Justice is a difficult thing.
A young stable boy of limited cognition ties a saddle loosely. He doesn’t want to hurt the horse. His master yells at him for a job badly done, the boy pushes the master down the stairs. The master breaks his neck and dies.
What verdict would you give?
What about a man who possibly facilitated a robbery? You don’t have all the facts. He might have done it, but you can’t be sure.
What verdict would you give?
Now what if I told you that setting the man free would mean a mob descended on your home and killed you. What verdict would you give now?
We. The Revolution is a court-sim set during the French Revolution. You play the role of a judge, deciding if people should go free, get locked up or face the guillotine while also trying to manage your reputation with the people and the revolutionaries of the day. Make too many decisions against the common man and you’ll have a braying mob on your hands. Make too many decisions against the revolutionaries and it’ll be your head under that guillotine. Ignore the opinion of your jury, and you’ll be marked as a terrible judge. It’s up to you to dole out justice whilst trying to thrive in a changing France.
Each day a new defendant will be brought to you, leaving you to cross-examine them to assess their guilt. This is achieved by reading their testimony and linking various factors with categories like ‘motive’ or ‘accusation’, proving you’ve understood the testimony. This unlocks questions you can ask the defendant in court. The more questions you ask, the more answers you will get. And the more answers you get, the more chance that you have of correctly filling in the prosecutor’s quiz and earning points. In our stable boy case, we could link his ‘argument’ with ‘motive’ to unlock a testimony about the argument from the witness.
The real game, however, is manipulation.
You don’t have to ask all the questions that you unlock. You might simply ask the questions that lead to the desired outcome. In our earlier stable boy example, if I wanted the jury to sentence him to the chop, I could ask about the argument and the push, and completely neglect to mention his mental capacity or his master’s abuse. As the judge you get to weave a narrative, deciding what evidence is presented. Being fair and honest is just one option.
So far, so excellent. We’ve got moral ambiguity; we’ve got some lovely stylised graphics (although with very limited animation) and we’ve got a perfect setting for sordid tales and interesting cases. This all sounds wonderful.
If only things were that simple.
You see, court cases only take up around half of the game. The other half is spent doing things which really gum up the works. Every day after work you must pick an activity to do with your family. You could spend time with your sons, your wife or your father, each corresponding to a different faction. Choosing who to spend time with effects on how they and their faction feel about you. It’s a relatively simple and quick bit of admin. It’s not particularly fun, coming down to trying to balance a set of meters, but it doesn’t take up much time.
No, the real problem comes towards the end of Act I, where you unlock a kind of weird strategy section of the game. There are generals you can move around Paris to influence districts, either intimidating them or using a little bit of good old-fashioned diplomacy. It’s also possible to build up a little district with buildings and statues.
We. The Revolution reminded us of an overly complicated board game. One where your friend explains the rules, and just as you think he’s finished, there’s another page. And another page. Also: a second board. And two more playing pieces.
Which is a shame, because all this simply detracts from the central premise – interesting cases that force you to make compromised decisions. That’s where the crunch point is, not on influence points and more mechanics.
We get the feeling developer Polyslash wanted to make the game meatier. The court cases themselves can seem a little shallow. But the answer is not to add more stuff, it’s to improve the cases. The writing could do with a second pass to make the characters pop a bit more and the cases could do with being longer.
As it stands, the cases are too slight to really develop much empathy for the defendants. I often didn’t care when I was making unjust decisions, which is an absolute death sentence for a game like this. It also doesn’t help that you’re shown how your verdict will play with the revolutionaries and the common folk before you confirm it, meaning the balancing of variables overshadows any character or plot.
We really wanted to like We. The Revolution. Its ideas are interesting. It’s trying to do something a little different, in a time period rarely explored. But the game is just as overstuffed and unfocused as King Louis. And we all know what happened to him.