Title: We Are Chicago
Available On: PC, Mac
Publisher: Culture Shock Games
Developer: Culture Shock Games
Genre: Narrative, Simulator, Indie
Official Site: We Are Chicago
Release Date: February 9th, 2017
Where To Buy It: Steam ($14.99)
Telltale Games has really changed the world of narrative gaming and they make it look so easy. I can only imagine how difficult it is to write stories with multiple tracks, responses, reactions, and relationships all in one game. When this is done right, it provides a fun, immersive experience that players can return to over and over again. However, when this is done poorly, the experience can be boring and monotonous. As much as I wish I could give We Are Chicago, a narrative, adventure game, a stunning review, the game fails to deliver on multiple levels.
We Are Chicago is described as a “first-person 3D narrative-driven adventure game” that follows Aaron and his family. Aaron is a week away from graduation and must decide what he wants to do with his life. While the game not only touches on the difficulties of growing up, it also focuses on the challenges of growing up in Chicago with a heavy focus on gang violence. After one of Aaron’s close friends disappears, it’s up to you to figure out where he has gone while continuing to keep your family safe.
In my opinion, this should be advertised as an “experience” versus a “game”. Especially for a $15 price point, We Are Chicago doesn’t have a lot to it. To advertise the game as an adventure game, I feel like there has to be some sort of actual gameplay involved. The game barely even lets you walk the character around, but when you do get to control the main character, it’s for things like setting the table and making change at work. There’s nothing in between the bits of dialogue to keep you interested in the game or to move the story forward.
However, the discussions you carry out with other characters aren’t overly fascinating either. Most of the time, the interactions feel more like general chit chat versus working toward an actual story. At the end of the day, most of the conversations seem pretty redundant or random. In one interaction, you can have the choice to say something about dinner or to make a comment on the safety of your neighborhood. The game seriously lacks focus and flow which is imperative to telling such a strong narrative. Like most narrative game, there are also timed encounters where you only have so much time to pick a response. But in We Are Chicago, the timed responses seem to be pretty random and not where you would expect them. Some of them are extremely fast too; like so fast that you can barely catch what is being said.
Along with poor gameplay, We Are Chicago doesn’t stand out graphically either. The environments are dull and lifeless, and for the most part, don’t work. Even the characters don’t seem to have much life to them due to the lack of facial expressions. There just isn’t much depth to anything physically. Aside from the game’s lack of life, there were numerous glitches throughout the experience. The background (and sometimes the foreground) would often pop in and out of focus and characters would go right through doors or chairs. After a while, especially the focusing issue, these glitches really became distracting.
Probably one of my biggest problems with the game was the poor use of sound design. Aside from slight variations, the same song plays through the entire game. The song will continue to play straight through bits of dialogue as well, which makes it hard for the characters to be heard. The main character, Aaron, doesn’t speak at all; his lines just appear on screen in subtitles. Which means that even looking away for a moment can ruin your ability to understand the conversation at hand. The sound design doesn’t do anything to help the experience or to move the game’s narrative forward.
The only positive thing I have to say about We Are Chicago is the intent behind it. The game was not only created to bring a community together but to raise awareness about violence. We Are Chicago was crafted from in-depth interviews from people who live in the area the game takes place in. The developers not only used their stories but also their voices. Proceeds from the game will go toward two charities: All Stars Project of Chicago and Reclaim Our Kids. Both organizations focus on rising above violence and moving toward a brighter, more productive future.
At the end of the day, We Are Chicago has a very powerful, and important, story to tell. However, the game has too many distracting issues and monotonous dialogue to wade through before making its point. Playing the game can be such a frustrating experience that you don’t even stop to consider the intent behind it. This is a good example of a game that could have really benefitted from some thorough editing and a little more TLC. While I wouldn’t suggest cashing out the $15 for We Are Chicago, I would suggest donating that money directly to the charities the game supports.
- Gameplay: Frankly, there is none. Aside from choosing what Aaron says, you barely control your character throughout the experience. The script of the game could definitely benefit from a little focus and flow.
- Graphics: The graphics aren’t great; they look like they are about 20 years old. The environments are flat and dull and the characters are lackluster as well. The focus pops in and out as well, which started to get really distracting.
- Sound: For the better part of the game, the same song plays in the background the entire time. Overall, the sound design is pretty generic and does nothing for the experience they were trying to create.
- Presentation: Unfortunately, the only thing We Are Chicago has going for it is that some of the proceeds go to charity. I applaud their efforts for raising awareness about important issues but the game just isn’t executed well.