A Swing And A Miss

HIGH The epic torture techniques.

LOW My save file getting corrupted.

WTF A cutting sound effect kicks in when choosing to mutilate a criminal.

Imagine being an executioner in darker days and torturing criminals to get information on potential rebellions — it’s the premise of story-driven The Executioner, and it seemed to strike all the right notes at first glance thanks to a dark theme, moral choices as plot devices, and a historically-inspired setting. Unfortunately, stat-driven components take center stage and ruin the immense potential for suspense and immersion.

In this text-based choice-driven RPG, the player controls the son of the royal executioner on the day he takes over for his father… by picking up dad’s axe and cutting his head off for supposedly betraying the kingdom. With an epically-narrated cutscene, the stage was set and I expected Executioner to fully commit to the grim morality of the profession.

In some ways, it does. Executioner is set in a medieval setting on the brink of a societal collapse, so the player is out to save his own skin and preserve the family legacy. There are moral choices to be made, such as when the player has to decide whether to help a struggling stranger survive or exploit them for information.

In terms of how it plays, there are storytelling sections in which huge chunks of texts can be read before making choices. There’s also travelling between locations and managing health and finances on a map screen. Of course, there’s also the most iconic component — a torture chamber where the player can select various methods of pain for prisoners in order to get answers on questions presented as objectives.

At times, playing Executioner was mentally exhausting. I remember cringing when cutting off a prisoner’s limbs or waterboarding a poor fellow to reach my interrogation goals. The proper approach to torture is crucial in determining outcomes — I ended up killing prisoners multiple times, and it made me feel like even more of a monster. I’m sure this is what the developers intended when crafting this experience, and in this respect, it’s successful.

Sadly, except for the sense of moral conflict and diversity of choices in inflicting pain, Executioner fails to deliver on other aspects.

First, the writing of this text-based title is poor. Much is probably due to being translated from Russian (and some lines weren’t even translated at all!) but the frequency of strange sentences and missing words is unacceptable, especially for a text-based game. My enthusiasm was quickly soured because of this, and any hopes of fully understanding the plot were lost as well.

Another issue was the absence of auto or manual saving at any time — I usually had to play through an entire in-game day (equaling several pages of text) before I could save and quit. Worse, my first save file became corrupted and I had to restart the campaign for this review.

Apart from those things, my main issue with gameplay is the reliance on stats. Ideally, Executioner would’ve been a purely story-driven experience in which my morality (or lack thereof) would be the guideline through plot choices. Instead, stats like Health, Sanity, Worldview, Conscience and other attributes changed based on my choices, reducing the moral aspects to a mathematical construction in which I was inclined to think in terms of numerical value instead of conscience.

Also, the existence of a market and money management elements similarly disrupt the proceedings. There are activity points to earn and options to ‘work’ at some locations. Wasn’t I supposed to be a royal executioner? Where’s that sweet palace money at? Medicine and food have to be bought on a daily basis as well, again borrowing aspects from genres this unique plot doesn’t shine brightest in.

When comparing The Executioner‘s frustrations to its merits, the negatives outweigh the developers’ intentions. This title seems like it plans to do and say a lot about morality within a cruel society, but its stat-based design feels like it’s going to need a huge overhaul before the statements it wants to make can come out clearly.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Disclosures: The Executioner was developed and published by Lesser Evil Games. It’s currently available for PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The Executioner has no ESRB rating, but I think it would be safe to say this title should be kept from children. There are frequent sound effects simulating horror as agonized faces of humans are depicted and mutilations occur. While I haven’t encountered anything visually horrifying, the implications could be overwhelming.

Colorblind modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Except for a few narrated lines, cruel sound effects and a mediocre repeating tune, the game relies heavily on reading subtitles, of which sizes are adjustable in the options. This title is therefore fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: There are no remappable controls and no control diagram, but it’s essentially a point-and-click with dialogue options, only requiring a mouse.

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