Pretend, just for a moment, that you have the power to delete someone from history. Anyone at all. Hitler. Einstein. That overbearing, bottle-blonde anathema of an aunt who is the bane of every family reunion. If you could remove one person from the annals of time, who would it be? And what do you think would result from their erasure?
Postmortem is an intriguing beast. Told through the lens of a monochromatic, Victorian-garbed Death, Postmortem is ostensibly a 'short, exploratory adventure game' where you, as the anthropomorphic biological function, must take one soul from a charity gala. Who that unfortunate individual might be is of no importance to your omnipotent employers. They just want one person dead before the end of the festivities. It doesn't matter who. It could be the waiter for all they care. However, though totally irrelevant to the grand scheme of this digital reality, that decision might mean everything to Galicia, the fictional dominion in which Postmortem is set.
Belying its somewhat straightforward premise, Postmortem tries to both supply and address a number of thought-provoking questions. Given ultimate power and a situation you're personally removed from, do you allow personal agenda to influence your professional responsibilities? Should unwavering tradition be upheld in the face of capitalism-propelled progress? Is bloodshed ever an answer? And can you, if you were allowed only a single move on the board, alter the outcome of a far-reaching game?
Much of Postmortem is inspired by developer Jakub Kasztalski's, who has a Masters in Comparative Ethnic Conflict, personal studies on how socioeconomic status and disparate ideologies can affect an industrial-age country. Needless to say, the exposition in Postmortem can weigh a bit heavy at times. In general, Postmortem shares more commonalities with a political textbook than, say, your average visual novel (to which it bears more than a passing resemblance). While this adherence to real world issues can occasionally make the dialogue unpalatable (expect your eyes to glaze over periodically), it's also the reason Postmortem works. The characters with their panoply of personal agendas, backgrounds and philosophies are all grounded in reality. Outside of their disarming willingness to discuss politics ("Hey! I just met you and this is crazy, but will you tell me what you think of the government, baby?" "Sure!") with a total stranger, they're people you might meet on the street.
Of everything in Postmortem, I'm probably most in love with its depiction of gender inequality. Women in Galicia have only just begun acclimatizing to the notion that it is within their rights to demand the same regard accorded to their masculine counterparts. Likewise, the men are still adjusting – some more poorly than others – to the concept. Without giving too much away, Postmortem handles the topic quite eloquently. Neither sides of the argument are presented as more villainous or heroic than the other. No one is a caricature here. They're simply two sides of the coin, each with differing stances on the subject matter.
But, is Postmortem fun? Maybe. It's clever, yes, and thoughtful and well-spoken and sometimes even unexpectedly funny but also rather like a round table discussion with a very interesting study group. The 'game-y' aspects of Postmortem consist predominantly of you navigating through a series of rooms and hitting 'E' whenever you want to talk to one of the gala's attendees, peruse an item or interact with a door. Conversations are conducted with the help of the numeric keys: you simply need to hit the number corresponding to your desired response. When you've finally decided on the unfortunate you're leaving with, you'll simply need to hit the tab button, find them, and, er, press Y. Coupled with the ponderous amount of reading required to get anywhere, Postmortem is hardly your traditional gaming experience. Still, that doesn't mean Postmortem isn't good because it is, in its own edutainment-like way, excellent.
At the risk of sounding like a total dissident, we don't talk about politics enough. We don't discuss the scientific validity of the human soul anywhere near enough either, but that's another can of worms entirely. There have been plenty of discussions about how video games can function as a medium for important messages and Postmortem is a prime example of that. How better to explain the intricacies of a political uprising than to allow someone to approach it from a multitude of angles and explore the ramifications of their every possible action? While the central idea revolves around removing one unlucky bastard from the mortal coil, Postmortem's greatest appeal lies with the people you don't kill. Your conversations with them can and sometimes will alter their futures and the fate of Galicia. It's almost unsettling to see how a single word can instigate such mammoth changes. But, then again, isn't that how it is with real life as well?
Due for release in August later this year, Postmortem won't cost you a cent to play. The developers are currently accepting beta testers so if you're too impatient to wait, you should consider signing up over here.