The Cat and the Coup is a freeware “documentary game” (it’s a thing, I swear) about the brief rule of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, and the 1953 CIA-led coup d’etat that brought him down. This is an extremely fascinating period of history that, even as a history major, I had not heard of before playing the game. You play as Dr. Mossadegh’s cat, forcing the Prime Minister to relive his tragic time in office. The gameplay is merely passable, but the art is gorgeous and the story is both educational and well told. This game is another example of the interesting and edifying things games are capable of when profit is no longer the main goal.
The story is a tragic one. It begins with Dr. Mossadegh’s death, and travels backwards to before he was elected Prime Minister. You experience this as a series of rooms with text on the bottom. As you complete each one, you fall, passing others by completely, until the end when everything is reversed and you get to see his complete story in the correct order. As I said, Dr. Mossadegh was Iran’s first democratically-elected Prime Minister, and he was beloved throughout the world. He even landed on the cover of Time magazine, which called him “the George Washington of Iran.”
But his decision to nationalize his nation’s oil fields ran afoul of the United Kingdom, the United States, and the powerful oil interests in both of those world powers. The world quickly turned on him, and the CIA funded a coup d’etat that removed him from power in 1953. Even if it were fiction, I would say this is a powerful story that deserved telling, but the fact that this is a seldom-discussed piece of history makes it even more important. It’s rare that you can come away from a game a more informed and enlightened person, but that’s exactly what The Cat and the Coup delivers.
The gameplay is essentially some point-and-click-adventure type puzzles mixed with some light physics puzzles. As the cat, you are trying to make it to the next screen down, to uncover the next part of the story. To do so, you’ll need to move to opposite sides of seesaw rooms, hang from chandeliers and swipe various objects, usually putting a hole in the floor that allows you to progress. While you couldn’t call it challenging or deep, the gameplay is reasonably fun, and works as a way to string the story together.
All of this is wrapped up in an art style that is absolutely beautiful. It is a strange mix of collage and intricate ancient middle eastern painting. I’m told the art is inspired by “Persian miniatures,” which I can’t confirm personally, but I will say that it is stunning to look at, and attracted me to the game before I knew anything else about it. There’s so much to see on each screen that I spent about twice as much time with the game as most people do (30 minutes as opposed to 15), just sitting and trying to experience as much of it as possible.
If this game were $5, I would say that either the art or the story alone would be worth the price of admission, but since it’s free, that value equation is even easier. If you’re into history, politics, Persian art, or just games that do something unique, you’ll find something to love about The Cat and the Coup. You can download it for Windows/Mac here or through Steam here.