Adios has nothing up its sleeve. The Steam store description says it’s about a pig farmer (Rick Zieff) who has decided he’s going to stop helping the mob dispose of their victims. He spends a day talking about that decision with his old friend, the hitman who has been bringing him all those dead bodies and the money for making them disappear. The hitman warns the farmer that the mob doesn’t accept resignations or retirements, and if he persists in quitting, then he’ll be killed. The two spend the day together talking around and about that choice, but it’s not up for negotiation. The farmer can’t be dissuaded. The hitman can’t grant him clemency. They pass the day together, doing chores and trying to make one another understand their choices.
It unfolds across a series of short scenes around a different part of the farm or a different chore. They milk goats, shovel shit, tinker with a car, and throw horseshoes. As a player, you take part in these tasks by hitting “interact” with the horseshoe, or the car, or the pig shit. I had to do a few of them more than once because somehow the scene glitched, and a key object couldn’t be interacted with, or because somehow the two characters were standing in the wrong place and so the scripting broke. I heard the two men reminisce about their time fighting in Vietnam three times before I was finally able to wheel the barrow full of shit across the farm to the right place for the scene to end.
In a lot of ways Adios is a short stage play wedged awkwardly into the shape of a video game. Its creative director, Doc Burford, is a critic and colleague who has written for Waypoint a few times, and that association is probably a major reason why I was interested and stuck with it. Because it makes a rough first and second impression. The blank-faced character models barely move and emote not at all. It’s indifferent or hostile to your presence as a player, and most of the time when it presents you with a dialogue choice, most of the options are grayed out because your character just can’t or won’t say them aloud. I didn’t much enjoy playing it, but a few days later I’m still thinking about it because in its short, roughly 75 minute playtime it landed a few big moments that are more immediate and memorable than all the seams and gaps in game’s illusion.
In particular, the character of the hitman, played by DC Douglas has the most interesting arc of the game. He goes from trying to defuse the situation through affable chatter to more pointed remarks and suggestions about ways the farmer could solve his problems short of quitting. In response, the garrulous farmer unloads one lecture after another about his various fixations: the nobility of horses, the tragic fate of the American chestnut tree, the meaning of fixing machinery. He’s an exasperating character, and eventually the hitman snaps.
It’s a brief eruption but it brings the action of the game to a head. He stops trying to cajole and cheer the farmer and finally just confronts him directly not just with the ramifications of his decision, but the way he is boxing his friend into playing the executioner. It’s a neat scene that recasts what’s been going on. The hitman might have been positioned as the menacing antagonist of the story, but he’s spent the entire game trying to figure out a way to talk his friend off this ledge. In fact, in a game about conversation, he’s been the one making all the moves to try and find a different outcome, and it’s the farmer whose dialogue tree has been pruned to a single branch of self-destruction.
The outburst brings the real issues into the open, and makes Adios less a game of suspense and more one about regret and despair. It also leaves room for some interesting questions about these two characters and their own motivations and feelings. The hitman’s central questions throughout the game is “why?” and the answer gets murkier as it goes along. What is framed at the start as a crisis of conscience looks decidedly less noble either every passing conversation, and in fact the mafia and all those dead bodies that get fed to the pigs might be tangential to the real story being told.
That story is not told particularly well as a video game. Crude limitations are everywhere, and the game’s presentation lacks any real capacity to immerse. But the relationships that matter the most feel convincing when it counts, and leave room for interpretation after the credits role. We have scarcely any ability to affect the choices these characters make, but we’re left a lot of space to consider what we make of them. There’s a lot about Adios that’s simple, but least of all is the question of what it’s really about, and what we’ve been made a party to.