We. The Refugees: Ticket to Europe Review
An adventure that dilutes its own central message
Games that try to focus on an important real-world message – be that environmental, societal, political – are difficult to pull off. Such titles need to not only be engaging enough to actually be considered a worthwhile experience in the realm of interactive media, but also deliver on their core themes. Some take the streamlined arcade approach, such as Gibbon: Beyond the Trees. Others, like the recently released We. The Refugees: Ticket to Europe, opt for a text-based experience. This text adventure game tries to shine a light on the modern day humanitarian crisis through the eyes of a naïve writer, but just like its oddly structured name, it largely falls flat with inconsistent dialogue quality, basic presentation and a story that feels stitched together.
Ticket to Europe puts players in the role of a writer that's looking for material to create his next book. An idea comes to mind that it should be a piece on the immigration crisis that faces modern day Europe. Foolishly and naively, he believes that the best way to differentiate this book from others on the subject is to experience the refugee journey in-person, and collect the stories of those he meets along the way. And so, the writer sets off to Egypt and the city of Alexandria, where he plans to meet up with a contact at a refugee crisis center, who will hopefully put you in touch with a smuggler that can facilitate the journey back to European mainland. It is a daring but ultimately self-serving adventure, and these conflicting themes permeate the whole adventure.
The entire game is a text-based adventure where you read through paragraphs of text, occasionally clicking to make choices or just to continue the scene. The screen is split into two, with the scrolling text on the right and a variety of mostly static art on the left. The art is decent enough, ranging from environmental scenes to character illustrations; there are occasionally very minor animations. It gives the game a little more life and imagination, as the writing doesn't always spark imagination.
In a text-based adventure, the entire experience rests on the quality of the writing, and unfortunately for Ticket to Europe it is inconsistent at best. The inner monologues that the main character goes on keeps swinging wildly between being introspective, informative, narcissistic, and vain. From describing the hardships of the refugees and the greater issues facing humanity, to pondering if you should take a selfie or make a post on your Instagram. Turns of phrase come from the most random places, and after a while you'll realize that much of the finesse in these texts was likely lost in translation. The developers are based in Poland (and so is the main character), so translating the game to English likely carries a bit of blame for the lacklustre quality in parts. The tone and approach to the storytelling here has similarities to the 2022 film Vengeance, however without the sharp dialogue, character development, nuance and emotional connections that that movie managed to achieve.
As mentioned, the traditional gameplay elements are minimal. You mostly read through the text, and make occasional choices. Some choices affect the immediate situation, while others add to your personality traits – liar, cynicism, empathy, etc – which can possibly affect things in the future, though the game doesn't specifically outline when they come into effect. Despite your attempts to guide the lead character into certain personality types, the narrative still never manages to strike a balance between its airhead protagonist and the horrors he potentially witnesses along the way – which diminishes their emotional impact.
The possible choices add a bit of replay value, which is decent if you want to see how things can play out differently based on what you say and how you act. With about a 90 minute runtime, it makes the game long enough to entice seeing it through to the end, and create some interest of taking the journey again without it feeling like a daunting time sink. On the other hand, the choices that alter the story often lead to a lot of rough cuts in the timeline and situations not really resolving in a cohesive or logical manner. A Memories menu also acts as a collection of story milestones that you have experienced. Given its very light gameplay and simple design/presentation, the game has very low system requirements and should run on almost any PC without much trouble.
We. The Refugees: Ticket to Europe is a game that wants to share an important message on the refugee crisis in Europe, the dangers of the journey for migrants, and one man's attempt to experience it firsthand. Unfortunately, "the message gets lost at sea"– a potentially crude and insensitive play on words that reflects the game perfectly nonetheless. The humanitarian aspirations aside, The Life And Suffering Of Sir Brante or Disco Elysium, this is not.The writing quality is all over the place and never finds its footing or a central theme; perhaps the translation from Polish just needed to be better adapted to English. The main character never completes any sort of redemption arc for their generally vapid persona, the interviews with the refugees may be based on real stories but they lack any impact, and the more traditional elements like action choices and a light inventory system barely add to the experience. The art is nice, and while the game is brief to encourage a replay or two, it's likely not engaging enough for most players to do so.