We live in times of heightened political and social divisions in 2019. Brexit, Trump, the immigration debate, and a resurgence of far right and far left politics have all appeared to have had some influence on White Paper Games’ latest title, The Occupation. The game is set in an alternate 1987 where the government is trying to push through legislation called The Union Act, which would effectively strip people’s freedoms and deport immigrants out of the country. It gathers more support after a terrorist attack occurs, but not everything is at it seems. Your character, a journalist, is tasked with finding out the truth behind the attack and the real reason why so many are so keen to get The Union Act passed.
As a journalist, you are invited to interview prominent people who were near or at the site of the bombing, the majority of whom are pro-Act. They each have their own reasons as to why that’s the case, but if you dig deeper and investigate their offices, you may find ammunition to use in your interviews to really make them think or slip up. After all, you want the truth and they want to keep it hidden from you and the public.
At its heart, The Occupation is a stealth game, as you’ll be spending much of your time rifling through staff only areas while avoiding the security patrol of Steve and Dan. Time is actually a crucial elements of the game. Every minute within the game is a minute in reality and you have a schedule to adhere to. For the main interviews, you’re looking at a gap of an hour between arriving and the meeting, but while an hour sounds like plenty of time to hunt for clues, it really isn’t when taking other factors into account. You have to be wary of the schedules the other character keep, like the security guards and Marlon the cleaner (who is also the nicest character in the game). It can be incredibly stressful when you know there are clues you’re missing, but you just don’t have time to find them all.
The environments are laid out and signposted well with plenty of hidden pathways to use should you find them, but it isn’t always a simple case of moving from A to B. Some areas require specific ID cards or a way to cut the power to get in. Some ID cards are easy to locate, while others will have you hunting while keeping an eye out for anyone who could catch you. The interiors have an 80’s aesthetic, but there’s also some future tech around to confirm this is an alternate world to our own. Puzzles are rife in The Occupation and will put your problem solving skills to the test, from finding a pathway to a locked area, to finding the codes for safes.
The interview system is simple enough to follow. As you find more clues and leads, your question list becomes more populated with additional questions from the answers given. What they say can affect the whole narrative, but there are also moments where the words that come out can be uncomfortable in a very real way. Variations of “I’m not a racist but…” or comparing immigrants to flies to dehumanise them and slogans like “‘Grints out” out in the world can hit close to home. How those words impact you will depend on your own outlook and background, but for me it was a mix of frustration and despair, having experienced that kind of hate first-hand. These are views being pushed and funded by the most powerful in The Occupation, parallel to the actions of some in reality.
While the premise is strong, The Occupation is beset with bugs and issues. Twice the game simply stopped responding to my inputs, meaning I couldn’t put something down or interact with something, forcing me to restart the chapter as well as time. Another time a character just froze in place, which admittedly made things easier, but losing that tension made the rest of the proceedings a little boring as I could leisurely wander into off-limit areas without having to worry about being caught. Sometimes characters seem to forget they caught you in an off-limits area so you faced no repercussions from being caught a second time. This happened a couple of times, but the bug seemed to disappear later as the consequence of time loss was applied.
One of the most noticeable issues though is the sound mixing, especially when playing with headphones on. Sometimes voices would echo as if the character was standing in a large open room instead of being right next to a character in a small corridor. Other times you’d be able to hear characters talking clearly, even if they’re nowhere near your position. More than once I panicked because I thought a character had snuck up on me, only to turn around or search the room and find no-one. For a stealthy game, sound plays a key part in knowing where characters are, but to have that glitching can ruin the immersion.