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Video gaming

Game review: We Are Chicago – a flawed snapshot of a troubled city

A dated world of almost ghastly character designs, dull voice acting, and bizarre gameplay mar an otherwise noble attempt at delicately tackling a city’s social issues without preaching

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 8:00pm

We Are Chicago

Culture Shock Games

3/5 stars

If you believe what some pundits claim, gun crime is at an all-time high in America. Admittedly, small pockets of the country are facing high levels of violence and Chicago’s almost obscene 4,000-plus gun-related incidents last year shouldn’t be ignored.

And while it’s quite normal for movies or TV shows to tackle social issues, video games usually shy away from them, so it’s surprising to see the PC game We Are Chicago tackling the subject – or attempting to, at least.

We Are Chicago is ambitious, we’ll give it that. Living in a run-down neighbourhood in the city’s south side, Aaron Davis is your average, everyday underprivileged black kid: school problems, family problems, money problems, gang problems. The dialogue-based point-and-click gameplay is an obvious way to approach his world, but it’s not essential to the point of the game.

The point here is to educate more than interact, and through the contrast of the mundanity of a struggling existence and the acts of violence that threaten what should be a well-lived life, we’re given a measured glimpse of the trials facing these communities. Study hard, make money after school, look after your sister, and avoid friends that lead a life of crime.

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It’s jarring, and the appropriately named developer Culture Shock Games has done an impressive job of delicately tackling the world without resorting to preaching or heavy-handedness. It’s just too bad that when it comes to the game itself, the entire reason for Chicago’s existence in this medium, it fails miserably.

Character designs are almost horrendous, with bland faces, weak animation and awful lip-synching. Voice acting is dull and reserved, never fully embracing the passion of its quite good writing. The world we are sent through looks strangely dated, as if screenshots from late-1990s games were all they had to reference. And the gameplay itself is bizarre, especially given how simple it should be, and it becomes an overly ambitious attempt to creatively display dialogue choices, while never giving us the time needed to thoughtfully consider our options.

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Nothing in Chicago works as a game, which is a shame since its subject matter is only rarely if ever tackled within the medium. But as it stands, it still succeeds as a fascinating project of perspective: an interactive piece of art that allows us to experience life under different circumstances. In that, We Are Chicago is worth playing.