Release date: October 2017
Genre: educational, historical fiction, Nazis, holocaust, II World War
Attentat 1942 had already been released on October 31, 2017, but it has recently come back under the spotlights after winning the title of Most Amazing Game 2018 at the AMaze festival in Berlin. Earlier he had landed in the final stages of the IGF and had won the silver medal at the World Development Championship 2017.
Captions on the official website read: Attentat 1942 is a unique video game that tells the story of Nazi occupation from the perspective of those who experienced it firsthand. The game is built on dialogues with survivors, interactive comics, and authentic historical footage. You will speak to eyewitnesses, live their memories, and discover the untold story of your family. This is the trailer, showing a fairly luxurious and not at all poor package:
Intrigued, I contacted the developers, who kindly provided me with a review code. Just to be clear, you are facing a project born from the collaboration of two prestigious Czech academies, Charles University e Czech Academy of Sciences. It is a game with clear educational intents; as consequence, the critical approach can not be the same reserved for the usual games classified as entertainment. To put it simply and clearly, it is more like a TV documentary fiction than a hollywoodian drama like Schlinder’s List.
Aim of the title is to convey an important and dramatic page of history to students or people interested in deepening the Nazi occupation of Europe in the first half of the last century. Perhaps the most apt comment is John Romero‘s, the creator of Doom: “Excellent work! That’s how the kids will study History in the near future!”
Contents goes well beyond the narrow national Czech frontiers; local events and characters are just opportunities to talk about universal contents related to Nazi threat: patriotism, resistance against the invader, Holocaust, concentration camps, etc. Above all, Attentat 1942 is a human choral drama, focused on fears and feelings of survivors, echoing fears and feelings of entire populations; it allows you to understand how a similar horror was possible. So the experience is aimed to an international audience of all ages and languages.
Because of its didactic purposes, it assumes strong documentary connotations. In fact, as you proceed through the story, you will accumulate a huge amount of vintage documents and films, newspaper articles, encyclopedic insights on characters, historical places and facts, etc. Materials are meticulously organized and edited, such to underline the academic nature of the project.
Story & History
Plot and characters are fictitious, but they are perfectly embedded into an extremely accurate and rigorous historical reconstruction. A caption on the official website briefly illustrates the plot: you discover that your grandfather was arrested by the Gestapo shortly after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, ruler of the Nazi-occupied Czech Lands and leading architect of the Holocaust. You struggle to discover why your grandfather was arrested after the attack. What role did he play in the attack? Why didn’t he tell his family? Was he brave or reckless to endanger their lives by becoming a resistance fighter?
Mechanics and Language
The game uses two main mechanics for interactive storytelling: FMV (Full Motion Video), interspersed with multiple choice dialogues, and interactive comics. The style of TV fiction-documentary emerges precisely from FMV. These videos show the eight characters around which the plot revolves, all victims, witnesses and survivors of the Chzech Nazi occupation. They are interpreted by actors in flesh and blood filmed in daily life at home, without particular lights, make up or scenic details; they just answer your questions, and are always framed with eyes pointing straight into the camera. I think such particular was specifically desired; developers must have thought that it would have favored identification with your fictive avatar, because characters look straight in your eyes. But in my opinion it is not the best choice. It is one of the unwritten rules of Cinema, rarely violated in some movies but for a few seconds: actors do not have to look at the camera lens! Of course, Attentat 1942 is not Cinema, but it is something similar to TV drama; in my opinion the result is questionable. I would have preferred third person view; I think that for a better identification, it would have been better to film the character you play, granddaughter or grandson of the grandfather who took a role in the resistance against Nazis. I dwell on this particular because it leads us to an interesting reflection about the language of our favorite medium. Basically the first-person view favors immersion only if the player is free to move through the virtual world, as usually happens. But in a game where you do not have control of the avatar, the feeling is lost. It would have helped to establish an empathic link with the protagonist played by a real actor/actress in third person view. Instead, you barely see the hands or small parts of the body of your avatar just once or twice; and the times you hear his/her voice are very rare.
Nevertheless, I must admit that the close-ups of survivors, bearing the sufferings of their past on faces, have a certain effect; it would have been better if the actors did not look directly into the camera, but for example at the side of the camera, with a light tilted frame. I would have liked an editing of different visuals and frames, or some camera movements. Actors are not professionals, but they do their job very well, respecting the narrative atmosphere. If I had to classify the style of FMVs, I would say that they are neorealistic movies a la Rossellini or Pasolini!
Multiple choice dialogues are not very complex, they are functional to the investigation about your grandfather’s past. They are used to unlock as many informations as possible, even about historical events; here the educational purpose emerges. Their purpose is therefore not to create the conditions for alternative sequences and endings, as many interactive novels/dramas have accustomed you. The plot is unique, from beginning to end, does not branch out in alternate sub-plots. To make the investigation more appealing, developers have introduced a coin-winning reward mechanism. Here they come the most traditional features of video games! Basically some dialogue choices make you to lose tokens, others to gain. Tokens are then used to repeat interviews and dialogues several times and find more and more informations. This mechanism is also used for replaying mini-games.
Yes, mini-games! Attentat 1942 is considered a game because of the presence of real interactive challenges, essentially puzzles. There are several kind of puzzles, all related to storytelling. As I specified before, interactive comics are one of the narrative mechanics, a sort of interactive graphic novel. The graphic style in black and white is pleasant, it is effective and functional. Scenes concerning the past of the eight protagonists are narrated through comics with multiple-choice balloons: when you click on them, new balloons appear and you must choose the most appropriate. Intent of these challenges is to understand if player/student has followed and understood the history lesson! A sort of exam !!! For example, you have to tell Nazis the right phrases, so that they cannot discover or punish you, or to convince civilians to help you escaping SS. You will even have to publish a “collaborative” newspaper article by composing various written pieces in a coherent manner. Do not miss the mechanism of multiple illustrations: in essence you have to choose the best move by clicking on one of the multiple illustrations appearing on the screen; the wrong ones will make you discover and arrest and you will lose tokens. There are also hidden object mini-games; you’re not only intended to search, sometime you have to hide objects! The mechanism fits very well with the plot, because there is always something to hide from Nazis! There are also other mechanics, the variety of puzzles is remarkable, I let you to discover them. These mini-games are all well blended with the narration and the historical context, certainly an excellent stimulus for the study of history by students.
I appreciated the message, the reflection that emerges from the artwork. In essence, the game expresses the mixing feelings of fear and survival, which everyone feels in a different way but which always create inner and deep conflicts. And it is precisely such conflicting feelings that probably made the Nazi horror expand and be supinely accepted by the masses. You will often be confronted with the fundamental moral and ethical dilemma: is it right to rebel against the invader, at the cost of many innocent human lives, or it is better to bear, to undergo, to adapt to the invaders? One government is worth the other? One oppressor is worth the other? Aren’t they all forms of domination and submission? Or is it indifference? There are characters expressing fear and self-preservation; their concern is to preserve themselves and their loved ones by making good face for bad game, adapting to new rulers. Others characters, however, heroically immolate themselves resisting the enemy; but at the same time they endanger the lives of their loved ones and of innocent people. In fact, following the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazis took revenge by deporting and killing thousands of innocent citizens! Personally, I think it is just enough to look at the opprobrium of concentration camps and Holocaust for choosing who to stay with; imagining myself at that dramatic time, I certainly would appreciate the commitment of people resisting enemy, even if maybe I would not have the courage to fight. But keep in mind that at the time many people did not know the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis, the news did not circulate so much, just a few rumors, there were no mobile phones, TV or internet, just radio transmitting in stranger languages, newspapers were censored. Eye does not see, heart does not hurt! Ignorance and fear make horizons of people more limited and self-centered. Another aspect to take into account is the heavy crisis gripping Germany after the first world war, which fed the malignant virus of Nazism; but this is past History… (???) … at least I hope…
Surely the low budget has partly limited the interactive possibilities of the title. For example, towards ¾ of the story, many discoveries and crucial informations are entrusted to the reading of a document, which has too many pages. A narrative voice would have helped. The character you play basically does not speak almost never; it would have been better to have an acting voice asking the questions to the survivors, creating more empathy. On the other hand, audio is really at the state of the art, environmental sounds are well dislocated in the stereo imaging and help to build good atmosphere and right context. The pace is not really pressing, but this is a choice that goes well with the educational task; never forget that the game should be classified in the educational genre, and not as easy entertainment. Emphasizing spectacularization and action, on the one hand would have attracted and interested a more general public, on the other hand would have fictionalized historical facts too much. The game lends itself to be an educational and research tool in schools because it is not sacrificed to generic and easy entertainment. I can therefore say that the artwork has fully achieved its main objective; indeed it is less heavy and pedantic than other educational games, it is placed almost at the border of the genre, there is wide room for playful and entertaining challenges; and a wide audience of all ages can enjoy it; indeed it is more suitable for an adult and mature audience: it is true that you never stop learning! And I learned a lot from playing Attentat 1942.
Last but not least: despite the documentary style, serious, didactic, rarefied, realistic, dry, I must admit that the ending touched me so much. It will remain impressed on my mind for a long time.
Developers gave me a key code through my Curator page on Steam, but that’s not influenced my analisys.