IFComp 2019 review: De Novo

spoilers follow

In De Novo, a visual novel-styled Twine game, you play as a judge deciding which capital cases may go to appeal. The game is set in 1955, which comes across strongly in its vintage-inspired visual style.

The backgrounds are stylish: sepia-toned and slightly grainy photographs. The character portraits are attractive 2D paintings, which fit the game’s aesthetic and color scheme and add a lot of flavor.

The gameplay has a good basic format: reviewing criminal cases by examining a criminal record, police report, evidence and witness reports, and court transcript.

But the visuals and core gameplay mechanic are let down by the writing. Nearly every sentence in the game could benefit from editing:

More broadly, the entire game rests on the shaky premise that each month, you can only choose to appeal one of three cases; the other two are executed (immediately, apparently?).

When you send cases to appeal, you can only spare one person! When you interview the convicts, you can only ask one question! These constraints are and feel artificial. The end result doesn’t feel even remotely related to any real-world justice system, contemporary or historical. It’s just… silly.

And when you get to make a choice, your great moral choice about capital punishment, it looks like this:

CLICK “NO” TO ABOLISH CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

It’s a profoundly unserious treatment of a serious topic.

It can be difficult to execute (no pun intended) a political or polemical game, and the writing here isn’t strong enough to support the weight of its themes. Still, the team that made De Novo clearly has a ton of talent, and they have created an unusually attractive and visually polished Twine game.

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