Review: Svoboda 1945: liberation is a tragic and touching masterpiece
War is a difficult subject. History is often written by the victors, sometimes without regard for the truth. And one of the few truths about war is that it is ugly, complicated, personal, and terrible. There is no war without death, loss, pain and tragedy for everyone involved. It can be easy, especially as Americans, to overanalyze and depersonalize war, without having experienced it on our own soil. This is one of the best reasons to learn more about history and to listen to the experiences of those who have lived through war by coming to their country, their city, their home. Survivor stories bring perspective, humanity and empathy, and I think if you listen to them, help create the kind of “advocates” who will continue to fight injustice, not just for themselves but for all, and will strive to make the world a better place for everyone.
It is no small feat to approach a subject like WWII or even post-war and the rise of communism in any form of media, let alone games, in a hard-hitting way, respectful and, in one way or another, engaging. But Charles Games was more than up to the challenge, and Svoboda 1945: Liberation is a masterpiece that might, in fact, make you a smarter and better human after playing it.
Svoboda 1945: Liberation is a fast-moving “adventure” video game set in the small Czech town of Svoboda. You play as a person responsible for surveying the city on the historical preservation of a school. And although it sounds a bit trite, the school and the city it is in have a history. Located on the Czech-German border, this small town was home to Germans, Czechs, German and Czech Jews and everyone in between. It was invaded and occupied by the Germans during World War II, then freed after the fall of Hitler’s regime – and the vestiges of all these conflicts (and many others) have left their mark – on the inhabitants, who won’t necessarily be so happy to pick him up again, and about school, which was at the heart of much of the city’s troubled history.
As a surveyor, your job is basically to be the curious neighbor and find out what people think about the school and whether or not it should be preserved as a historic and possibly memorial site or demolished. As a relative outsider, you’re not just going to be given the keys to the city, or even the school, and before long there’s even more at stake than you originally thought, when, while studying the artifacts in the school attic (the only place you have access to initially), you find a picture of your grandfather mixed with other pieces of the town’s history.
Svoboda 1945 the gameplay is more akin to a point-and-click adventure game in a wonderful set of full screen video interviews with various townspeople and a set of comic book style hand drawn illustrations which with lighting and a clever integration, often blend so well in video that it blurs the line between the two. A big part of what you’re going to do is come up with the best questions to ask various people, and so deduce what exactly happened at school that no one wants to talk about, including finding out what your own big -father was doing there.
And while Svoboda 1945: Liberation is a work of fiction, that’s right, and could easily be considered the kind of educational tool you’ll find in a museum or classroom. His stories are fiction, true, but based on real events and in fact, true accounts of survivors. Highly sought after by the Charles’ Games team, Svoboda 1945 is as much a history lesson as a game, and takes its facts seriously. So seriously, in fact, that there is an in-game encyclopedia available anytime, filled with articles and photos that provide a deep dive into the events, people, and objects featured in Svoboda 1945 story. It is tumultuous and tragic. Story after story unfolds about families separated, lives lost, occupations and evictions – and it’s not read in a book. Instead, it’s being told to you, personally, with all the perspective and heartache that comes with it.
Interspersed with narrative interviews, a few mini-games follow one another. One of the most memorable and meaningful to me was on the family farm of a character I had spoken to. In it, you had to manage the farm – buy and sell, plant and possibly meet quotas for the government. Everything went well at first, and I thought I had successfully built myself, only to find out that the game was rigged. As the government and the townspeople pressured me to join the collective farming unit, more and more of my profits were confiscated, quotas increased and property seized, the fines becoming so heavy that I in the end could not follow. There is no such thing as a rigged game to irritate a player trying to win, and in this case, it was put to good use to connect to the narrative.
The beautiful performances of the actors are just as touching. Paired with absolutely breathtaking and intimate cinematography, there isn’t a single interview that isn’t haunting and memorable. Every individual stands out, and almost everyone, despite their differences, can be compassionate. It gets extremely complicated very quickly, as you may find that someone you empathize with is at the heart of another person’s past misery, and your own family history may not turn out the way you do. hoped neither.
That’s the beauty of Svoboda 1945: Liberation. It is ruthless, unfazed and beautiful. Each person’s story is gripping and tragic in itself. No one in the city, on any side, has lost anything, is looking for something, struggling with the echoes of the past.
Svoboda 1945: Liberation seems to be part documentary, game and exhibition all in one, and it’s this unique combination of things that makes it the masterpiece that I think it truly is. No part is bigger than the other, with the cast and polished cinematography that immerse you in the characters in an intimate way, the gameplay making you feel more connected to the narrative, and the in-depth encyclopedia allowing you to give yourself even more. more context to log in and discover more stories. All of these parts working together allow you to see a more complete picture of what happened in Svoboda, and to whom it happened. And the more you see, the more you realize that no one has been spared and that nothing is so black and white. The war leaves nothing untouched, and Svoboda 1945 manages to make sure you won’t be either.
Svoboda 1945: Liberation is available today on Steam.
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