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The Occupation review for PS4, Xbox One, PC


Platform: PS4
Also On: PC, Xbox One
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Developer: White Paper Games
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: T

The Occupation certainly isn’t lacking for ideas. The game is set in an alternate 1980s England, in a world a deadly terrorist attack has given the government an opening to curtail civil liberties in the name of protecting the citizenry. As you can imagine, this sets the stage for a politically-tinged thriller where, playing as an intrepid journalist, you have to try and clear the name of the accused killer, all while the game works in some critiques and debates over security versus freedom.

On top of that, The Occupation features a real-time clock, and everything unfolds regardless of your actions. In theory, at least, that makes for an interesting exercise in time management, where you have to figure everything out within a somewhat constrained time span, and failing to do so means that you stand a very real risk of missing out on important plot information.

Unfortunately, the execution never quite matches up with the ambition. For one thing, the game just kind of plops you down in the middle of the action with nothing in the way of explanation. If the story The Occupation was trying to tell was a little more obvious right off the bat, that would be one thing, but it keeps its cards close to its chest, which means that you’re basically wandering around, trying to figure out what the game expects you to do. What’s more, it’s seldom very obvious — The Occupation may be a first-person walking simulator/thriller, but its real inspiration are older adventure games that expect you to be able to know exactly what the game is thinking ten steps ahead of where you are at any given moment — things like breaking into a random room, and then ducking into an exposed vent, and then finding your way into another room, and then searching boxes until you find a note that has a vague clue, which then helps you break into another room, where you have to use a code to solve another puzzle.

Follow all that?

What’s worse, even if you can figure out The Occupation’s internal logic, you’ll still have to deal with its other issues. You have to do a lot of crouching, for example, except your crouching height is constantly varied; sometimes you’re low to the ground, others you’re basically standing up, and it’s never entirely clear what will apply at any given moment. Even more annoyingly, crouching down to get into lower spaces requires that you approach it at just the right angle, or else you’ll bob around uselessly, trying to get in. I’ll also note that the game features a number of technical issues, which makes bugs and glitches fairly common; a patch has been promised, but it hasn’t yet made its way to consoles.

By far the dumbest design decision, at least as far as I’m concerned, is the lack of an in-level save system. You either play out the hour or you don’t, and if you don’t, then you have to start back at the beginning of the level without any of your previous progress. I get that the game makes this very clear from the outset of the second level, but that doesn’t really excuse The Occupation for lacking what should be a pretty basic feature.

Perhaps, I guess, its creators were too enamored by their big picture ideas to notice that some of those smaller details weren’t quite up to par. Which is kind of a shame, since those big picture ideas would’ve made The Occupation pretty compelling if they’d managed to pull it off. Instead, we’re left with a game that all seems like a lot of unfulfilled promise.

Humble Bundle provided us with an Occupation PS4 code for review purposes.

Grade: C+