Gerda: A Flame in Winter review: a fascinating morality tale from the Second World War

When I first booted up Gerda: A Flame in Winter, I thought I had it pegged within the first ten minutes of playing.

Set in Denmark during the Second World War, you play as a compassionate and confident nurse named Gerda, who returns to her hometown to work for the local doctor during the occupation by Hitler’s forces. The burg of Tinglev sits on an often contested border with Germany, and consists of townsfolk of both German and Danish nationality. Obviously there’s a clash of ideologies, in which the Germans see the occupation as a welcome turn of events, while the Danes would prefer to retain their autonomy. Then there’s our courageous heroine, who is the offspring of both Danish and German families, and who must navigate day-to-day life with people of opposing viewpoints.

Being both a citizen of the United States and a health-care provider (when I’m not gallivanting as an amateur games writer), I found Gerda to be a compelling protagonist – and I am well aware of what it’s like to live in a divided country. When Gerda first pulls into the train station just in time for Christmas, she’s greeted by her husband, a gracious and deliberate Dane, and her father, who recently joined a party that, while they don’t necessarily follow all the ideologies of Nazism, do feel patriotic towards Germany. It’s an interesting confrontation right from the get-go, and one that I felt was easy to navigate because of historical hindsight, but also because Gerda’s father comes off as a vaudevillian idealist who can’t think beyond his small sphere.

As the first act flowed into the second, I thought this was going to be a game with obvious platitudes that flowed into an obvious conclusion, basically opposing the horridness of Nazism and being a good person. It’s that last part that made the game’s situations stickier than I had anticipated, and made the game as a whole incredibly captivating.

At one point you are given a particularly murky gray choice, when a Gestapo solider is brought into the clinic you work at because the severity of his injuries meant he might not have survived the trip to a larger hospital. Adding to the drama, the physician you work for is decidedly anti-German, and you’re in the middle of checking out a local pastor who has a sore throat that makes it hard for him to speak to his congregation.

One the one hand, I was in line with the good doctor; it was unfair of the Gestapo to barge in and demand aid simply because of who they were. On the other, the accident wasn’t the soldier’s fault, and he was indeed in very bad shape. Thus the dilemma – does all the talk of sticking it to the Nazis amount to a hill of beans when you’re put in a situation where you could literally let somebody die just because of their beliefs? As you can see, it’s not as easy as I first surmised. This was, and to some extent still is, something I deal with in my own line of work. Granted, nobody has the intent of doing harm or causing trouble, but our beliefs don’t always match.

At the end of the day, I still serve my community by helping even those who rub me up the wrong way.

So, Gerda turned into a very precarious visual novel/point-and-click adventure that became enthralling because the choices you make have more meaning than in your average game with a morality system. Even though the game gives you plenty of information on both the proclivities of Tinglev’s villagers and a literal numeric rating on how you stand with different factions, I mostly went with my gut. You could certainly game things if you wanted to (and if you want to see the multiple endings, this is probably a slick way to do so), but I just let the proverbial dice roll and dealt with the results.

I wasn’t expecting Gerda: A Flame in Winter to hit as hard as it did with its morality play, but it’s a fantastic game because of it. It kept me invested in the story, not just because it goes to places a lot of games fear to explore, but because you come to find yourself endeared to Gerda herself and the citizens of the township she calls home. It’s also a fascinating way to study history, with its adherence to things that really happened, and it digs deeper than typically superficial WW2 first-person shooters. It’s a really great game, all around.

Gerda: A Flame in Winter was developed by PortaPlay and published by DON’T NOD, and it’s available on PC and Switch. We played the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Gerda: A Flame in Winter was provided by DON’T NOD. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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