Less talking, more talking
As someone who studied Psychology with an emphasis on Child and Family Therapy, We should talk. is, on paper, absolutely up my alley. A game that focuses less on what you say but how you say it, We should talk. sets itself up to understand nuances in conversation and promote delivery over content. Touting the importance of communication in relationships, it strives to prove that how you say words can build or tear down just as much as the words themselves.
So did it work? Let’s start at the beginning.
Players take on the role of a woman (or a person who I assume is a woman through context clues) out at the bar for the night. It’s apparently your favorite haunt, as both Steph, the bar owner, and your girlfriend, Sam, make comments indicating that you’re here fairly frequently. Several nights each week are spent drinking away the days worries, only to make your girlfriend worry more about this habit at home. After chatting up both other patrons and your girlfriend, you come to one of nine possible conclusions about your relationships, real and potential. Are things working out for you, or are they requiring work? It’s up to you to decide.
Controls are extremely simple, as you’re manipulating sentence fragments with the joystick instead of maneuvering a character. Sentences are broken up into 2 – 3 pieces, and by slotting them together, you can form what you want to say and how you want to say it before sending it off to the recipient. Although you’re at the bar surrounded by others, you’ll spend most of the evening texting Sam, who’s had an eventful day in her classroom. Will you be a good listener and communicator by attending to her needs? Will you accommodate while still being fair to yourself? Or will you break up with her completely, her emotional needs too great a burden to bear? The choice is yours — it all depends on how you say it.
While at the bar, you’ll encounter some other patrons who’d like a little bit of your time. Steph allows you to choose who you’d like to speak to first — either your ex-boyfriend or the stranger giving you bedroom eyes. Either choice is fine, as they both end similarly no matter which order you speak to them in.
Playing through We should talk. felt strange. While I was thoroughly excited for this mechanic, as I’m not sure I’ve seen dialog options broken up so concisely to change meaning in addition to phrasing, the conversations themselves were at odds with each other. Where distinct relationship stages were present — ex, current, and possibility — the flow felt a bit unnatural. Additionally, I felt like I had changed up what I said/how I said it enough times but kept getting the same ending. There were easier endings to obtain, surely, but I wanted one where Sam wasn’t trying to force me to make friends with the guy I met .6 seconds prior.
Perhaps We should talk.’s only real offense, however, is its brevity. I was able to beat it twice in 30 minutes. Now I’m not usually one to knock short games if they feel complete, but We should talk. was over as soon as it began. There are demos longer than this! I was pretty disappointed, as I thought We should talk. was going to be a much longer experience; sure, I could play it again to unlock another ending, but as Nintendo Switch doesn’t have achievements and the ending I received wasn’t very satisfying anyway, I’m not sure what the point of that would be.
Additionally, We should talk. forced a narrative just as much as it offered slight nuances; the “healthy” route demanded I make dialog choices I was uncomfortable with because, culturally, I found them to be too direct and honestly a little rude. I was also put off by my girlfriend’s insistence that my going to the bar was unhealthy because *she* had confidence and anxiety issues. I don’t disagree with the real meaning behind it — communication, and even sometimes therapy, is key — but that shouldn’t mean I give up something that I enjoy and is not diminishing how I feel about my partner. I turned down both the ex and the flirt almost violently — if I’m dating someone then everyone else can buzz off as far as I’m concerned — but Sam’s trust issues meant I was locked out of the “good” ending, even though I had the moral fiber to stick to my mug of absinthe. What gives?
In that sense, We should talk. fell a little flat. Relationships are certainly all about compromise, and according to the narrative presented, being a good partner means giving up something important to me to make the other person feel at ease. The person on the other end of the screen admitted she had difficulty communicating face to face and preferred text, but *I* was the one who had to admit I had communication issues because I enjoy low-effort extroversion? I appreciate the mechanic and still want to see this explored more often, but the length and direction left far too much to be desired, and I’m regretting coughing up the already low price point for the tiny return on investment.
I could have forgiven We should talk.’s narrative if it weren’t for the length. I could have forgiven We should talk.’s length if it weren’t for the narrative. The game could be short. The game could push a specific philosophy in relationships. But it couldn’t be both and still get high marks unless you absolutely already 100% agree with the developer’s stance on relationships. And with so little time to learn about Sam and myself, it’s hard to go all in on any of the candidates; all I’m left with is my face buried in my drink hoping I haven’t fucked up anything. Which, judging by the ending I got several times where I spent my evenings with a random stranger because my girlfriend wanted me to, I probably have.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PS4, PC, Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Whitethorn Digital; Developer: Insatiable Cycle LLC; Players: 1; Released: July 16, 2020; MSRP: $6.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of We should talk. purchased by the reviewer