Game review: Orwell – take a virtual journey through a dark world of surveillance and control
You collect information, look for clues and flag any possible threats to national security in this sim that digs deep into how media works in the internet age
It might be a rather obvious name for a game about modern surveillance systems and the overarching government control of online communications, but Orwell is actually a decent indie release, one that’s been churned out in episodic form up until now, so you can download all five chapters at once and take a virtual journey through our dark Brexit/Trump world before Christmas.
Gamers take on an investigator trying to work out who bombed a public park – but this isn’t some 24-style, jet-setting, heart-pounding, bad-guy-killing action-adventure spectacle. You’re the average, everyday “spy”: a desk clerk with access to a powerful computer device called (you guessed it) Orwell.
Your job is solely to sift through a heap of modern-day data, everything from standard phone numbers, police files and bank account details, through to more dubious emails, blogs and social media posts. Collecting information, looking for clues, flagging any possible suspects, chasing them down in a globe-trotting adventure and throwing them into Guantanamo.
That last bit isn’t true – you just send your collected data up to your superiors and hope for the best. The tricky bit is that you’re sending it all up to someone without access to Orwell, so it takes a keen eye and a strong sense of ethical grounding to ensure that a joke taken out of context or an angry little aside isn’t taken as gospel.
And that’s really where Orwell excels, in its characterisation. There are the people, of course, and like Gene Hackman in The Conversation you truly get a feel for the faces of people you come across, even if they’re only on screen. They’re millennials with a conscience, angry optimists, losers without a life beyond the screen and, sometimes, people with an important voice who should be heard.
But, more convincingly, the game crafts a saga involving modern-day snooping that digs deep into how modern media works in the internet age. The narcissistic mechanics of social media, the secret diaries of all who lie within, the sycophantism of conglomerate-controlled newspapers.
It all adds up to a surprisingly deep title, one that should get more play than its obvious title deserves.