The indie scene is more prominent than ever boasting a diverse selection of games that often serve as bite sized reprieves from major triple A releases. While the indie scene isn't immune from uninspired copy and paste designs, there have been a string of recent releases that depart from traditional game design in a major way, challenging what we think of as games. One of the more overlooked releases that fits into this growing segment of games is Postmortem: One Must Die which tries to test players by forcing them to make a single decision that promises to have far reaching consequences. While major releases have tried to accomplish this same goal on a large scale, most have come up short. Does Postmortem's smaller and more focused scope deliver more satisfying results?
Playing as an agent of death, it's your duty to take the life of one person from a fund raising gala in a fictitious turn of the century setting on the cusp of an industrial revolution. The nation is split with conservatives that believe in upholding tradition at the expense of progress for women and greater economic development. Meanwhile progressives are riding a wave of industrial prosperity at the expense of their workers. Both sides have admirable qualities and some absolutely abhorrent qualities which quickly muddies the line between noble and contemptible. Unbound creations has expertly balanced the qualities of each side of the conflict to tear gamers and make who they choose to snuff out a real struggle. Your potential targets rage from an influential member of the media to a young, idealistic student. Each person leans strongly in one direction and by thoroughly exploring the dialog tree you might find that your conversations with these characters may have quite an impact on them in the future...
Gameplay in Postmortem simply involves wandering around in an isometric world slathered in Victorian decor, scavenging details from news articles strewn about and talking to the patrons of the gala. Each character has a lengthy dialog tree that will allow you to acquaint yourself with them as well as current events. A wide variety of responses and questions are available and not asking questions can also have an impact on how the events play out. Dialog is generally well written but it can be a bit too purpose driven. Postmortem never creates the illusion that you are just another patron making small conversation, your pointed questions make each interaction feel like an interrogation rather than a conversation. The blatant agenda to your questions never allows the characters to show you who they are, they merely share what they perceive themselves to be.
Your interactions with the gala patrons ultimately culminate in your character deciding who should meet their end. Once your decision has been made, a series of newspaper articles show the results of your involvement at the Gala. It's not the most invigorating way to see the consequences of your actions unfold but there may be a few surprises for some players to uncover based on your actions. Also, a link to detailed player stats is viewable upon completing a play through to show how your behavior compares to other Post Mortem players. A thorough playthrough exploring all of the dialog options will take in the neighborhood of an hour and subsequent playthroughs will take less time. It doesn't take long to figure out what dialog has what impact so many players may not want to take the time to explore every possibility. The beauty of Postmortem however is that you are not required to buy it to enjoy the core experience. By purchasing the game, players are given an extra character to chat with as well as wallpapers, concept art and some behind the scenes development materials.
Like its triple A predecessors, Postmortem falls short of delivering a wholly satisfying choice based narrative. That is not to say that it isn't a worthwhile experience however, it's morally ambiguous world and intelligent and fresh setting remain engaging and some of the conclusions are engaging and surprising. It's brevity makes it easy to pick up sporadically and enjoy. I for one hope that Postmortem is simply an amuse-bouche, tantalizing our pallets for something a bit larger and scope and more accomplished in execution from Unbound Creations.
Posted: January 22nd, 2014