by Sean Martin
reviewed on PC
AN EDUCATIONAL GAME
It’s been a very long time since I’ve played what I would dub as an educational game. Of course, I think all games should be educational in at least some capacity, or enlightening to some extent, but Attentat 1942 feels like a part of that rare genre. So it should come as no surprise that it was developed by a collective of students at Charles University in Prague. The game is split between the modern day and 1942 German-occupied Czechoslovakia, specifically after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich and the bloody reprisals and crackdowns that followed his death. In the modern day, you interview a variety of people to discover pieces of information and stories. These stories are often framed as flashbacks and play out as mini-games. This time split also represents a split in style: while the modern day interviews are live-action, the flashbacks are all drawn and animated cartoons. Also thrown in are pieces of stock footage as well as a pop-up encyclopedia which helps to contextualize the events you are being told about.
From the outset, Attentat 1942 is successful in drawing the player in with a strong initial story and premise: your grandfather is taken by the SS and you must find out why. It contextualizes these events very well and gives you ample information using the convenient in-game encyclopedia. It also has reasonably good mini-games which help illustrate certain points through play. Having to hide anti-Nazi propaganda from an SS house raid does hit home how perpetually in fear people living under Nazi occupation were. Or choosing which household items are incriminating and should be destroyed reminds you how the regimes insidious censorship and oppression spread to every facet of life. In spite of some strange incentivisation (being rewarded a coin for evading the SS doesn’t quite seem to fit) I think these are the most successful parts of the game.
CURIOSITY IS THE REAL INCENTIVE
Attentat 1942 is filled with compelling historical and educational content, but I do think it suffers in terms of game design. While focused in the beginning I started to feel confused about what my objectives were or why I was trying to accomplish them. You are told you need to find out certain pieces of information, but during the interviews I found this was starting to stifle my curiosity. In an educational game, the real incentive is curiosity, and so while many of the stories were interesting I couldn’t understand why I was being guided towards discovering why my grandfather was taken by the SS seventy years too late? There is no real incentive to discover that information, nor any immediate sense of jeopardy and that represents my problem with the whole modern day section. The flashbacks are really excellent: the mini-games are immersive and the art-style is unnerving and slightly uncomfortable in a way that represents the innate paranoia of that time.
And so I think the entire game should have been based in 1942, in that art-style, playing as the grandmother as she tries to discover what has happened to her husband/encountering others effected by the reprisals. I don’t think the modern day interviews add that much, they feel like an educational context is being shoehorned into the game. The interviews are also less effective as I know these people aren’t telling their own stories, but are instead telling a story of characters fictional to them. And that story might reflect the experiences that many of them lived through, but in that case, why are the game designers not letting us hear their actual stories, or instead letting us experience their fictional story directly through their game characters in 1942. In that sense the game is confused. The whole modern section feels like an interface intended to endow the story with more meaning: to show it as personal experience, to show it in hindsight, but in the end, to me it felt forced and only detracted from the amazing flashback sections.
ALL GAMES CAN BE EDUCATIONAL
As I said before, all games can be educational, but don’t all necessarily have to be educational games. For me Attentat 1942 feels like by trying so hard to be an educational game, it has missed an opportunity to be a better regular game. However, it is still filled with historical content, flashback sequences and a wonderful art style, even though a lack of a cohesive story and any real driving force to the narrative does make it feel meandering, like a conversation with an aging grandparent. But like a conversation with an aging grandparent, you might also learn some amazing things, or have your perspective broadened, if you’ll only take the time to listen. So if you feel like a meander through some thought-provoking history, Attentat 1942 is out on Steam now.
Great historical content
Confused game design