Death Plays Favorites

Postmortem: One Must Die casts players as an agent of Death sent to a fundraising event in Galicia, a nation torn apart by civil unrest. The reaper’s orders are to claim the life of one of the six people there, though they’ve been given free reign over who will die. However, the future of this unstable country could be significantly altered depending on who fails to live through the night. The course of history can be changed not only by drastic actions, but by mere ideas… or the absence thereof.

Postmortem is one of the few games that knows how to properly illustrate the concept of player choice. The end results are not simply determined by who dies, but in player interactions with the potential targets before they make their decision. Each NPC has their own specific views regarding the conflict with dialogue that effectively conveys their opinions without the need for voiceovers (there are a few spelling and grammatical errors, but they’re insignificant); some advocate preserving traditional culture by any means necessary, either because of deeply ingrained pride for their heritage or outdated prejudices, while others favor progress no matter how many people are left behind if they’re unable to adapt or believing that such social advances should only be reserved for a select few. Conversing with them provides the opportunity to learn more about why they hold such views and the potential to sway their opinions, persuading them to alter their agendas or at the very least reconsider more extremist views. Newspaper clippings and journal entries provide further information on the nature of the conflict, which can influence your decision on who to kill.

Once the player has taken a life, more articles will appear describing what happened as a result. Did it prolong or shorten the conflict between rival factions? Has Galicia become more progressive or does it remain stuck in the past? The final outcome is unpredictable since conversations with the NPCs, both the prominent members of society and the common people, have a greater effect than originally considered. In my first playthrough I not only inadvertently convinced a waiter to quit his job, but persuaded a young student to join a violent rebel group, and most shockingly, influenced a woman into becoming a serial killer because she needed human corpses for medical research. It’s a great analysis of how something seemingly insignificant can create a strong ripple effect, how even when someone thinks they’re making the right decision, the end result can be much bleaker than intended.

Postmortem plays similar to a graphic adventure as the gameplay consists of  talking to other characters and finding items like newspapers and keys scattered about a house. It’s primarily reliant on the keyboard, which I have to admit tripped me up a few times. I’m so used to the point and click interface that there were several times I used the mouse to pick a dialogue option out of habit, only to remember I had to switch over to a number key. The mouse only comes into play when going through tabs in your journal for reminders about the nature of the conflict and the views of your potential victims.

Graphics are simple with a limited color palette and basic textures, but it doesn’t need to be visually overdone to get the point of the game across. I did enjoy the character designs, which resemble anime-influenced sprites when viewed from the isometric perspective, but in conversation, a very well-detailed portrait appears to accompany the text box. Music is also sparse with only three major themes to fit the setting; Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 and Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major play at the fundraising gala to reflect the refined, sophisticated air of the event, while Kevin MacLeod’s original piece, a heavy, moody track called Lithium, is heard during the end to accompany the somber scene as your victim accepts their death, as well as when it’s learned what impact your actions had on Galicia.

Poor Richard’s Almanac had a short poem titled For Want of a Nail which examines how seemingly innocuous events can lead to massive consequences. Postmortem is one of the strongest pieces to embody this concept. While each playthrough can be completed relatively quickly (about 20 minutes or less, depending on how invested players become in conversations), it’s one that I imagine many will return to in order to see how different decisions play out, if they’ll finally claim the necessary victim and influence people in a way that will bring about peace. It is, in my opinion, one of the best titles out there to offer truly complex moral dilemmas.