the jury towards guilt or innocence, which you will want to adhere to lest you draw suspicion and ire to yourself. But the commoners and revolutionaries also have opinions about the case, and if you don’t rule in the way they desire, they’re going to take their frustration out on you.

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Your tools to influence the jury are limited to asking the questions you unlock, which are helpfully labeled with which direction they’ll influence them. This means for pragmatic players, most cases will start with looking at the effects of your rulings first, to see which verdict will do the least damage to yourself, and then work backwards from there. Of course, this is bound to lead to clashes with your own morality, and the game wastes no time in placing you in such a bind. One of the first cases you hear is about a rape, and unless you have no moral compass whatsoever you’re going to struggle with your decision there. The game will further complicate your work as it progresses, adding a government prosecutor who will push you to ask more questions, special influence from your family on your decisions, and the threat of riots if the trial doesn’t proceed as the public demands.

There’s a very Papers Please escalation as the game rolls on and introduces new wrinkles to consider. Early on it’ll be a simple matter to keep judgments balanced but over time, you’ll be working harder and harder just to keep your neck out of the guillotine. Messing anything up will cost you support from factions, influence which can be used for special actions, and your reputation which gives you the leverage needed to stay afloat. Your family is also key to all of this, with your relationships between each member affecting important bonuses and events throughout the game. After each case you’ll have to decide how to conduct yourself at home to best keep your family members on your side.

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To be completely honest, everything I’ve described so far is just the basics. I don’t have the time or the space to detail all of the game’s systems, but you’ll need to compose and deliver rousing speeches based on your audience’s leanings, engage in political intrigue against rivals, manage your estate and personal agents, and eventually work to control entire districts of Paris itself. Even that’s not touching on all the things you’ll do over the course of your journey, and it can get a bit bewildering trying to keep up with all of it. There’s no question that it does a good job of simulating the stresses of navigating life in a messy revolution, but that can leave the fun to suffer, especially when you fail certain tasks or end up with a nasty random event, and all your spinning plates come crashing down. Fortunately this isn’t a roguelike, and you can restart from any day you want if your head ends up estranged from your neck. Good thing, too, because it can take upwards of 10 hours or more to work through this tale.

The writing is effective, if a little messy in how it reads like it was translated. What’s more important is the visual style, which takes a bold, polygonal approach that really suits the sharp brutality of the subject matter. Sound design is suitably evocative, between the mournful soundtrack and the crisp shuffling of papers and drips of hot wax. There are plenty of immersive details here too, like designing your own seal and having to sign off on every official document. Honestly, We. The Revolution does everything it sets out to do, and is almost too effective at it. The hard choices and tough situations you’ll find yourself in can be genuinely stressful, and the length and complexity of the game can make it grate at times. But if you have the fortitude to survive, then you’ll find plenty of variety and intrigue here.

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