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“Energy and persistence conquer all things, except the nasty boss fight against Robespierre at the end of level three. For that, I use cheat codes.”
“A game for filthy little atheists.”
Tom Paine is a third-person historical, mass marketing of radical pamphlets game unleashed by Revolution Games Studio, developers of the popular, sexually-charged, textile-based, Betsy Ross: Flag Maker series and the hysteria-inducing, nocturnal open-world horse racing game, Paul Revere in The Midnight Jockey.
The player controls the titular character, former bra salesman turned plucky revolutionary pamphleteer, as he lobs his bourgeoisie brochures and lets loose his liberal leaflets into a series of political and social upheavals. Prod the populace toward outright rebellion with superior sentence structure, then stir that anarchic pot with word jumble puzzle pages and money saving coupons.
Throughout this grassroots, guerrilla media blitz, Tom is continually threatened by the forces of illiteracy-wielding loyalist crowds, hurtful reviewers in federalist newspapers, trumped-up charges of seditious loitering and criminal use of a block printing device, not to mention some vicious paper cuts, but there are a number of powerful artifacts to help him overcome these odds. Collect new, influential viewpoints and grammatical super combos while uncovering hidden caches of acerbic wit on your mission to not only question authority, but to answer it with a firm fuck you.
As one of the earlier, in-game leaflets and the blurb on the back of the game's box tell us:
|These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. See special Penny Pincher coupons on the back of this brochure for extra savings on all cod fish and cod fish oil lamps at Bunning Brothers Lighting and Fish Market, located conveniently on the corner of Elfreth’s and Second. Ask for Gary or Alan.|
Kick some aristocratic ass. Distribute cheap tracts. Avoid the Stamp Tax. This is Tom Paine.
Crises in Three Cities
|A Crapulous Mass...|
The game begins in medias res, meaning the writers forgot to start at the beginning, so they decided to slip it in later, hopeful it would be seen as an artistic storytelling device instead of a stoned oversight. Tom Paine sits in a French prison, eyes fixed on a pin-up of a quite unsaintly Joan of Arc hanging on his cell wall. As the guards call for the oil lamps to be extinguished, a flashback occurs showing Tom, a happy brassierist in the heady days of 1759, closing up his corset shop, Chest Paine's, located in Sandwich, Kent.
Greeting his pregnant wife outside, he playfully caresses her bulging stomach and with a wink remarks that she is the size of two or three cows, plus a small ottoman. As his wife shoots him back a look of mock outrage, as if to say, "that's my husband... big wit, small prick," Tom feels his unborn child kick for the first time. And in that last happy moment, life as he knew it would be forever changed.
The official story is that the fetus had a rare prenatal condition, Stage Three Donkey legs, and that it had punted it's way clear through it's mother's stomach. Tom has his doubts. For one, how the hell did this Donkey-legged baby kick his bra shop on fire? And would a lethal, fetal kick sound so much like a discharged musket? He takes a deep breath — the smell of gunpowder is strong.
"Donkey legs, my ass," Tom thinks aloud.
In his search for clues, Paine discovers an empty vial of a designer street drug, Dogma, next to a matchbook marked with the address of a local excise office. Going undercover as a taxman, Tom uncovers a case of pure, uncut Dogma hidden in a locked storeroom and then another two cases at a nearby church bake sale, used for lacing the nut muffins. This is getting deep. He decides that to truly know his enemies, he must think like them, so he pops open a vial and takes a big whiff.
He immediately loses control of his senses. Somewhere in his brain, logic and reason are punching each other in the face, as compassion cheers wildly from the mental bleachers. Common sense rips off it's clothes and begins humping the air rhythmically to the beat of the techno music blaring from clarity's boombox. Just then, rational thought stands up and chucks a cinder block through the window of perception, complaining that the door was locked. Tom's head clears and he quickly realizes that Dogma is the most dangerous and addictive substance ever conceived.
A break in the case comes in the form of Benjamin Franklin, a flatulent inventor and life coach, who has just arrived from the American colonies to sample England's finest offal, which explains his tummy trouble. Franklin informs Paine that Dogma abuse is rampant, even amongst the colonists, and that the only way they can ever hope to stop it is by yelling at it profusely. Tom suggests that instead of shouting, they might try yelling with their hands onto little slips of paper and distributing them, thus conserving their vocal chords. Franklin immediately recognizes the young Paine's genius and insists that he travel to Philadelphia to try out this angry-worded letter idea.
Yo!! Common Sense
There is a crisis in the American colonies, which are sharply divided in two like an everything bagel — the upper half selfishly holding all the zest and sesame, leaving the bottom half with only a plain existence made of some scattered crumbs and stray caraway seeds. Luckily for this meager bottom half, Tom has landed in Philadelphia, the city forged from cobblestones and cream cheese. Help him slather his ideological schmear on the divided colonies in an attempt to squish the halves together to form one delicious new nation, at least until the whole thing devours itself.
Fresh off the boat, Paine wastes no time beginning his investigation, scouring for leads around the docks. He comes up empty-handed and heads to a tavern to collect his thoughts. Inside, he finds the patrons split into two factions — a loud obnoxious side led by Peter Porcupine, a pro-British pamphleteer, and a quiet, introspective side, led by nobody. "Won't anyone fight for freedom? Wherever there's trouble?" an old man ponders aloud.
After this thirty-seven minute opening cinematic, the player is able to freely explore the city of Philadelphia, which at the time was only four square blocks. Fill Tom's Common Sense meter with an array of fancy passing flourishes, increasing your bonus multiplier by chaining several satisfied and mentally stimulated customers together. Free the colonists' minds before Peter Porcupine closes them off for good. Peter has his own plan — keep the colonists indoctrinated and enslaved to the crown with free samples of Extra Strength Dogma, included in each of his pamphlets.
Distribute The More You Know, a pro-independence, pop-up pamphlet, and convince your new American brethren to breach from British rule. Then trash that pathetic monarchy even more with One To Grow On, the fast tract to a new nation. After all, Tom will never return to that dismal English isle, so what can it hurt?
Fight For Your Right To Liberty
Back on the dismal isle of Great Britain, Tom takes in his soggy surroundings, mutters a curse and promptly begins tossing literary raspberries at the King, in the hopes of being deported. In retaliation, the King sends one of his best agents, Edmund Burke, Codename: Ginger Whig, for some counter-raspberrying. Another Dogma-pushing pamphleteer, Burke proclaims that everyone should just settle down and succumb to the the rule of Kings and Nobles, already. Tom thinks that idea is shit. Hmm... guess this means... it's yet another... Pamphlet War!
Gather the proper words to assemble your secret weapon, My Left Rights, a twelve page colouring book, with all proceeds going to benefit the French Revolution. Attack the idea of an elite, ruling social class lording over the many by encouraging people to colour outside the lines, just so long as they don't scribble over the captions. Once you have convinced enough Brits to abandon their Dogma-induced allegiance to the aristocrats, the authorities will be on high alert.
Guide Paine out of the country in the back of William Blake's Free Love Wagon, a battered, Mastiff-drawn apple cart used to pick up groupies. Players must balance mushing the Mastiffs between pelting rotten apples at the angry aristocrats giving chase. Once players reach the halfway mark, the aristocrats whistle for their back-up fops, who gaily sashay from alleyways, unfolding fans in their wake. They fan the fattened brows of your pursuers, which allows them to gain ground. Mastiffs, aristocrats, fops and fans — time to get your ass to France.
Destroy All Religion!
Tom falls off the back of the apple cart in Paris, thankful there is still time to break himself off a piece of Revolution. Knowing he can't go this one alone, he joins the Girondins, a radical faction whose key principle is that all of France's problems can be solved over baguettes and polite conversation. Their rivals, the Montagnards, believe that all of France's problems can be solved over crème brûlée and public executions. Tom leaves these two factions to decide whose national snacktime is better, while he pulls out all the stops in one final push against Dogma. Go reason the hell out of 'em.
Tom focuses his powers of pamphleteering on overthrowing Louis XVI, which earns him an honourary degree from the French Institute of Hoighty Toity Noises. But after suggesting the former King's life be spared and that he should instead be sent to America, because those people are nuts, Tom attracts the attention of Maximilien Robespierre. Robespierre, a Committee of Public Safety Officer, is in charge of overseeing the Montagnards Safety Commission's aggressive Reign of Terror ad campaign. Maximilien is famous for spearheading the Revolution's most popular marketing ploy — a twenty-four hour product placement for the guillotine, held in the largest square in Paris.
Tom believes every day to be his last, so he sets his writing sights on ending Dogma addiction once and for all. Unveiling his finest masterwork — Lords of Dogmatown - Part One: Say Hi To Your Imaginary God For Me — he is promptly thrown in jail. The player must work to survive the horrors of French prison, such as those minimalist stage shows the warden performs with the inmates every Tuesday, the cafeteria guard chorale, a cellmate who pretends to speak only French, when you've clearly heard him mutter something disparaging about your penmanship once or twice to a guard in English, and a diet of warm croissants and year old table wine. Work to compose Lords of Dogmatown - Part Two: On Whether or Not You've Heard Back From Your Buddy God, Yet while developing a deepening friendship with Anacharsis Cloots, a Prussian who can get things.
Anacharsis is soon guillotined for getting one too many things — that snazzy Joan of Arc pin-up that Tom was staring at as the game began. Yes, we've finally caught up with ourselves and yes, this may just be the plot of Shawshank Redemption. The pin-up was covering — tada! — a hole that Tom had spent months burrowing into the wall with pure wit. The player must shimmy their way through a prison stink pipe toward the sliver of light at the end of the fetid tunnel. After traveling several thousand meters in buttery, French sewage, Tom emerges in a rainy courtyard.
"Freeeeeeeeeedom!" he calls to the pouring skies.
"Off with his head!" answers Robespierre, waiting for him by a massive guillotine.
Thus begins the final boss battle between Paine, Robespierre and Madame Bobbletête, the Terror's beloved guillotine. She is honoured to have dined with some of the finest minds during the course of the Revolution — Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Philippe Égalité, half the Girondins, and a few sixteen thousand others — and would love to add Paine's cranium to her basket. Or Robespierre's dome. Maybe both. She really isn't picky, which explains her morbid obesity.
A third-person brochurer, the majority of action is focused on racing down city streets littered with a variety of eclectic NPCs, hurling words at huddled masses with Tom's weaponized pamphlets. With each successful wordy bombardment, Tom will gather more sympathizing customers, increasing revenue for his cause. Game critics claimed this aspect of gameplay was a blatant rip-off of Atari's classic, 1984 arcade sensation, Paperboy. Some of the parallels are eerily similar — the NPCs in Paperboy were programmed to break dance, while Tom Paine's are seen baroque dancing; Paine has racist carriage jockeys, Paperboy's got racist lawn jockeys. In fact, the only real difference is that Paperboy had a bike, while Paine's was stolen outside of a novelty gift shop.
Pamphlet-making sections of gameplay are grammatical puzzles, in which the player must catch falling words upon a parchment, avoiding the fallacious arguments and punctuation errors that drop amongst them. Game critics claimed this aspect of gameplay was a blatant rip-off of Russia's classic, 1984 home computer sensation, Tetris. Some of the parallels are... actually, no. That one was completely spurious. Goddamn critics!
Being a truly open-ended game, players may choose to partake in a series of sidequests or attempt the main storyline missions in nearly any order. Engage in a three-legged footrace with Thomas Jefferson, sign autographs with John Hancock, knock back a few ales with Samuel Adams while discussing his cousin-in-law's assets or jack a horse-drawn carriage. The number of potential ways a single player can shit up the world that a full team of developers so painstakingly and lovingly crafted are staggering, which is why this is known as litterbox gaming — most players are coarse and full of crap.
Other Game Modes
New World Fortnight — The player must influence an entire crowd of protesters to stand in solidarity behind a randomly generated cause, such as equality for someone other than white, male landowners or abolishing the Cold and Hungry Tax, within the allotted time frame. As the player maneuvers through the city, sending scrolls hurtling in a flurry toward wide swaths of the rowdy, disorganized mob, a timer furiously counts down to zero. If the player fails to unite the crowd before that time, a warning flashes on the screen — Pamplet or Die!!! — as a swarm of British Redcoats, bayonets at the ready, swiftly pursue Tom to the tune of Yakety Sax. Get the word out or get your ass stung, this is hard mode, bitch!
Deist on Arrival — This game mode limits the player to composing all pamphlets in haiku form, trimming out miraculous word flourishes and prophetic rhetoric, or prophetoric, for a sparse, concise method of simplistic influence, or simplinfluence. And the best part:
with seventeen syllables,at least they'll read it.
While other games subject the player to archaic weapons like fists, pistols and mechanical arms holding dismembered arms holding machetes, Tom Paine knows there are no weapons more powerful than words. Go ahead and punch a scientist in the face; just see what he and his science buddies can scrape together by talking it out. Chances are, that scientist's black eye will heal long before you and your town are finished sorting the rubble pile from the debris pile. Smart words build smart bombs, holmes.
living in a carriage down by the Schuylkill. Franklin, always the gracious host, offers Tom some much needed cardio training and a prototype stapling machine. With this new binding method the player is able to add trick brochures, such as the highly-sought, saddle-stitched X-fold to their repertoire. Plus, dual wield the stapler and some handbills and Luther the town read... well-read. |
rolling paper, which allows the player to smoke their own ammunition to increase their mental awareness and bring on giggle fits to restore lost health.
queer as Polk. An area of effect attack, the pretty pictures are so powerful that they will attract large crowds to them like moths to a flaming underwear drawer factory. The fancy does not come easy; players must first find an invitation to William Blake's Secret Tea Party before devolving into a series of fetch quests: a derby hat for Erasmus Darwin, some fusilli for Henry Fuseli's series of nude figures crafted from corkscrew pasta, and a Lady-shaver razor for Mary Wollstonecraft. That's one hairy broad!
Thomas Paine, though not a Quaker himself, has been instructed in their ancient ways by his father and has learned their triple-threated Testimonies of Integrity, Simplicity and Dreadfully Excruciating Boredom. Drawing on these powers and humming a few bars from the Appalachian Jugband Opera Company’s 1754 hit, The William Penn Overture, allows him to enter Quaker time, slowing down all action until it resembles a typical Saturday evening Protestant worship service:
|Friends... Today I issue a dire warning of a grave moral and spiritual plague that is spreading throughout our fine, God-fearing land. I speak, of course, of the dangerous sin of the harpsichord. Friends, the harpsichord is an instrument of Satan, make no mistake. I have spent many evenings contemplating the existence of such a purely evil tool - a tool forged in the lakes of Hell and shipped through the bowels of Italy to set fire to our community. The Holy Spirit has filled me with the conviction to stand before you tonight and announce, with the same absolute certainty of last Saturday's dire warning of the evils of buckleless shoes and the suggestive hand puppet theater performances being staged in the Square opposite the schoolhouse on Tuesdays, that harpsichord music will be our tragic undoing. I see so many of our young people falling into ruin as they surround these voluptuous demon machines of evil, whilst a single minion of Satan pounds away at the keys, hammering sounds that remind me of the wails of the damned in Hell, screaming their tormented throes of anguish toward eternity... pounding, pounding, pounding away... hammering, yes — pounding and hammering — sometimes for several minutes at a time without stopping. All that dreadful noise fills their minds with shadows of rot as they stand encircled around this monstrous, woody behemoth, mesmerized by her succulent tongue and endowed hips, slowly tapping their feet, faces contorted in ecstatic, drunken, sinful bliss. And just wait until I tell you about the hidden messages from Satan that manifest when the harpsichord is played backwards...|
See that..? Sedatively boring. This form of slow motion affords Paine unique advantages over his political opponents and pamphleteering competition. Dodge Dogma dealers, undercover British operatives and the harsh political cartoons of James Gillray in real time, while raining down a hail of manifestos on the unsuspecting population. Quaker time also grants the player access to several special moves — Agrarian Justice Thrust, Minimum Wage Wordbomb and the Egalitarianism Launcher.
Plagued by Controversy
Rather than take responsibility for their ADD-riddled children's lack of discipline, or supervise them in any way other than plopping them down in front of a mature-rated game, parents decided to blame Tom Paine when their little loinspawn began questioning societal standards like religion, government and which fork to use for their salads. Outbreaks of radical freethinking began plaguing the game-playing youth:
An eight year old girl began listening to Rage Against the Machine, explaining to her parents that no other music truly captured her current worldview. Her father rebuked her musical taste and told her to go back to listening to the Wiggles. "Fuck you, dad, I won't do what you tell me," she alarmingly stated. She was shitting bubbles for the next five days.
A mother told her nine year old son to ready himself for church and was met with the response, "Aww, c'mon, Mom. First the Tooth Fairy, then Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Pedobear. Now this God character? Just let me play Tom Paine in peace — I almost have my printing press upgraded from block to movable type. And bring me a Pop-Tart."
Two teenage boys jacked a touristy horse-drawn carriage in Olde City, Philadelphia and nearly flattened an entire parade of Mummers. This incited parents and fans of flamboyant marching bands to boycott Tom Paine, Revolution Games, hotel brochures, advertising circulars, pocket calenders, road maps and Jehovah's Witnesses.
But, copycat carriage-jackers weren't the only problem. There was a much larger controversy... sex. Because parents will turn a blind eye to violence, but show their kid a tit and they go berserk.
The Hot Boston Tea Mod
With deft button pushing and the unstoppable desire to catch a glimpse of some virtual ta-tas, it was possible to unlock the Hot Boston Tea mod, a secret anachronistic mini-game that elongates the player's stamina bar.
In the mod, you invite Betsy Ross to visit Boston, Massachusetts on a professional outing to fight the Brits by caffeinating the bay. She accepts and the two of you undertake the long carriage venture, feigning disinterest in one another during the course of the ride. This only heightens the sexual tension, which is a downy blanket of lust by check-in. After settling in to your shared bedchamber, you ask Betsy if she'd like to hurry off to the protest. Her unsecured towel falls to the floor; Betsy is not timid.
"Why don't you bring that flagpole over here? I've got something I'd like to run up it. And down it. Then up it again. Repeatedly." She isn't subtle, either.
Regardless, Boston Harbor isn't the only place where teabags dropped that white hot December night.
Ripped From the Shelves
Once the Hot Boston Tea mod was discovered, it wasn't long before a mother entered her living room to find her teenage son sitting there, staring at the screen, furiously tapping a button with one hand and vigorously working his joystick with the other, in quite a different manner than the game box's description suggested was necessary. Then, turning toward the television, she saw Betsy Ross' breasts, in all their HD glory, and Paine motorboating her with every button press. This situation was repeated in millions of households and became a national epidemic in seven countries.
The game was briskly pulled from distribution, but it was far too late. The yanking only heightened the game's popularity, with gamers crawling into every corner looking for a copy, anxious to see those patriotic jubblies for themselves. But in playing through the game merely to see some pixel tits, players from ranging backgrounds experienced a story wrought with conflict and intrigue, characters that were naturally fleshed out and fluid to the game's progression, moments of clear introspection and others of outward exuberance — in short, this video game was art. Everyone who wasn't named Roger Ebert agreed — right up until the game's ending.
A Bad Ending for Paine
After Tom's triumphant escape from France and their Head's of State collection, he returns to what are now the United States of America, where he isn't recognized as the national treasure that he assumed he would be. Though the Americans craved their independence from Britain, they've still got a jones for Dogma. Some dependencies are tougher to kick than others and before television people needed something to make their brains go all fuzzy.
Having failed his lifelong, freethinkers battle against the mentally shackled masses, Tom retires to a farm where the player lives out his days performing menial tasks, playing hay raking minigames and sending scathing hate mail to George Washington. Upon his death, Tom is buried in a small grave with a splintered, wooden headstone that reads: Here Lies Atheist... How Very Dare He. Peter Porcupine, his former arch-rival, returns to dig up Tom's remains. The bones are sent back to England, where Paine's skull is auctioned at Sotheby's. It fetches a handsome sum, which is heavily taxed and all proceeds from the sale are donated to the Catholic Church.
Though the game's end credits cue at this point, the player is free to continue exploring the world, finishing sidequests and finding hidden parts of speech as Dr. Benjamin Rush, a lifelong friend of Paine. This changes the game mechanics in a variety of ways, all of which annoyed the hell out of the player base. Ben Rush, uncomfortable with the way he throws, loses the tossing of pamphlets and opts to quietly whine toward people instead. Also, the health restoring smokeables are replaced with a more clinical approach — Dr. Ben's Moral Thermometers, Rush's own brand of extra strength Turkish opium laxatives. This particular animation made players so uncomfortable, they generally opted to drown Ben in one of the game's three major rivers at the first sign of imminent danger, never playing the game again.
Betsy Ross' star-spangled pasties only go so far.
Other Revolution Games
- Tibetan Monks: Fire Walk With Me - The gaming world's finest and most fully-rendered immolation simulator. Join His Holiness, the Dalai Lama as he teaches you the Four Noble Truths of burning to death without screaming in immense pain to protest a series of history's greatest wars. Earn enough points and shake off all of that samsara stuff for good. China stole your nation, so what more do you have to lose?
- Che Guevara's MotoGP - Traverse the poverty-stricken, though rustically romantic, backdrop of South America and race for freedom's finish line. Watch out for cacti, peasants and rattlesnakes, all being fired at you from cannons — courtesy of the CIA.
- Dreadlock Rancher 2 - Cultivate an ecosystem upon your scalp. Nattify those dreads and encourage representatives from thirteen different species of lice to crossbreed until they're genetically strong enough to plant and harvest a dandruff farm.
- Tank Man - Who can stop a tank parade with nothing but two bags of groceries and a pair of China's finest brass ones the size of Tiananmen Square? The same guy who'll be executed in twenty-seven hours unless you can guide him out of the country. Be stealthy or be dead — the price of dissent in China.
- Hunger Strike — The Gandhi Edition - Go the distance and don't give in to barely edible temptation as passerbys wave multiple varieties of grease-laden, hormone-stricken fast food in your face. Hold out for your cause in this corporate-endorsed, button-mashing RPG... it's a Whopper of a good time!
- Duck, Duck, Duck - Friday, November 22, 1963. Dealey Plaza. Dallas, Texas. You are the President of the United States and hey... a parade in your honour. Trouble is, between you and the end of the parade route are at least nineteen different gunmen and they've all got their sights set on you. Do you have what it takes to change history? Quick! Duck, duck, duck!