By Zatheera, 28 July 2017
Orwell is yet another game that had originally caught my eye due to one of Mike Laidlaw’s Indie Saturdays streams (VA11-HALL-A being the first I reviewed after seeing it on his stream was ). I had put it on my wishlist and purchased it at 50% off during the Steam Summer Sale of 2017 (Hey, when you buy as many games as I do, you wait for a discount when you can). Of all the games I bought during the first day of the sale, it was the one I installed and played immediately. After all, I’d waited long enough to give it a go. In fact, I was so eager to play it I prepared to write a review for it as it downloaded it. Why? Because I was excited and wanted other people to check it out if I ended up liking it as much as I thought I would.
I’m not sure why these sort of games always peak my interest, but they do, kind of like how well done stealth games tend to draw me in, or games that give me the option of completing them through brains rather than brawn and still earning an achievement for it (ex: Dishonored, Deux Ex). There’s something about doing quiet research, solving puzzles and figuring people out for the greater good that pleases me vs. straight brutality. Maybe I’m just a people watcher, or I know that if this were real life, that would be my only option, who knows. Either way, this simple game had me fixated enough that I finished it within a day or two of purchasing it and by the time I wrote this review, I’d replayed it again to get even more achievements and a different ending. I also couldn’t help but wonder if the game’s name was inspired by George Orwell and if they’d refer to him at any time during my playthroughs.
So what is Orwell? Well, it’s a single-player simulation where you’re an Orwell Investigator trying to counteract terrorism. The method in which you do this is by spying on civilians suspected of having interests in activism, whom they refer to as “Target Persons” and by helping authorities stop them before they can act by handing off the proper “data chunks” to your advisor.
Now, I pride myself on being a pretty decent judge of character, and for the most part I did pretty well throughout the game at figuring things out. But, I did stumble on one individual in this storyline which threw me for a bit of a loop – in a good way of course. Without wanting to spoil the story for any of you, I’ll just say that Osmotic Studio’s writers did a great job at developing the characters and breathing life in them. This is a particularly challenging task when you don’t ever see the characters move nor hear them talk, all you get to do is try to figure them out through snippets of text on the screen, these little glimpses into their lives, as if you were peering through a keyhole and trying to figure out what’s going on in the room on the other side.
I do wish there was a just little bit more to the game, whether it be length or other small things to help with immersion. I felt that the “Listener” app could have gone teensy bit further by having the phone calls voice acted rather than simply text on a screen, but I can understand why a small team didn’t implement this and the fact that they didn’t would have helped keep the game’s price point at the lower end. It doesn’t stop me from hoping that they’ll be able to make more games like this in the future and have a bigger budget so that they could implement things like voice acting (Heck, I’d do some for them if they wanted me to, I could do them in both French and English, so at least I’ve got that goin for me). Even if it’s not every line, or every character, having some things voice acted or having audio files the player has to actually listen to (subtitles available of course for those that can’t) would be an amazing addition.
The game sounds themselves and the music were pretty well done. I didn’t find myself getting annoyed and had even left the game running in the background while I did some work because I found it enjoyable. Which is better than how some games cause me to want to mute the sound track because they can be too obviously repetitive, which can be grating. The graphics are very simplistic and the art style is easy on the eye, which is pretty vital considering the fact you’ll be spending time reading through files so you don’t want to be distracted by flashy graphics or your eyes getting tired due to gaudy color choices. I was quite thankful for the soft colours they chose for the game.
Orwell’s pace depends on your reading speed and comprehension skills, much like with visual novels. The time it takes you to complete the game will vary on whether you read all the content available or rush through simply scanning for highlighted text. Take my advice; if you really want to get the full sense of the game and get your money’s worth, take the time to read all the information in front of you. Don’t let yourself fall into the habit of just scrolling down until you see some text you can drag from right to left. If you do that, you end up missing out on a lot of the storyline and risks you sending in the wrong information because you didn’t consider the context surrounding it what you just sent off to your advisor, not to mention you’ll miss out on a few achievements.
Make sure you’ve done what you wanted to do before you “Log Off” of work for the day, which is Orwell’s way of completing a chapter and saving your progress.
I found it to be a short game overall, but an enjoyable one. There are four different endings that depend greatly on your choices throughout the game. After all, it’s up to you as the player and investigator to decide who’s seen as a threat and who is let go. Did you let your empathy or paranoia rule you? Were you diligent or lax in your research? I definitely caught myself relaunching it after completing a playthrough just so I could try for some other achievements. That is before I reminded myself that I have other games that need review and I had some adulting to do-it’s not like the house will clean itself. Oh, what I would do for a laundry folding robot-sigh-.
For those interested in the game, it is very reasonably priced at $10 and available on PC and Steam. Personally, I think it’s worth buying, but I can understand waiting for a sale to come along if you’re strapped for cash.
You can really see the love that the small team led by the three indie developers at Osmotic Studios (Michael Kluge, Melanie Taylor and Daniel Marx) had put into creating their first game together. It is evident by how clean and polished everything is. Which to me really makes the game worth the time and money you’ll spend in playing it.