“De Novo” is a choice-based game in which the protagonist considers appeals of capital punishment cases in an alternate-universe Britain.

Gameplay: The game runs slowly until the cases appear; at that point, the protagonist must decide which one— always exactly one— of three people sentenced to death he will appeal to a higher court. The goal of the game is to raise questions about the morality of the death penalty, but it’s unclear what those questions even are, let alone what answers the game suggests. The two NPCs with whom the narrator interacts are his unsympathetic wife, who is flatly against capital punishment, and his oily boss, who makes some tepid defense of it but mostly emphasizes the future job prospects for the narrator. If there is a dilemma in the game, it’s whether opposing (in some way that’s never specified) capital punishment is worth jeopardizing the protagonist’s career. That could be an interesting problem, but it’s not one the game develops. 4/10.

Mechanics: In order to decide on which cases to appeal, the player reads through short dossiers on each of the sets of three defendants. There aren’t any suggested criteria to use in evaluating them, and there’s little feedback after doing so. Even ignoring how contrived the setup of choosing exactly one per set to spare is, I’m not sure what the exercise is trying to demonstrate. It’s simultaneously vague and ham-fisted. 4/10.

Presentation: The art style of the game is impressive. Aside from minor typos (e.g., “seperate”), the text of the game is solid, although there’s a lot of unnecessary padding in the introduction. 6/10.

You might be interested in this game if: You’re interested in how the legal system in an alternate universe might play out.

Score: 5

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