Orwell: A Look at Episodes 1&2

Just the other day, I was completing my daily ritual of scrolling through all the things Steam thinks would interest me, which always seems to contain “Mount Your Friends” (I’m ok, but thanks for the offer) and that one weird Anime related title which seems unnecessarily sexualised, and I came across a title I hadn’t heard anything about called Orwell. The name itself pretty much gave the game away as to the content, in that if I were to make a 1984/V for Vendetta style dystopian Big Brother world game, I’d probably have a big old spider diagram with “ORWELLIAN” smack bang in the middle. However this isn’t your run of the mill, Big Brother is a restriction of our freedoms, game and because of this, and other reasons, so far I’ve loved it.

Here is my very short review. If you like “Papers, Please”, you will love this game in the same way that that woman tried to marry a rollercoaster. £5.94 on Steam right now with 15% off. Do it.

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Here is my long review:

Right from the off you “log on” to the government’s extensive data collating system, the titular Orwell. You make a profile, enter and email so they can contact you with case updates, and then you’re down the rabbit hole as it were. Welcome to the inner circle.

It is explained to you that you are one of a select few who have been chosen from thousands of applicants from around the world, to act as investigators in the Orwell program. It is your job to look through the internet, headlines, and personal conversations of target individuals who are suspected to be dangerous due to their group affiliations, political standpoints or relationships with others. In doing this, you create complex profiles on your subjects which will be reviewed by your superior, who himself does not have the capability to view anything but the profile that you, hopefully in an unbiased way, create.

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This is one of the best aspects of the game, because actually acting from the inside of the Big Brother organisation gives it a certain morality it is never usually afforded, questioning those ideals that have always been evident in fictional works on the same theme, where the more the government intervene, watch, control, the less moral it is.  In this game, the choices you have to make, the fact that you are the sole decider of what information makes it to the people who have the power to act on it gives the all watching Orwell program an added layer of it being compartmentalised in such a way, that the morality of the system itself is completely determined by you.  If you see someone write something on their “Timelines” (The ingame social network site) that is incredibly anti-government, but everything else they write or do is in line with a normal non inflammatory political standpoint, you have the power to keep that piece of data to yourself and give them the benefit of the doubt.

It is parts like this that really adds a feeling of weight to your decisions. Many of the things you add to the profiles will be inconsequential, but those really important “datachunks” will have huge ramifications and you know that from both the intense background music change, and the fact that you’ll be paying such close attention to every piece of information as you get hooked into the story that you will understand perfectly just how vital a piece of data it is. This isn’t a Heavy Rain style “act fast and find out it changed everything about the story later” game, this is where you know before you click the button you are about to do something huge, and that’s what makes it feel real.

In conclusion, Orwell gives great legitimacy to the concept of an all seeing government in this structure, protecting people but not pushing the freedom lines too far back. While the idea of always being watched is, and always will be, a scary one, it is an interesting twist to see the issue sparked from the other side, as well as in an incredibly gripping game where your decisions really do feel like you’re changing the world you are in, even if it is just a little.

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It may be just me, but this is the kind of unique, once in a gamer’s lifetime experience that has to be tried, and will most likely be enjoyed. I loved it, and I can’t wait for Episode 3 to come out early November. As soon as that’s out I’ll be logging right back into Orwell and stopping some more terrorists.

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