Video games have the incredible ability to transport players to periods of history that would otherwise be almost completely inaccessible outside of books or film. From exploring the Ancient Greek Islands in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey to taking on the roles of various World War I combatants in Valiant Hearts: The Great War, games give us unparalleled insight into how important historical events might have played out (although of course, a certain degree of embellishment is often required).
We. The Revolution is a remarkably authentic historical experience that sees you take on the role of Alexis Fidèle, a Parisian judge during the French Revolution. Right off the bat, there’s a lot to take in with the game, with new mechanics introduced in quick succession. At its heart, it tasks you with presiding over numerous different court cases, giving you the power to declare a defendant as guilty or (wait for it) not guilty. It all sounds pretty simple, but the cases all contain a multitude of varying factors to keep an eye on as you progress through each one.
To start off, every case presents you with a document detailing the nature of the supposed crime along with a brief overview of the defendant's background and occupation. You'll need to be thorough when reviewing this initial information, as it will provide you with vital clues to form the correct line of questioning when talking to the defendant. To do this, the game presents you with a selection of words and phrases – which may include things like “spreading propaganda” or “diluting alcohol” – and you’ll need to match these up with separate words such as “motive” or method”. Getting this right opens up new lines of questioning to present to the defendant. Get all of them wrong, and you’ll lose this luxury completely, leaving you to determine their fate with minimal evidence.
Once you feel you've exhausted all potential avenues of investigation, you're free to conclude the proceedings by exonerating the defendant or sentencing them to either jail time or execution. Following this, you'll be required to report on your findings, which essentially involves answering a few questions regarding the case, ending with a score based on how many you get correct.
When you start playing through We. The Revolution, you’ll undoubtedly want to approach each trial with an open, objective mind, analysing all the information available before coming to an unbiased decision. This is at least how’d you expect the game to play out, but unfortunately, this isn’t always the correct approach. There are various factions living in Paris, and it’s imperative that you maintain a decent reputation with each as you progress through the game. What this means is that you’ll often make decisions in court based on your current reputation level rather than analysing the case at hand, effectively throwing your morals out of the window in the process.
There’s a lot to get to grips with outside of the courtroom, too. Primarily, you’ll need to give speeches to the public during executions in order to help further your reputation and political standing. Doing this is really straightforward – almost to the detriment of the experience – and essentially involves choosing how your speech should play out. Will you be aggressive? Will you choose to manipulate the crowd? It’s shallow stuff for the most part, and the outcome doesn’t ever leave much of a lasting effect on how you progress through the game.
At home, you’ll also need to manage your own personal standing with your family. As a man who loves his drink, Alexis starts off the game at loggerheads with his wife and three children, and you’ll need to build up these relationships by engaging in activities such as visiting the theatre or playing games with your youngest child. You’ll never actually see these activities play out, and much like the speech mechanic, the act of managing your family life is very much limited to choosing the most reasonable option and watching your relationship meters rise or fall.
On the flip side, we were incredibly impressed with the game’s overall presentation. The cutscenes are primarily static images set out like a comic strip, and the polygonal art style is full of character whilst retaining a good sense of realism. The execution scenes, in particular, are surprisingly effective; it’s not very gory, as such, but the image of the guillotine rising, dripping with blood to a backdrop of a crowd stunned into silence is arresting, to say the least.
Unfortunately, the game’s visuals suffer a bit on the Switch, particularly in handheld mode. Since so much of the game involves reading text and choosing from various options, we’d have expected the font size to be modified accordingly, but sadly it’s incredibly small on the Switch’s screen. It’s not unreadable, by any means, but the far-sighted among you may find it a bit of a struggle. Pop it into the dock, however, and this issue is more or less rendered moot.
Much of We. The Revolution may feel like busy work for a lot of people. You’ll spend so much of the game reading through reams of text and managing stats that we can confidently state that it’s definitely not for everyone. As an insight into the hardships of the French Revolution, however, it’s an incredibly authentic, thoughtful experience, and those with even a lick of interest in history will find a lot to love here.