Orwell – An Opinion

Guest writer Andy Webb takes a look at "Orwell"

You’re one of the first human users of Orwell, the government’s new security programme. As an investigator, you have the power to store information about specifically targeted citizens. You delve into websites, bank statements, phone conversations, and even private files. Data you pick is given to an adviser, who acts on the evidence. The game clearly takes inspiration from George Orwell’s dystopian future, “nineteen eighty-four”, showing a world that we could easily find ourselves in.

Starting with a single lead, you begin investigating a recent bombing. Over the 5 chapters, you connect people together like a spiders-web, uploading “datachunks” from various sources to each persons Orwell file. Watching text conversations and reading transcripts of phone calls gives you an odd voyeuristic sense.

orwell3-0While reviewing sources, data will highlight itself in either blue or yellow, these can then be documented. Blue shows general statements you can upload, while contradicting data will turn yellow; for instance, one character says they’re arranging an event in their blog, and another tries to claim credit. You must decide which one is true. Finding out that I’d uploaded the wrong statement was frustrating at first, as you cannot change this, but it adds the need to carefully pick the right information. As I uploaded parts of one character’s attempt to evade police, others became panicked and scared. This did not end well. The scenario may have ended differently had I been more careful.

orwell4-0When you’ve decided what you want to upload, it’s a case of dragging the datachunk for filing. Hovering over one will show it’s connections, and what will be stored in Orwell, should you upload it. Hyperlinks to contradicting data, assuming you’ve found some, will also appear. For some, storing information could become tedious.

Cataloguing a prescription of anxiety medicine labelled one character as ‘unstable’. I didn’t care. “It might be useful” I told myself. Until late in the game if it was blue, no matter what, I’d store it. I wanted to give the fullest picture. By chapter four I’d given up reading most things, just scrolling, waiting for the text to change colour ready to drag and drop.

Conflicts are fun to figure out, but what makes the game more challenging is, during the final chapter, when you’re only able to store a finite number of datachunks. It makes you weigh up everything’s usefulness to the investigation. Your advisor tries to convey the need for scarcity early, but the system doesn’t restrict you until this point. If chapter five’s limitations had been woven throughout it may have stopped my lazy method of collection. With this said, this would change the game’s final impact.

What the game does well are the characters and story, to an extent they are both very believable. The only person you ever speak to is your advisor, you learn about everyone else through snooping on them. The writers clearly had a grasp on how people can act differently on social media and in their professional lives too. These conflicts of interest are explored to an extent and makes for good reading.

At its core, Orwell is a drag and drop simulator, but the concept and circumstances surrounding this give it more weight. Orwell didn’t give me the same detective feel as I did playing through Her Story or Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishment. I’ve put this down to text automatically highlighting itself; but without this, the game would become a labyrinth of text. An option to disable this feature, to increase the difficulty, would make a nice addition for the hardcore player.

Orwell is fairly short. I managed to complete all five chapters in just under five hours, long enough to enjoy on a lazy Saturday afternoon. After finishing, I didn’t feel like I’d want to play through again. With this said, I’ve found myself wondering what would happen if I deliberately left holes in information and jumped to the wrong conclusions? Maybe it is worth a revisit.

Orwell is currently available on PC.

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The Good
  • Thought provoking
  • Well written characters
The Bad
  • Ultimately "drag and drop" the game
  • Visuals
  • Atmospher
  • Story
  • Soundtrack
  • Gameplay

Andy spent his childhood staying up late, playing games and eating junk food. He now writes about games too, nothing else has changed. You'll mostly find him playing Overwatch and streaming games badly on Twitch.tv.
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