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Extraterrestrial Diplomacy, March 19, 2022
(Nothing in this review gives away solutions to puzzles or tells you what choices to make. However, if you want to experience the contents with a completely open mind, skip this and play first.)
The Colonist's homeworld faces an imminent global freeze-over. The High Company back on Earth, in its benign and charitable friendliness, extends a helping hand.
For a price.
The Ambassador on the Colony has been removed from his duties. He had gotten a little too friendly with the natives to the Company's liking. You are to replace him and negotiate a satisfactory agreement about the evacuation of the Colonists and their resettlement on Earth. You have received rather precise instructions as to what kind of deal is acceptible to the High Company and how to get the message across.
Of course, you are on a planet orbiting a distant sun. Back on Earth, they might have taken you for an easily manipulated handpuppet, but there is not much the Company can do to keep you from investigating alternative options...
You start off exploring an overwhelmingly beautiful world. The natural splendor of your landing spot gradually gives way to a once magnificent city, now rapidly falling to ruins. The descriptions reflect the breathtaking surroundings without lapsing into purple prose.
During this first exploration you are nudged along to find your quarters at the embassy and perform some official duties there. Once you have done those, you can take all the time you want to wander around.
Apart from the readily accessible and very clear instructions from your superiors from the High Company, you can find out the opinions of other people about what should be done with the Colonists. Finding out these alternate opinions constitutes the only real puzzle-solving in the game.
This is necessary if you want to have a full understanding of the situation to base your decision on, but you do not need to solve any to get to an ending.
Your diplomatic decision is to be made on Gift Day, a ceremony of exchanging symbolic gifts. Because of the language barrier, the only means available to you to communicate your chosen agreement is through a combination of the clothes you choose to wear and the object you wish to present as gift.
There are notes and recordings to be found that can inform you about the meaning of the clothes and the gifts. The end-puzzle therefore is not a puzzle at all, but a well-considered choice on your part.
I followed my ideals on the first try and got a bittersweet epilogue, that I have to admit is more realistic than the happy ending I had in mind.
The same goes for the other endings you can reach through different choices of gift and apparel. This made me very aware of the ethical repercussions of my choices as ambassador to all involved, my superiors at the High Company, my fellow humans back on Earth, the Colonists in need of help whom I've gotten to know, and my own conscience and ideals. Each choice can be argued for with strong arguments, even though some may run counter to impulsive feelings of empathy or self-defense.
The ethical consequences of the game's choices could spark a night-long philosophical debate in the real world about humanity, identity, refugees, personal responsability, climate change and how to face it,...
Or one can just savor the experience of dressing up as a sci-fi diplomate and enjoy the delightful writing and surroundings.
Either way, a magnificent game.