Archives by Day

June 2019

The Occupation

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Developer: White Paper Games
Release Date: March 5, 2019

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


PS4 Review - 'The Occupation'

by Joseph Doyle on June 7, 2019 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

The Occupation is a politically driven, first-person, narrative game set in 1980’s North-West England in which you play as a whistleblowing journalist.

Buy The Occupation

It's pure coincidence that I get to review The Occupation, of all games, just days after British politics made big news when Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, announced her resignation in the fallout of Brexit negotiations. Just my luck! Happenstance aside, The Occupation is a British political thriller (unlike the long yawn of failing Brexit strategies) focused on anti-immigration sentiment possibly becoming law, and the actors behind it passing or becoming stifled, unscrupulous or otherwise. White Paper Games and Humble Bundle have created a game with much intrigue, especially in trying to tackle a genre that could largely lose zeal due to its dry subject matter with walking simulator gameplay. The seedy undercarriage of politics has a light shone upon it in The Occupation, captivating the audience in its storytelling abilities through many of its elements while providing respectable but sometimes-sluggish gameplay.

The bulk of the appeal of The Occupation lies in its ability to weave a compelling narrative, done through well-defined characters, thorough world-building, and thoughtful gameplay. The Occupation opens up with text tapped out typewriter style, briefing you of the characters and time. The noir/mystery aesthetic is set from the outset as an older man (Charles Bowman) argues with a young woman (Scarlet Carson) about the ethics of the work they do while the dim golden glow of the dining room is contrasted against the dark windows and pitter-patter of rain.

This feeling is further developed in the next scene, when you take on the role of Carson as she ruefully narrates her past on a ledge overlooking a largely sleeping city, stereotypical cigarette in hand. You play through the first level as Carson, sabotaging the group she works for due to her newfound differences in political ideology, maudlin and distraught over the memories of co-workers and her husband. Fade to black.

It's months later, and you find yourself as a reporter who's looking into an explosion at the Bowman Group's facilities. The crime has been pinned on Alex DuBois, and you go through the offices to uncover what happened that fateful night to lead to the deaths of 23 people. The game is mired in questions of the politics and morality surrounding immigration, and it lets the player decide how far you're willing to go to stifle or continue the anti-immigration legislation, and how much you actually want to know.

While all of this is compelling in its own right, something must be said for the investment into the characters. The reporter, Harvey Miller, reflects mystery by being completely silent for the entire game (sparse dialogue choices aside), while the dozen other people have voice actors. You uncover more about him by picking up books to see that he penned them himself, or exploring his apartment and reading notes. Games have the ability to show rather than tell, and The Occupation takes full advantage, leaning into its own tone and genre. As a further example, one of the characters is a security guard you have to avoid while snooping about the Bowman buildings. While having him be a shuffling man would've worked fine, they injected life into him by making him a struggling actor, hinted at through his performance of famous movie quotes and the visible copies of his audition tapes. The janitor, Marlon, talks about fishing, and you even see him doing so at one point. These additions are both charming and elucidating, and they add some cheery depth that divides the title from others of its ilk, such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

The gameplay taps into the player's curiosity and lets it flow at their own rate. The game is set up as a sort of call-and-response between Miller and Carson; the latter's sections are shorter to show the player the tricks of the trade that'll be used in Miller's upcoming stealthier sections. The lion's share of the game revolves around slinking from office to office, gathering intel through puzzles concerning notes, keycards, tapes, and more. In your dossier, you consult the collection of clues and potential questions to ask the Bowman employees, all the while avoiding the security guards.

The gameplay reflects a walking simulator in many ways, since it's played from a first-person perspective with minimal interaction with the environment. Sneaking breaks up this monotony, but all of this goes into the realism The Occupation wishes to portray, along with the time mechanics, which urge the player forward to collect everything they need. The player attends scheduled interviews with certain characters to go further down the political rabbit hole. This raises the narrative to a whole new level and drives the player to want to learn more. The game fosters that curiosity and even pushes for replayability, so the player can try to pick up all the little pieces that may have been missed the first time.

The music and visuals are well polished and add a lot to a game that doesn't offer much in terms of dynamic gameplay. The art in The Occupation is best compared to that of Bioshock or Dishonored — all of the visual assets have a slight cartoony aesthetic, and everything looks a little softer, lighter, and with fewer harsh edges. The game seeks to faithfully reflect the world as parallel to ours, adorned with little items from office spaces that evoke the banality of everyday life — a mug here, a pen there, perhaps a tea bag found in the trash can (or the bin, as they would say). Likewise, light in this game is expertly used to bolster the overall tone, promote the stealthy gameplay, and intrigue the player during different scenes. For example, you enter a building without electricity as the rain pounds the walls and windows. A voice comes on over the intercom as you try to get the lay of the land, and you use the slivers of light afforded to you from the glow of electronic doors or windows in your midst. It sets a desperate but evocative feel to that level, and it's echoed in the rest in a similar and successful way.

The music, on the other hand, is quite varied, blending the original soundtrack with music of the '80's while also using it as a tool. The original soundtrack uses ethereal piano riffs, swelling synthesizers, heavily echoed guitar melodies and more to accent the mystery and gloomy nature of the story and aesthetics. The slow, deliberate, and emotionally pained music evokes something similar to that of soul-searching on a cold, rainy afternoon — a sense of life muffled by clouds and confusion. For those whose lives lack listlessness, just watch the first 30 seconds of the "Cat in the Hat" movie — but I digress. What the game does particularly well with the music is that it intersperses music of the time into the mix that will play on radios, record players or cassette decks scattered about the settings you're investigating. It's a nice touch, and speaks to the craft and effort the developers put into the world-building (and consideration that you can actually hit the power buttons on these devices in-game, if you choose). Overall, the music is both composed wonderfully and used creatively; it's a fine blend indeed.

While this game is well designed, the execution of these different elements isn't always done with the player in mind. Some of the most egregious of these is the load times. Frequently while playing, you'll hit a load zone, and the game will take 30 seconds to a minute to load, a percentage ticking up as you lose your train of thought and return to the outside world. Also, the GUI is incredibly small and seems like it was made solely with computers in mind, with the pinpoint accuracy necessary to pick up or use every object. It feels like clicking a needle in a haystack. While this may not be an issue for other games of this nature, The Occupation is riddled with puzzles that you need to solve by pressing individual keys for a passcode, buttons on a tape player, keycards to swipe, etc. Some of these blows are softened by the ability to zoom in, but it can be incredibly frustrating to fumble with the controller to perform a single task that has to be done over and over again.

Likewise, the game glitched on me at least once, where the patrolling characters stopped in their places, preventing me from using one room for the rest of the time. Finally, the walking animation for the characters is glacially slow. You feel the strain of each footfall while you're rushing to follow each lead to its end, and it's worse when you're trying to answer a phone call from your secretary or evade security. The combinations of these issues lead the title to feel incredibly slow, and while this matches the tone, it takes away from the enjoyment when you can feel such a rigid divide between what you want the character to do and actually executing it. The game is good as a whole, but these issues really hamper or derail the fun that can be had.

The Occupation merges the political thriller into a video game in a fantastic way, but the slow burn of politics and its drama seeps into the gameplay and makes the title more tedious overall. The web of relationships and information is complicated and dizzying, just like its real-life political counterpart, which does little to benefit this game. The speed of the game is also about as fast as a well laid-out bureaucracy. While this minutia can be grating at points, the game is a narrative tour de force and leads you through the twists and turns of the events and their precursors in a largely enthralling way. For those with the patience to navigate the corridors of office spaces looking for the correct crumpled-up note, or those captivated by the idea of a British political thriller in video game form, The Occupation may just be your cup of tea.

Score: 7.5/10

More articles about The Occupation
blog comments powered by Disqus