The Works of Mercy is a first-person horror game about right and wrong by Pentacle, a Polish development team.
The beginning is pretty familiar for anyone who plays horror games. You are standing in a room of your apartment, and no one else is home. There are some weird and creepy drawings at your desk, but that’s not all that surprising. As you venture into your kitchen, the phone rings, and that’s when the story really begins.
A man who calls himself Eugen calls your landline and insists that you must kill several people if you ever want to see your wife and daughter ever again. This, too, is not entirely unfamiliar territory — you can look for any number of action movies for a similar premise. However, I do appreciate the originality of this concept in a horror game. Usually, the player’s role is that of the victim, forced to flee or fight back against a terrifying murderer, so it’s a refreshing change to act as predator instead of prey.
Eugen instructs you on how to proceed, and his voice acting is creepy although also borders on goofy. There were a couple of lines that were delivered in such a way that it was difficult to take him seriously, and sometimes there were awkward phrases that didn’t sound quite right. In response, you’re given dialogue options, your primary way of impacting the game’s narrative. You’re able to express outrage, doubt, and indifference to Eugen’s requests and threats.
The first thing that Eugen tells you to do is murder a prostitute. At this point, I rolled my eyes but wanted to give the game the benefit of the doubt. Murdering prostitutes and questioning their humanity is not only founded in a deeply patriarchal structure, but is also just a tired and bland trope. Games have been dehumanizing sex workers to make their worlds seem gritty and taboo for decades, and it’s become both old and ineffective. The Works of Mercy, in this aspect, is far from original. Eugen consistently insists that sex workers are inherently despicable, and you are positioned such that you cannot really disagree with him. Dialogue options allow you to say that you shouldn’t kill people even if they’re bad, but not that sex workers aren’t inherently bad to begin with. While there’s something to be said for forcing the player to be a monster, there’s also something to be said for self-awareness and originality.
When the prostitute arrives, the dialogue branches offer two options: kill her or criticize her life choices so much that she leaves. Not only is this paternalistic and condescending, but it’s also irrational — a pretty effective way to get her to leave would be, you know, actually telling her to leave. Without uncovering any spoilers, it’s safe to say that this attitude toward women is continuous throughout The Works of Mercy, regardless of your choice to kill or not kill each of the victims delivered to you.
The actual methods of murdering someone in-game are rather limited as well. Gameplay mostly involves walking around your apartment, picking up a few objects and answering calls from Eugen and a couple of others. While this is effective enough for storytelling and exposition, it leaves something to be desired in terms of immersion and involvement. Many of the segments of the game require standing around for long periods of time doing nothing but listening to some screams or one of Eugen’s monologues, neither of which are compelling enough to hold your attention for long. Additionally, the player character not only has no real physical abilities but also no physical body, a fact that becomes glaring at times. Eugen keeps repeating the phrase “monsters can’t see their own reflections,” which, instead of adding depth or complexity to the protagonist’s lack of form, just reminds the player that the developers didn’t give their protagonist a body.
The strongest parts of this game are decidedly its dream sequences, which are both visually arresting and intellectually compelling. In these, you get the sense that The Works of Mercy may in fact have some greater meaning beyond superficial violence and moralizing. Sadly, they are only a small part of the game and are not given much time to make an impact.
In all, The Works of Mercy has a unique premise and some mildly interesting moments, but fails to present the player with a meaningful narrative and engaging gameplay.
The Works of Mercy is out now on Windows PC via Steam.