Playing We Are Chicago is Almost Like Living There

first_img ‘Cannon Busters’ Is The Black Anime We’ve Been Waiting…‘Dolemite Is My Name’ Trailer Shows Bawdy Blaxploitation Biopic Stay on target While I’m now a proud resident of New York City, Chicago has played a big role in both my life in general and my career as a games journalist specifically. I lived near the Second City for four years going to journalism school at Northwestern. I frequently ventured into the city for nerdy events like C2E2 and Cards Against Humanity meet-ups. I was just familiar enough with the city to be disappointed by how badly Watch Dogs bungled it. And my feature on the robust Chicago indie game scene is still one of my prouder achievements.However, despite all that Chicago means to me, I can’t say I’m from Chicago. I’ve never really lived there. That’s a different experience, an experience a group of Chicago developers at Culture Shock Games tried to capture with the new adventure game We Are Chicago, out now for PC and Mac.We Are Chicago’s basic mission hasn’t changed that much since I first went eyes-on with it a little over a year ago. It’s a first-person adventure game with branching story and dialogue options reminiscent of a Telltale game. But instead of navigating Batman’s Gotham City or The Walking Dead’s zombie apocalypse, players spend a week in the life of a teenage Black dude in Chicago’s rough South Side.There are a few plotlines players watch unfurl over the 1-2 hour runtime. Friends get involved with gangs. Work and household chores suck. Family and financial drama distracts you from studying the tests you need to ace to get into a good school. And there’s a big poetry slam coming up. But these aren’t meant to be gripping, compelling storylines. Instead, they add texture and realism to the world. Some don’t even really pay off. Not everything in life is dramatically satisfying. You and your single mom and little sister hear a gunshot, never know what happened, and move on with your day. In a way it reminded me of Fruitvale Station, or at least the majority of the film spent living a day in the life of Oscar Grant before tragedy struck.The game also does an impressive job looking and feeling and sounding like a South Side Chicago neighborhood, and not just because basically every character is Black (although that does help). The architecture looks right. There are metal detectors in the school. Some voice actors are more naturalistic than others but none sound distractingly out of place. There’s not enough music but what is there is on point. The relaxed pacing feels right for a city that can’t help but be influenced by its Midwestern surroundings.Most importantly, the dialogue does an admirable job of conveying its intended messages while not being too didactic. This is ultimately an after school special of a game. You can donate real money to real Chicago charities within the game’s fake Chicago. But basing much of the writing off of interviews with real Chicago community members paid off big time. Even the Luke Cage-esque respectability politics of some of the older characters annoyed me in the same way it does in real life when parents complain rap music ruining the youth.All this goes a long toward making me forgive We Are Chicago’s technical shortcomings. There are some cool stylistic touches, particularly when it comes to transitions between days, but this isn’t a particularly pretty game, and not just in terms in subject matter. I get the developers were going for realism both in the writing and visual presentation, but even AAA game still can’t deliver wholly realistic characters with all the resources in the world. The characters here look like Sims you’re seeing too close up. A more stylized look may have been the better choice for these indie developers.The game also didn’t run fantastic on my pretty powerful laptop. It’s annoying but not a deal-breaker since it’s not like this low-key narrative game relies on split-second actions. Besides, Telltale’s games are also technical messes, and they have money to license Guardians of the Galaxy so what’s their excuse?If you want to play a video game that looks at a city as something other than a sandbox for Grand Theft Auto mayhem, give We Are Chicago a shot. It may be our last chance to remember the Windy City before the Feds crack down to make it “great again.”last_img read more

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