I am going to have a lot to say about this game as we get closer to the final rating. If it does one thing well, it encourages you to think about its message and the way in which it presents that message. Does that make it a good “game”? I’m not sure yet. Please join me as we travel to the far off and exotic year 2061 in the dreamscape that once was the United States of North America.
|Burned out apartment building. (Photo by Pryshutova Viktoria, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)|
Entering the simulation once again, I start in the southeastern corner of the city outside of “Heiman World”. This was the counterpart to the “Heiman Village” that existed in 2031, a mixed commercial and residential area not unlike a mall-with-condos. I had seen it first as a construction site, then as a completed mall-experience, but now it’s just a burned out husk. A lack of safety regulations meant that it was built on the cheap. It burned down, killing hundreds. The whole message is a bit on the nose, especially as they make it the entry point in the 2061 simulation, but it works well enough. Let’s see if the rest of the city fared any better.
I check my drivers license to make sure I haven’t moved in the last decade then head to my apartment. It’s sad that I haven’t been able to find a nicer, or larger, place in the last thirty years. Obviously, writers and painters are not making the big bucks in this future. When I arrive home, I find out that something heart-wrenching happened: Mitchell, my 21-year old son, has just abandoned his family. He’s fallen in with the Church of God’s Word and has left us to join them, considering us heathens. He wouldn’t even talk to Jill as she followed him all the way to the airport, but now he’s gone. She’s obviously upset over the whole ordeal. I suppose I am too, except we’ve hardly gotten to know him. Just a quick flash of an infant, followed by a quick flash when he was 11-years old, doesn’t make for a deep relationship. As before, I do not know whether Perry is supposed to have lived these ten years in the simulation. Does he have memories of his kid growing up? Does it matter? Either way, he’s gone now, brainwashed by a cult. To add insult to injury, the Border Security Agents pick now to ransack the house once again to look for whatever they are looking for. I had thought they were hunting immigrants, but a commenter last week said they were looking for pocket-nukes. Either way, they are far less polite than before. Jill hardly seems to react, both because of the recent loss of Mitchell and because these raids appear to have become old hat for us now. I run off to the airport myself to try to see if he is still there, but of course he’s long gone. The airport is even more “secure” than ever since all international travelers are strip-searched.
Just like with last week’s entry, I don’t fully know how to document a game where you discover the slow erosion of civilization by exploring the same locations over and over again. On one hand, I’d rather not do bullet lists, but they also express the disconnectedness of some of the events rather well. I wander the city almost at random to revisit the key things that I had seen before, and to find new things to record.
- The Border Security Force has expanded its presence considerably. In addition to the strip searching at the airport, there are random BSF agents doing “stop-and-frisk” searches on the pedestrians in the street. The military base in the north of the city has become a BSF base; a graduation event for the largest class of new agents is taking place at Huang Hall. The latter is telling because in all previous times, Huang Hall was home to industry and technology trade shows. The times are changing!
|Everything old is new again.|
- It’s not just that the Church of God’s Word is growing, but religious intolerance is on the rise everywhere. St. Michael’s church is closed now and covered with anti-Catholic graffiti. The Methodist church is still around, but empty. The pamphlets in the CoGW’s headquarters actively discriminates against non-believers. Even racial discrimination is on the rise, at least judging by the top movie at the cinema, the “comedy” film Let’s Kill Some Slants.
- Other than the BSF, the actual government is nearly shut down. While we do see police around, City Hall is deserted. The nearby courthouse is still active and the trial of the day is of an Asian-American boy being tried for violating the “Uniform Morality Code”. The punishment is life in prison; I cannot help but think that his ethnicity may be playing a role here. City parks are being closed to make way for new condos. While the new construction is a positive step, taking away the public green space will make the city even less friendly.
Meretzky is doing very well in shading each new time period carefully. Things are getting worse, but he’s clearly thinking about it in consistent terms and to make it a plausible progression. There are little details, the cinema now also plays pornography for example, which show the decline of morality even as the trappings of morality (the Church, for one) are apparently growing. Newspapers do not appear to exist in this future, so I have no idea who the President is and whether Ryder managed to find a way to become President-for-Life yet, if he’s still alive. Perry probably knows, but I sure don’t. Even the grocery stores are being hit now as shiny colored labels have made way for generic ones on half-empty shelves.
I don’t even finish exploring before I find another big change: a 9 PM curfew. After nine, the subways close and the streets empty out. I wander around to keep exploring, but the police arrest me and I am taken to a jail cell to rest for the night. “Rest” might be a strong word since the cell contains only a dirty blanket and no bed, but I suppose it’s better than nothing. Unlike in Wishbringer, there is no escape. The police throw me out into the street in the morning, promising to do worse next time. I may try that some time, but right now my recording buffer is full so I head back to the real world. I do the usual to get Dr. Perelman to view the recordings and he tells that that they are intriguing, but that I need more data from other years to show a pattern. There is good news: 2071 simulation is open for business!
|“Urban Decay” (image by Kevin Jones)|
Forgive me for saying this, but exploring these new time periods is getting boring. I already know that 2071 will be worse than 2061, and time periods later will be worse still. It’s not a surprise. There are some interesting places to explore, but it isn’t a pleasant experience. It’s not “fun”. This game is trying, and largely succeeding, in saying something profound in a way that you feel in your gut. But the longer it goes on, the less fun I am having and the more the game is becoming something I need to finish because I’m writing a review rather an a game I need to finish because I want to keep playing. I’m sorry about that.
2071 is going to hell as expected. Public transition is gone and the tube lines are closed. My credit card has been replaced by a ration card. I cannot even walk home to see what’s going on in my apartment without being mugged.The building where we live has been defaced and is no longer maintained. There is graffiti everywhere. In our apartment, Jill is too depressed to speak. Her paintings have become pencil sketches, but even those seem to have stopped recently. I’m not there long before the Church of God Police (!!) raid the building. One of the “officers” is Mitchell, our long lost son. He accuses Jill of poisoning his mind as a child, trying to keep him away from the Church. They take Jill away kicking and screaming. I move to help her, but they pummel me and leave me alone in the room in pain. As usual, the Border Security Force comes by a few minutes later to ransack the place, ripping the curtains and spilling everything on the floor. It’s a terrible day.
This is a raw emotional moment. I’m not done yet, but I would not be surprised if this is the emotional moment of the game. We only see Jill and Mitchell in brief snippets every ten years, but you have to feel for the suffering of a mother who lost her child only to have him come back in the worst possible way. As a parent, this scene left me a bit of a mess. I know that was Meretzky’s intention and I’m impressed that he managed to coax this reaction out of me with his prose, but it adds to the malaise of not really wanting to finish this game. This whole sequence is undercut somewhat because it mirrors a scene in the manual where Jill is arrested by the National Guard after she misplaced her residency permit. That scene in the manual is likely why I was thinking that the BSF was hunting for immigrants rather than bombs, but it may have been a poor decision to have this moment be so similar to the manual.
|Sorry. I need a moment of levity because this game has none.|
The supermarkets are closed with ration distribution centers in their place. They take rationing seriously: twenty emaciated people are being tried in the courthouse for cheating on their food allowances. When they are inevitably found guilty, they will be forced to fight in “Execution Matches” for the entertainment of others. Bread and circuses anyone? I make a note to visit the stadium. Traveling north, I stop by the High School which is now (like everything else) owned by the Church. Unfortunately, I am attacked by some schoolchildren for being a nonbeliever and am stoned to death. The simulation ends with grisly end and I “awaken” in the real world in 2021.
Even without everything I planned to see, I give the recordings to Dr. Perelman and wait. He tells me that he finds 2071 very troubling, but that I don’t have enough data yet from 2061 and that it’s still possible that everything could turn back around by 2081. I am still blocked for entering the 2081 simulation so I cannot verify that yet. I head back to 2061 to gather more data as requested.
|Still true, at least in this game.|
Back to 2061
Have I mentioned that I still need to do the copy protection every time I go back into the simulation? That is getting increasingly annoying. Once that is done, I head back into the 2061 simulation to find more interesting things to record. Fortunately, 2071 gave me some clues on things that I should check out:
- In 2061, the High School is already the Church of God’s Word’s school, but the schoolboys only taunt me, no kill me. That is an improvement! In another part of the city, I find a group of Church kids harassing someone for being Jewish. We can see the future Church leaders already!
- Much to my surprise, the stadium is already being used for public executions; I thought that would only come once we had descended into theocracy. They still have traditional sports there, but public executions are increasingly a draw.
- The Zoo, while still open, isn’t being monitored or policed at all. A group of kids are there torturing a monkey. That’s depressing. Why is this game so depressing?
|“Police State” (image by katesheets)|
Back to 2071
I’d love to tell you that I learned a great deal back in 2071, but it more or less is exactly the Hell on Earth that you expect.
- I make my way up to the stadium carefully, avoiding pesky schoolboys. They no longer have any regular sports there, but the “Execution Matches” appear to be robot vs. criminal death matches. Everyone that isn’t being killed appears to enjoy the spectacle. It’s like Battle Bots, but one of the “bots” is unarmed and very squishy.
- The increased use of execution sports also means that the prison is empty. Only a handful of high-profile enemies of the church are housed there.
- I stay out after curfew, but there’s no jail time only a swift death by the police. I’m not even sure whether those are “real” police or “Church” police or whether the distinction is important anymore.
There are so many mini-events in 2071 that I resort to just keeping the recording on all the time. Every few turns, there is a soliciting prostitute, an aircar crash, or some other terrible thing happening. I suppose I should narrate a lot more, but I end up filling the buffer and returning three times with all sorts of mindless violence and societal collapse. After the third trip through (and my tenth or eleventh time doing the copy protection), the 2081 simulation is finally open! With that, I’ll end for the week. Looking at the clock, this took more time for me to write about than to play. We should wrap up the rest of the game next week.
2081 is going to be sunshine and roses, I just know it. This middle section, especially the waiting and random replaying of 2071 just to wait for the later simulation to open, has been trying at times. The subject matter is exhausting. I’m looking forward to seeing how (and if) Meretzky nails the landing. We can’t be too far now, right?
Time played: 1 hr 30 min
Total time: 9 hr 30 min