“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” – Rudyard Kipling
Svoboda 1945: Liberation was created by Charles Games in collaboration with the Institute of Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences. It blends fiction and historical accuracy and uses a diverse range of gameplay and storytelling techniques to recount experiences in Svoboda, a village near the Czech-German border during and after WWII.
Developer: Charles Games
Releases: 3rd August 2021
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Available on: Steam
Svoboda 1945: Liberation, set in 2001, has the player take on the role of a heritage institute employee who must go to Svoboda to investigate an old schoolhouse that a local historian is requesting landmark status for. It turns out that the building is wrapped up in a decades-old feud linked to the horrific events that happened in the village (and many like it) following the end of WWII and during the rise of the communist dictatorship that came after. The investigation gains a personal connection and further questions arise when an initial search of the schoolhouse’s attic uncovers a photograph of the protagonist’s grandfather.
A range of characters with first or second-hand experiences from both sides of the conflict are introduced allowing players to consider events from a range of viewpoints. While these characters and their personal stories are fictional they are based on archived testimonies and real historical events.
The game includes historical documents, photographs, video footage and an encyclopedia that ground the stories in reality making the often harrowing accounts all the more emotive. In addition to the various real elements and factual information, the game also uses a mix of fictional aspects such as FMV video clips and conversations, explorable scenes, animated comic strips and mini-games to deliver the narratives. There is perhaps a hint of bias in the way the information has been compiled and reiterated but it is subtle, and not detrimental to the experience.
The bulk of the gameplay involves exploring the village and talking to residents and visitors to find out as much about the schoolhouse and its history as possible and involves a lot of reading and listening. This is broken up nicely with animated comic strips and a selection of minigames. These include playing blackjack, managing a farm during communist rule and developing old photographs.
The game can be played with just a mouse and will take around two to four hours to complete depending on playstyle. However, it is best experienced at a relaxed pace that allows the player to fully appreciate the details of the stories being told and the wealth of information presented as it is this unique combination that makes Svoboda 1945: Liberation feel so poignant.
The game uses a mix of visual styles, including FMV sections, hand-drawn comic strips and photo composite scenes but they all have a consistent aesthetic due to the black and white elements and muted colours. There are a few harsh transitions during conversations but the filming is nicely done for the most part with some great acting and writing. The audio is available only in Czech with the UI and subtitles also being available in English.
Svoboda 1945: Liberation’s moody and evocative soundtrack is a highlight featuring eerie vocals over a gentle bassline, as well as brass and string instruments. This, when teamed with ambient sound effects such as nature and the wind, and the sounds of gunfire and yelling, really helps bring the hand-drawn sections to life.
Svoboda 1945: Liberation is an informative and moving experience, seamlessly mixing fact and fiction to create a varied and immersive game. The tragic and often brutal nature of the subject matter is presented in a tasteful and engaging way that is both thought-provoking and educational. The varied styles and mechanics keep the gameplay fun and prevent the large amounts of reading from feeling at all laborious. Overall, this is a well-crafted and accurate historical narrative experience that I highly recommend.
For another historically accurate narrative game take a look at:
Brukel – The Personal History of a WWII Survivor
Or for a more casual game based on real-life experiences, check out:
Wanderlust: Travel Stories