Modern society is a tricky little beast isn’t it? Security, liberty, and freedom, three pillars of governance that seem to be in a constant state of tumultuous war with one another. But this raises an interesting question: which do we value more? I’d argue that that depends on the time of day that you ask us.
Enter Orwell, the first game from developer Osmotic Studios, serves as a harsh reminder of the power wielded by our gubernatorial entities. The premise behind Orwell is one that shares striking similarities with the world at large, sometimes to a devastatingly terrifying effect. The game begins on a quiet day in the National capital of Bonton. pedestrians and passerbys walk past the square, making idle conversation and taking in the magnificent day, unaware that in a few short moments, their lives will be forever altered. An explosion rocks Bonton to its core and reeks utter devastation on the land and the lives of those involved. This incident spurs support for the use of Big Brother. An intrusive snooping tool used to sift through all of the data available on an individual. It’s dastardly, intrusive, and downright creepy to nonchalantly intrude upon the very privacy that people hold near and dear yet that is what will be required of you. Few games have the ability to churn my stomach and make me react to the actions I am committing and I think a big part of that comes from the fact that I wish it was purely fiction. The more I played Orwell the more I hunkered down on this gnawing belief that this felt more like historical fiction and that was an uncomfortable thought.
Orwell functions primarily as a visual novel, and secondarily as bad guy simulator 2016, with a hearty reliance on searching for painstaking details. Do not be surprised when Orwell calls upon every sleuthing skill that you had ever developed and then some. And if you feel that you have no detection ability whatsoever than be prepared to practice because Orwell will challenge you. To help provide a baseline of understanding I will, reluctantly (out of no fault of either of the games but purely for what is required of the players), compare it to Her Story. Grueling and obsessed with the nitty gritty. I’m not saying this as a bad thing either, I absolutely loved Her Story and *spoiler alert* Orwell.
Visually, Orwell is complex and interesting. Every visual design aspect feels specifically crafted to create this feeling of unpleasantness. Not necessarily that the character is made unpleasant by their actions but rather the player is left feeling unclean. Characters are portrayed as jagged, pseudo-ink blots and this really helps to push an important visual motif, that any of these people could be you. There’s just enough detail on character portraits to distinguish who the characters are but it’s just shy of realistic to really immerse you in this terrible world.
Orwell’s gameplay is not difficult. There is no combat or anything of the sort. What you will need to be is detailed and crafty. Always on and aware to point out any discrepancy that could be used to further your case. If you do not pay attention and tread carefully you will face legitimate consequences, and as the game is episodic, characters relationships and the state of the world will be directly impacted by your decisions and actions. The game will mostly require you to gather information on selected targets by going through their text messages, social media posts, etc to compile a convincing web to sate your beliefs. I keep harkening back to this idea that Orwell makes you feel like a bad person and I think the gameplay is the greatest reinforcement of this concept. If you with your objectives there is this beautiful moment of self-fulfillment, a momentary victory in a sea of atrocities, yet as the moment subsides the harsh realizations of your actions wash over you. Yes, you just determined that this Woman you were spying on was possibly a terrorist. You have completed your mission. Success! Right? Well, it’s not as simple as that. Think of what you had to do to acquire this information. You threw away this Woman’s right to privacy. You have violated her in one of the most intrusive of ways a modern citizen can be violated. Spied, sifted, selected her private information in an attempt to reinforce your suspicion. You don’t know if what you did was right, nor justified. All you know is that you forfeited the moral high ground and I think that’s a large crux of this game’s message, as it was the message of the novel that it draws its inspiration from.
One aspect that pulled me in and immersed me was the e-mail messaging from the game. While it might seem a bit
In preparing for the review of Orwell I went back and dusted off my edition of 1984. A powerhouse novel that I absolutely fell in love with when I first digested its haunting message. With each passing year, the dark fiction behind 1984 is given a voice. Someone is always willing to push us closer to the edge of that dark abyss. We, as a collective of countries, have dabbled in the rape and pillaging of people’s privacy. Collecting e-mails, text messages, phone conversations, you name it, we’ve done it. The UK’s Snoopers Charter is just the latest attempt in our frantic desire to make the dystopian nightmare of 1984 more fact than fiction. Orwell modernizes the horror, makes it understandable for our current audience, plainly shows us that the actions we are committing as players are not unlike the actions that are committed each and every day around the world. I feel that Orwell is necessary to play, there’s a neat story drawn along in there that I’m going to delve into in a narrative analysis piece that should be on the site soon. But, you should go out there and play this game. It requires a lot of you, it will push and pull, and ask you to do things that for sure fall outside of my comfort zone, but it will do so to prove a point. A point that is now more pressing than ever. We lie at the precipice of interesting times, and all I can think about is how I wish I could Steam Gift Orwell to every politician in every country, and maybe mail them a copy of 1984 while I’m at it.
The shipping charge will probably cost me a fortune.
4 out of 5
+ Complex and Innovative
+ Fascinating Story
+ Interesting gameplay loop
– High barrier to entry; you must be fully aware as to what kind of gamer you are.