Some games put time limits in place, whether it’s having you speed through levels in Super Mario World, preventing a moon from crashing down in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, or killing zombies and protecting survivors over the course of a few days in Dead Rising. The Occupation, the first-person political thriller from White Paper Games does something similar, with the player given four in-game hours to investigate a terrorist act that could completely change the outlook on immigrants by the British publish. Yeah, it hits a bit close to home, right? The game itself makes for an intriguing and unique experience, but it’s one that’s also littered with quite a few frustrating issues.
The Occupation puts you in the shoes of a British journalist named Harvey Miller who has found himself investigating a new law called the ‘Union Act’ that makes it easy for the UK to deport any immigrants with no fuss. It’s been put into place following an act of terrorism where an immigrant named Alex Dubois planted a bomb which caused the death of twenty-three people. However, something doesn’t seem right about the attack and the sudden urge to ensure that the ‘Union Act’ is passed unopposed, so you work to investigate to find out the truth and bring the reality of the situation to the British public.
Without getting too political, it’s a narrative that’s easily relatable in this day and age with the public often divided on immigration and who has a right to be in their country. Like real-life though, it’s not a simple matter and is often built upon through deceit, which is one of the things that The Occupation closely explores. It makes for a very intriguing thriller and one that can change up a lot depending on your actions, which really ups the stakes during your investigation.
The game itself is split into multiple chapters, with the player given four-hours to uncover the evidence to find out what exactly happened. This means exploring each environment, examining every object around you for clues, avoiding any security guards that are out to get you, and then using the evidence you find to get the truth out of the people of interest you interview at the end of each section. With just the four-hours to solve the whole mystery (and each section of the game only lasting around one hour), there’s not a whole lot of time to uncover every piece of evidence and a real sense of urgency is added to your investigation.
It makes for a genuinely thrilling experience and one that’ll make you feel like you’re actually taking on the role of an investigative journalist. Almost anything and everything can be valuable and you’ll need as many clues as possible in order to ask the most revealing questions during your interview at the end of each section. You’ve got to be switched on and able to think outside of the box too, especially since so many locations are off-limits to you. Of course, you can always sneak around guards by hiding under desks and what-not, but there are other things to watch out for too such as locked doors and security alarms – these are easily bypassed by finding the right key card or cutting the power out, but you’ve still got to find the opportunity to do so. The Occupation gives you plenty of opportunities to be creative and you’ll have the most satisfying experience if you take them, though with a time limit in place you might find that sometimes you’ve got to go for convenience instead. You better embrace your inner Solid Snake, because sometimes you might just want to jump into a nearby vent to get around…
The patrolling security guards are your biggest threat in the game though and with no means to get past them other than sneaking or hiding, you’re really kept on your toes when around them. If they do catch you they’ll take up a fair chunk of your time, which is a harsh penalty – time is a super valuable commodity in The Occupation, so having it slip away can make a big difference in how much of an effect you have on the outcome of the game’s tale.
However, whilst there’s a lot of tension when trying to avoid the guards, I noticed more than a few inconsistences with their AI. There were times where they’d be a bit stupid and not notice you at all, whilst I also had one occasion where they’d stay in one place and not move at all. However, there were other times when guards would seemingly see me when I’m hidden, which could prove mighty frustrating when you’re being super careful and picking your moments to explore. It’s the sort of thing that could probably be easily fixed with a patch, but right now it could alleviate the thrill of the experience a bit.
It’s a shame too, because The Occupation does a lot of brilliant things. The time limit in place really puts you on edge, whilst the sheer amount of interactivity you have with the world is pretty impressive. You just don’t know where you’ll find your next big clue, whether it’ll be scattered across a desk, in a bin, or just on some PC you’ve sneakily found the password to. The characters of the game all follow a routine too, so you’ve got to learn when the right moment to investigate them (or sneakily look through their belongings) is. It makes for a clever and satisfying experience – it’s just disappointing it has a share of issues that hold it back.
Besides the aforementioned issues with patrolling security guards, I encountered a few other glitches when playing through The Occupation, some of which could cause a LOT of frustration. I had the audio cut out completely at times, saw graphical glitches where objects were missing, and at one point lost the ability to interact with anything around me – that last one meant I had to restart the chapter which completely deterred from the experience. A lot of what makes the game so special is that you genuinely feel like you’re there and carefully plotting out your investigation, so having to repeat actions just broke the immersion a bit. Don’t get me wrong, The Occupation is definitely one of those games that you’ll want to play through more than once (especially with the different endings), but you’ll want to do it on your terms and not because it’s a bit broken.
The Occupation is a genuinely intriguing game that does a lot of unique and clever things, but right now it has a few too many issues to make it easy to recommend. Besides the inconsistency of the security guard’s AI, you’ve also got objects disappearing, the sound cutting out, and the game even bugging out to the point where you have to restart sections all over again – given that some parts of the game can last close to an hour, this could be VERY frustrating.
If a lot of these issues can be fixed, The Occupation could be a special little game. When everything works well it can make for a really thrilling experience and you’ll get totally immersed into your role as an investigative journalist. Based upon my experience alone though, I’d probably recommend waiting for a patch before purchasing.
Developer White Paper Games
Publisher: Sold Out, Humble Bundle
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC