At some point, though, the web of branching narratives can become too extensive to track, with certain decisions becoming irrelevant down the line to make way for a manageable story structure. It’s tough, but what else can you do but keep trying? Making its own contribution to the evolution of game narrative is Postmortem, a complex, dialogue-driven adventure into a painfully familiar world of political, social and economic turmoil.
“I found myself totally immersed in this fictional country’s past, present and future”
Rather than lose itself in a tangle of overlapping choices and illusory involvement, Postmortem narrows its focus on a single choice that the entirety of the game is based around, exploring the impact and repercussions this one decision can make on the fictional world it’s woven. That choice involves death.
You play as the grim reaper, disguised as one of the guests of a fancy fundraising party at a wealthy businessman’s mansion. Your job is to claim the life of one guest – no more, no less. However, as you mingle with guests and try to set your sights on a target, you begin to realize that there is more at stake here than you might have thought.
The year is 1897, and the place is The City of Antrim in Galicia, a fictional country in the midst of an industrial revolution, whose fate is torn between two opposing factions and their contrasting political stances.
On one side are the Oldagers, defenders of small businesses and preserving Galician traditions, even if it means preventing social progress and using radical, violent means to get their voices heard. On the other side are the Newagers, the 1%, if you will. They are young and greedy capitalists interested in technological innovation and progress, even at the cost of economic exploitation and the abandonment of their cultural heritage.
The cast of characters you meet in this game comprise a variety of views, some radical and others a moderate mixture of both parties. Some are outspoken about their beliefs; others seem to hide their true feelings behind a neutral demeanor, while a little digging around their personal belongings can lead to some startling revelations.
This game handles its politics well, though, and plays no favorites. Dialogue trees provide such a range of responses that no matter your own political stance in the real world or in the world of Galicia, you will likely be represented. Better yet, no one decision goes without its successes and failures.
When I first went into this game, I was hooked by the depth of its politics and exploration of socioeconomic tensions. I mean that’s not something I really expect right off the bat in most games, period, and I hadn’t done much reading about Postmortem in particular before going in. To be bombarded with such lengthy discussions on capitalism, the pros and cons of technological revolution and equal rights was a pleasant surprise, and I found myself totally immersed in this fictional country’s past, present and future, perhaps because it bears some obvious semblance to our own.
“Going in and choosing a person at random would successfully end the game, but would it matter to you as a player?”
There’s the rich CEO who’s throwing the fundraiser, an event meant to collect charity for a high school which was recently vandalized for refusing to segregate students. There’s the outspoken waiter, an anti-corporate self-starter opposed to women’s rights. There’s the feminist radio host with a startling bias against immigrants. There’s the young student passionate about defending the lower and middle classes, turning to a radical protest group accused of terrorism to get his voice heard.
With all of their personal struggles, biases, hypocrisies and unique thought processes, these characters feel real. Like real people, they can have clashing opinions, struggle with the discrepancies of their own ideas, learn new things, reject others. Things are not black-and-white. They are not good or evil, and there is something of value to be learned from each one. This makes the final decision even more difficult.
As I spoke to each character about their ideologies, though, I realized that nowhere in my job description did it say I had to help solve this country’s problems. My one objective was to take a life; the who was irrelevant. But given the structure of the game, and the focus on this one decision, there’s an expected incentive to make it count. Going in and choosing a person at random would successfully end the game, but would it matter to you as a player? That is where Postmortem sets itself apart from a lot of other decision-based game. The desire to find personal meaning in the game comes from within the player.
You drive the story; it does not drive you.
After you have made your choice, determined by whatever ends up driving you through the rich story and dialogue of Postmortem, a series of newspaper clippings and other articles will pop up, detailing some significant events involving the characters you’d spoken to, with the course of history changing depending on who died at the party and what you said to certain people. Following that, you’re given a chance to explain yourself to the unlucky guest, if you so choose.
Postmortem is available as both a free download, but there is also an Extended Scythe Cut that adds an extra character to the game and additional behind-the-scenes materials. You can select your own price for the extra content, from presets ranging from $1.49 to $19.99.
The game is also on Steam Greenlight.