Title: We. The Revolution
Version Played: Xbox One Release Build.
Available On: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Steam, PS4
Genre: Visual Novel / Courtroom Simulator
Official Site: We. The Revolution
Release Date: 6/25/2019
Where to Buy: Digitally
I never cared much for France until I played We The Revolution. High fashion, laissez-faire attitudes, berets, baguettes, foie gras, wine, champagne, vineyards, even the fries. Not a fan. Not sure why. Perhaps because sitting at a cafe near a crowded Parisian street, sipping creme de menthe and chain-smoking unfiltered cigarettes, surrounded by people I can’t understand sounds quite a lot like hell.
So it’s a hell of an accomplishment that We The Revolution made me care, possibly for the first time, about the French and that revolution of theirs. Taking the role of a judge, you are tasked with finding defendants guilty or not, while being forced to balance the will of the people, the power of the state, and the pressures of family life.
Playing We The Revolution is one part visual novel (with lots of choices), one part Papers, Please, and some honest-to-goodness reading comprehension. A typical trial has you reading two or three court documents, and assigning the evidence to various elements of a case (motive, method, accusation, circumstances, etc). The answers provide the Jury, and the player, with enough information (ideally) to render a verdict – which will sometimes require the player filling out a ‘report’ to ensure you have all the details correct.
Correct details or not, what is ‘right‘ and what is ‘justice’ in the eyes of the masses may vary, and as the final ruling falls to the player, doing the ‘right’ thing could result in a citizen uprising or worse – an unhappy wife.
The proceedings aren’t as robust as someone interested in this sort of thing might hope. You can’t catch a defendant in a lie, and occasionally questions you *want* to ask are not available to be asked by the game’s dialog system. This turns the game into a sort of battle against the jury, where you want to ask the questions you believe will deliver the desired result while avoiding questions that sway the jury away from your line of thinking.
For example, early in the game, there’s a man accused of rape, who for all intents and purposes, maybe did it, but there is not enough evidence to convict. By asking questions regarding the victim’s history and the history of her family, the Jury sways in favor of acquittal, because the victim is a well-off aristocrat with a gossipy reputation, and in truly sick fashion, believe she might have been ‘asking for it’.
So I avoided the question about the accused’s past, because he had many crimes and accusations, but no convictions. Had I asked this, the jury would have swung in favor of finding the defendant guilty, and well, ‘justice’ – in this case recognizing a petty criminal does not a rapist make, would not have been served – even if the ‘right’ thing was to believe the victim no questions asked.
This is an intoxicating, interesting, vibrant loop across just about all the randomly selected cases. We The Revolution revels in the morally gray muck of the time, where the law as it is written, and the ethics contained therein, crash against the churned up morality of the time.
And thus the French Revolution has never been so immediate, visceral, and terrifying. You are not an assassin or a commander or a soldier. You have no weapon. You have no fighting prowess. You are, like all humans, fragile, flawed, and easily broken. You will never ever look at the beheading of Marie Antoinette the same way again. She may have been a terrible person, but did she deserve to die mercilessly – especially when you’re the one pulling the rope?
It must have felt something like this. Any regime change is never clean, never simple, and most often very bloodthirsty. The French people may have been right to take down the bloated, aloof aristocracy, but their methods and demands were vitriolic and savage. Folks forget the coefficient of Liberation is institutional bedlam.
And you are the institution.
Thankfully the writing is quite good, despite a few grammatical hiccups. Never too long, and never ‘boring’. Players who enjoy reading but bemoan the indulgent nature of most visual novels will find themselves engaged for hours as they perform a moral tap dance on the head of the burning needle that was France at this time.
Then the game does something totally expected and expands wildly, moving into a weird, table-top esque strategy game where you move operatives around a board to gain influence, resources, and real-estate to boost your stats and growing empire, creating a kind of ruins a lot of what I was talking about above. A physically weak man doing the right thing in the face of overwhelming odds, using only his brain, gut, and legal mind, is interesting and unique.
A physically weak man amassing power and territory via operatives and strategy maps is WarCraft II, which is perfectly serviceable, but not this game. This portion of the game is also poorly explained, and now, 14 hours in, I am *still* not sure if I’m doing it right. An ominous ‘inspection’ looms, and I’m not sure if I screwed up. It’s a crummy feeling.
While feeling a little salty, I have a duty to report the game controls flat-out terribly, and the Xbox port is gravely flawed. The buttons are too sensitive, making it very difficult to select critical items from a radial menu, and you *will* breeze through two-or-three lines of dialog if you push the A button too hard – often times result in a demerit or irreversible mistake during trial. For a game that relies entirely on its point and button interface, this is, frankly, near unforgivable. On a Switch’s touch-screen or PC (unplayed by me) I suspect these issues would not rear their powdered heads.
Lastly, I hit what I thought to be a game breaking bug when I entered a menu and couldn’t get out of it, even after reloading my save and rebooting my Xbox. After the third try, this fixed itself, but it did not bode well for this game’s console quality.
Yet, somehow, I’m inclined to recommend the game anyway. Experiences like this one on a console are rare, and games unique in this way, rarer still. This is an emotionally challenging game, rewarding in the moral and ethical quandaries it presents the player, even if your method for dealing with them occasionally feels limited. Even if the game falters, in my opinion, by introducing ill-explained strategy elements, there are still cases every day, and they’re all very fun to think about.
Verdict: Players intrigued by what We The Revolution has to offer will find themselves engaged by great writing, fantastic atmosphere, challenging questions, and an interface that’ll make you want to send the dang thing to the chopping block. We The Revolution will give you what you want, just not exactly how you wanted it. Considering the game’s time-period, maybe that’s okay.
- Unique Setting Comes Alive Through Art & Writing
- Primary Courtroom Gameplay is solid and always interesting
- Janky controls make it easy to mess up / miss important story moments
- Court dynamics not as dynamic as genre fans would hope
- Expansion into strategy elements feels undercooked and under-explained
Paul Meekin writes, edits, and consumes all things interactive, interesting, weird, and unique. Reach out via [email protected] or via Twitter @MeekinOnMovies