Semi-Happy Christmas

Martial Law takes place in 1980s Poland under communist rule, where father and financial lowlife Stanislaw is working towards getting his daughter Christmas presents to make the holiday one to remember.  The cold and bitter winter isn’t the only complication that Stanislaw has as poverty, marital issues, and a lack of time force his hand to help others to reach his goal of making at least one person’s Christmas something to love.

Straight out of the 2021 Polskigamedev.PL GameJam, Martial Law is a 2D side-scrolling visual novel following Stanislaw’s goal of Tangerines, Candies, and his daughter’s much-requested doll for Christmas.  To get to that goal, you’ll encounter people across the city to help you get what you need with more branches than you would imagine. Walking through the streets you’ll find Stainslaw’s drinking buddy, with whom you can partake in drinking until you can’t feel feelings anymore or abstain from the request and stay sober. Stanislaw can help a socially grand but forever busy man help provide comfort and company to his mother in exchange for a Tangerine Card, or just beat the hell out of him for it.

While taking Stanislaw through each predicament, small tidbits about common landmarks and ways of life educate you. Learning how hard it was to purchase anything international in the country, where multiple currencies segregated stores for miles away, and how much Carp played a pivotal role in poverty-stricken areas gives you a sense of how daily struggle compounded and why it took its toll on everyday life.

While Game Jams are usually short on time in terms of game development, this lack of time shows in the writing.  Situations are wrapped up quickly when a couple more lines could’ve helped build out scenes more. One of the endings gets resolved so unnaturally and quickly it feels like a Jedi Mind Trick was pulled to win this years-long argument and domestic split, to the point that it’s almost comical.

But for a game built on a time budget, Martial Law taught me some things and took me to a historical point in time I didn’t know much about. It’s simple, to the point, and leaves its impact all in the time it has available. It’s what game jams are for, and I’m happy I got a chance to see life through the eyes of another.

Martial Law is currently free to play on Steam and was reviewed through the Steam client.