Amid the ongoing Syrian civil war, Nour sets off with her life savings in fleeing to safety in Europe. You play as Majd, Nour’s husband who had to stay behind to take care of his family. This interactive story is told entirely through the text messages between the two, with Nour continuously updating you about her journey through the war-torn lands, giving insight into the experiences of the refugees she encounters. Your interaction with the game lies with what you choose as Majd’s responses: some being merely part of a standard conversation and others being choices that make a significant impact on Nour’s story, ultimately affecting the fate of her journey.
Before seeing the announcement trailer for Switch and PC, I never heard of Bury Me, My Love despite being released on phone platforms for over a year, which is probably due to the lesser coverage iOS and Android games receive in such a large market compared to console releases. From the opening credits to the first delightful text-based exchanges between Nour and Majd, I felt ashamed of myself for not playing this game sooner.
Being a documented fiction based on real-world events, Bury Me, My Love has Nour interacting with you through messages, photos, links and emojis in illustrating her experiences and what’s happening at refugee areas around her. Even though on paper this sounds like a limited form of storytelling with a phone screen being your interface, it actually enhances the experience by putting Nour and Majd’s relationship at the centre of the tale.
They're just like any lovable couple you may know: they may argue, they understand the seriousness of their situation but they still make jokes, say how much they love each other and may send cheesey kissy face emoji's to each other in order to get through it all. Bouncing between your discussions of worry in response to pictures of destroyed buildings and heart-warming banter, you learn to fall in love with their relationship, being as concerned about Nour’s safety in getting to her destination as Majd is.
Going along the different narratives leading to 19 possible endings, you’re exposed to the brutal tragedy that the war has brought to refugees: Families living in camps without proper living conditions, homes being lost, mass overcrowding, children being separated from their parents. All of this is being told from Nour’s perspective, which gives you a commending urgency to get her to Europe safely because you want to protect the wonderful relationship you’ve become so invested in.
Caring for Nour’s welfare is when the gravity of her situation begins to weigh down on you. Giving her advice often really means deciding what she should do next. Where should she sleep tonight? Should she take an alternative route? Is it ok for her to spend a bit extra of her savings? The risk of danger lurks in the background in any of these decisions, given the sense of unpredictability that’s reflected on the war itself.
Story and gameplay are in a sense one in the same when it comes to Bury Me, My Love. However, the culmination of the choices you make for Nour's journey can hit you in full force depending on how your story for her has ended, especially if it's during your first playthrough. With the way the scripts for different pathways are written, it can be very easy to overlook the significance of a dialog option which may only seem like a casual choice at first, when it's actually a crucial point in the story, brilliantly mirroring the choices that can be made in real life.
For example, in what was the final act of the game, I inadvertenly made a decision which unexpectedly resulted in what felt like a horrific ending for Nour. In the mindset of Majd, I felt stunned and heartbroken for several minutes, knowing that my decision-making prevented Nour from achieving our shared dream, being a testament to highly qualitative marriage of story and gameplay Bury Me, My Love presents. The ending screen which advised me to try again to alter fate, propelled me in beginning the journey for Nour's salvation once more without hesitation.
With the large range of endings available and after trying once already, Bury Me, My Love easily encourages multiple playthroughs, as well as making it easy to pinpoint which early choices you can use to diverge fate the second time around. Choosing merely one different dialogue option provided a different adventure that was totally unique to the first, feeling like a fresh experience altogether. With the playtime for a single playthrough being around two hours, you're essentially given double or even triple that with the finely crafted writing that's utilized with this simple yet effective gameplay interface.
On the other hand, being advised to restart from the beginning following an unsatisfactory ending feels like a double edged sword. Knowing where exactly I went wrong at the time, I wanted nothing more than to go back to that one choice and select the other dialogue option. Being so emotionally invested, realising there are no means of chapter selections made me feel like my heart was just ripped out. Knowing I'd have to spend another two hours following the same journey just to find out what would happen if I made that other dialogue choice feels like a massive chore.
Being ported to the Nintendo Switch offers the opportunity to provide players with playing Bury Me, My Love in multiple ways and that opportunity has been taken in spades. You can, of course, play it normally being docked to your TV or in regular handheld mode but what was a delightful surprise, the settings menu's provide you the option to rotate the interface on the Switch and interact using it's touchscreen, giving you the same feeling of immersion when using a smartphone as Majd would have. With additional options to enlarge the size of the text to make reading easier and view a map of locations where Nour has been for tidbits of interesting trivia, the collaboration between The Pixel Hunt, Figs and ARTE France have made the impression of wanting to make Bury Me, My Love as engaging and as approachable as possible.
Even though playing with the Switch rotated using the touchscreen interface felt like the best way to play, one issue kept rearing its frustrating head. If accidentally pressing a button on one of the attached joy-cons, the game reverts back to requiring buttons controls to be interacting with, not allowing me to reverse this error by pressing the touchscreen or going into the settings menu. The only way I could go back to rotated touchscreen mode was by closing the game software and starting it up again, frequently taking me out of the enjoyful escapism I was experiencing. At the time of writing this review before release, I can only hope there'll be a Day One patch released to correct this.
Graphics and audio
For being The Pixel Hunt's first full-scale independent game that also mostly involves a messaging app interface, the art style for Bury Me, My Love is a beauty to behold. With subtle yet vibrant illustrations for selfies and Nour's photos that catalogue her journey, each felt like a hand drawn take from a graphic novel that made me smile each time a new one presented itself on Majd's phone, becoming a gorgeous backdrop to your phone onscreen.
Any score is saved until the game's most dramatic moments which works in its favour to full effect, a sombre yet soothing melody that resonates with the empathy you feel towards the plight of its characters. What I didn't expect to notice is how well the sound effects for each messaging notification is used. A little sound bite of Nour typing followed by a delightful ding of a recieved text delightfully captures that joy any refugee may have felt when getting a message from a loved one during those hard times.
With only a couple of hiccups in regards to chapter selection and what appears to be a patchable glitch, Bury Me, My Love doesn't just succeed in what it aims to do. It's raised the bar for its genre. Telling one of the most moving stories for any interactive adventure, it's truly pushed the envelope in what storytelling in a game can be and has made an instant classic that can be played by anyone. Not only does it offer a true look into the lives of civilians suffering through war but it's given us what I believe is one of the best love stories in the medium.
|+ A moving story about love and survival||– Lack of chapter selection|
|+ Meaningful dialogue options||– Touchscreen-button issue for Switch version|
|+ Opportunity for multiple diverse playthroughs|