Orwell, a game developed by Osmotic Studios, is an interactive story inspired by George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. As one of the first human researchers for the government security program called Orwell, your job is to sift through websites and social media posts of criminal suspects. You choose information from the in-game webpages to build up the profile of each suspect, and send that information back to the government of The Nation for review. The narrative that you choose to showcase in these suspect profiles will greatly shape how the government will view that person and the actions they will take against them. Evidently, Orwell places you in a position of power that leaves you questioning your decisions long after you close the game.
Osmotic Studios is a 3-person development team from Germany that specializes in emotional and thought-provoking games. They first released Orwell on Steam October 27, 2016 along with its first two episodes. Any buyer who bought the game upon release (and entered their email into the game) was notified each week to report back to duty as new episodes were added. Each of the five episodes ranged between an hour to two hours in length, and are packed with eventful storytelling. Osmotic Studios have created two other games in the past–Groundplay and Scherbenwerk – Bruchteil einer Ewigkeit–but both were created as the team’s student projects. Orwell is Osmotic’s first full game released on Steam. The developers have also been releasing a “Meet the Team” series on the website, where they showcase some of the additional members who helped them create Orwell. (If you would like to learn more about Osmotic Studios and their other projects, here is their webpage: http://www.osmotic-studios.de/).
A New Kind of Gaming Experience
It’s always refreshing to see when indie developers bring something new to the gaming industry (now really, how many more Slender and Five Night’s at Freddy’s knock-offs do we need?). Orwell is a step away from action-packed games and focuses more on player experience than a vast amount of gameplay content. It’s true–the gameplay in Orwell isn’t much more than clicking and dragging pieces of text–but to boil the game down to that is an unfair assessment. Where the game lacks in gameplay, it more than makes up for in other areas such as story, audio, and complexity. In fact, I believe that the lack of gameplay helps you stay more immersed in the experience as you stay focused on the story that unfolds.
Questioning Morality and Relinquishing “Good vs. Evil”
Orwell is a game where your decisions continue to matter outside of its world and into the depths of your being. It is a game that makes you question your own morals and political views. At times, I would sit and ponder between two pieces of information and ask myself–what is the right thing to do here? Who am I putting at risk? Am I qualified to be making these decisions? Is anyone qualified? Orwell makes you truly think about your impact on the world and the dangers of what you share online–a feat that not many games accomplish.
Another interesting aspect is that you are placed in the role of a government employee. Suddenly, you are working for “the bad guys” of society–the “Big Brother”–but are they really all that bad? This is just another one of the many difficult questions you must ask yourself as you play. You may even finish the game with the same viewpoints that you walked in with, but the experience will have left you with another way of thinking about them and will enrich the way you form opinions. There is no “black and white” in Orwell.
Quality Over Quantity
As I mentioned before, each of the five episodes in Orwell only ranged between an hour to two hours in length. The length of games can sometimes be discouraging when you are debating whether or not to try out a new game, but I feel that the length of each episode in Orwell is fitting when you consider the overall experience and content that it provides the player.
When I bought the game upon release, I also had the experience of only playing one episode a week, which added to my enjoyment of the game. If you have an opportunity to play Orwell, then I would suggest that you take breaks in between episodes. I think it will help you feel more immersed in your role by daily breaks between performing your in-game job. Of course, my suggestion is purely optional; I’m remembering the whole Undertale fiasco where certain Youtubers were clearly unhappy that their audience was demanding them to play the game a certain way. If you have the time to play the game in one sitting and want to do so–that’s cool too!
Do you want to become the next investigator for The Nation? Are you looking for a deep, thought-provoking experience? Check out Orwell’s Steam page at: http://store.steampowered.com/app/491950/
Are you looking for more Indie gems like this one? Check out my previous Indie Game Spotlight on Crosscode!