There are few games I feel like everyone should play. In general, I believe games are as personal a choice as ice cream flavors and fashion. What you enjoy and what I enjoy may be two very different things. Some games transcend that though–through their art, their story or even near-flawless mechanics or balancing. We should talk, a brief but impactful indie by Insatiable Cycle LLC, becomes compulsory to me because it’s so brave and unique. We’ve had edutainment games since I was figuring out where a certain Ms. Sandiego put the Seoul she stole in South Korea, but We should talk is something else–and something we need more of. With seemingly simple mechanics and a bottle episode setup they accomplish something new–emotional edutainment.
In We should talk, you’ll play as: You. You are one half of what appears to be a lesbian couple who is currently at the bar instead of spending time with your girlfriend, Sam. What’s lovely about you and Sam is that what kind of relationship between people of what gender is pretty damn irrelevant to the game and how it makes you feel and think, though it’s also a game which puts LGBTQIA+ people as main characters without a need to write themselves a congratulatory letter for doing so or making them stereotypical in any way.
Story and mechanics in We should talk are one and the same, as the game is about what you say and how you say it as it pertains to just one night in the life of one couple at a crossroads. We should talk uses something they call the Sentence Spinner to give you a choose-your-own adventure style set of options. Controls are simple (though it wouldn’t hurt to have an opening screen that explains them so you don’t have to hunt and peck it out.) and simply require you to rotate through the options game show board style and figure out what to say next, then confirm and send it. You’ll be talking to people live and texting with Sam, but the spinner works the same for each.
There are a lot of games that use dialogue trees and try to do something new with them, and few that manage to do it. We should talk is definitely a success story here–for multiple reasons.
First, the choices aren’t rote. Try as you might to play the bad girl and just burn it all down around you, things are rarely that simple. And though you do have what feels like an immense amount of choice, We should talk makes the bold decision to railroad your choice suddenly at certain points, forcing you to go in directions you may not have wanted to go in. This is an incredibly difficult tightrope to walk as far as games go–giving your players a ton of agency and then suddenly taking it away can feel really cheap and pretty immediately take the bloom off the rose as far as connection to the story goes.
This is where We should talk’s “size” comes into play. All told, even with some careful deliberation, you can make a run through We should talk in about 30 minutes. Normally that’d also be a pretty big con, but finish your first playthrough and you’ll discover whatever ending you’ve come to is only one of 9 possible denouements.
And you’ll find that you want to replay We should talk. Every word choice and conversation you have can have such a huge impact on where your story with Sam and a small cast of other characters end up at the end–and if you’re miserable.
Thanks to some really stellar and realistic writing, you’ll care where they end up, too. One of the most powerful things about We should talk is its no holds barred brutal reality, another risk that pays off for developer Insatiable Cycle.
While We should talk has a great sense of humor, it’s even better at provoking real emotions for you as the player. One moment you’ll be flirting, and the next, some creep will be hitting on you and not taking no for an answer, or your ex will show up, start an uncomfortable campaign to get you back, and suddenly Sam will text you because she’s bored and stressed.
If it sounds familiar, it’s because it is. This isn’t a fairy tale romance and neither you nor your girlfriend are the “good one.” Sam’s passive aggressive, and you’ve got the potential to do some damage to the people around you, with just a few simple words. Instead We should talk is realistic because it doesn’t paint anyone as better. It takes away the option to never be mean and instead makes you choose which way you’ll be mean. You simply can’t be America’s Sweetheart in every situation, so which style of shitty is your brand?
Add to this that the people that you’ll encounter in the bar and your relationship with Sam are complex enough that their reactions can surprise you, even make you fearful, angry or ashamed, and what you have is suddenly a real life lesson in the power of words and the day to day difficulty of being in a relationship. Your self-righteous campaign to always tell the truth might not get you as far as you’d think, in the same way that your harsh words might bounce off your targets instead of cutting deep, leaving you suddenly defenseless.
Art and music contribute to the depth of immersion you feel with We should talk. The bar (and really, everything else) has a sort of muted urban outrun palette and the background music is actually good (and well thought out, lyrically speaking) but seems generic and cheesy in exactly the way you’d expect from the neighborhood dive. A lot of care was taken with character models and their expressions, too, which can provoke some laughs and give you even more insight into the way that your words hit with people.
While I honestly think We should talk is pretty genius, it’s not without its flaws. I like the art style, for the most part, but feel like its textures could use that little extra bit of polish. And though I think that for the most part the “unfairness” of the game is intentional, there was at least one point where We should talk insinuated I’d been dishonest when for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how my words could have been construed that way, even on subsequent playthroughs.
So, what makes me think We should talk is that special game that takes it from great if you like that sort of thing to “everyone should play?” Balance.
We should talk walks an insane tightrope between giving players choices and taking them away, and constantly tries and succeeds, in making you uncomfortable and provoking negative emotions like anger, shame, guilt and fear.
It’s a place many other games fear to tread, and some tread in damaging or tone deaf ways, but few succeed in pulling off–and that’s what makes We should talk genius. We should talk will, without heavy handed symbolism or self-congratulatory announcements, make you think about the power of your words, the inherent unfairness and trials of being in a relationship, the truly awkward waters of encounters with random folks you don’t want to talk to and exes, and where it all gets you in the end. In short: if you pay attention to We should talk, it can actually teach you to be a more considerate, intentional partner. And that is always worthwhile.
We should talk releases tomorrow for Windows on Steam, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.