Orwell: Keeping an Eye On You Reviews

TSA Score for this game: 448
Posted on 05 March 17 at 08:35, Edited on 05 March 17 at 08:35
This review has 2 positive votes and 0 negative votes. Please log in to vote.

Orwell is a visual novel that puts you in the shoes of a Big Brother employee: you are tasked with spying on people and uploading to the system anything suspicious. Unlike most visual novels, you are not presented here with walls of text followed by lists of choices. Rather, your interaction with the game and its unfolding story goes solely through the gimmick of uploading the data chunks you find (or not). By picking among conflicting data chunks or by choosing not to upload some sensitive information, you impact the story in small and big ways.


+ Fresh interaction gimmick that goes very well with the theme
+ Credible writing with many characters each having their own style of speech
+ Interesting choices going WAY beyond the good/bad dichotomy
+ Decent art style
+ Fair amount of consequences to choices made, though the game remains linear


- Notification system takes some getting used to
*** Spoiler - click to reveal ***

- Because all chats and phone calls are delivered sloooooowly (and I found no way to speed them up), replaying the game to get the achievements or test other choices is a bit of a chore
- Political messages are (very) thinly veiled and might annoy (or even anger?) some players


Do you hate it when someone tries to convey a political message artistically and ends up as subtle as a bull in a china shop? If so, stay away from this game. You're going to hate it.

Still here? OK, here's an idea: put yourself in the shoes of an orwellian enforcer and imagine the consequences of government trampling all over freedom, privacy and presumption of innocence.

Interested? Then try Orwell. Go in expecting a fresh visual novel and a politically charged (to the point of being heavy-handed at times) thought experiment. There is much to like.
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Titanium Dragon
Titanium Dragon
TSA Score for this game: 262
Posted on 08 October 17 at 12:51, Edited on 08 October 17 at 13:00
This review has 2 positive votes and 0 negative votes. Please log in to vote.
Orwell is an investigative game akin to a visual novel. You play as The Investigator, someone whose job it is to use the powerful Orwell surveillance system to solve crimes – or in this case, solve a particular crime. You see, a bomb was set off in Freedom Plaza in The Nation, killing three people, and it is your job to try and catch the bomber before they can kill anyone else.

Orwell is more like an interactive novel than an ordinary video game – the game is wholly centered around reading text for about four and a half hours, and while it has more meaningful interaction than most visual novels, the actual gameplay itself is very simple and not very action-oriented. It is a very cerebral experience, and if reading lots of text isn’t your cup of tea, this is not the game for you.

You start out with a single person of interest – a young woman who left the Plaza shortly before the bomb went off. She was a protester who had been arrested for attacking a police officer, but who wasn’t prosecuted for it due to lack of evidence. It quickly becomes clear that not all is as it seems, and it seems unlikely that she personally was the bomber – but she has past associations with a group known as Thought, an anti-government group which often engages in extremist rhetoric. But are they really the sort of people who would kill people? Or are they just innocent bystanders coincidentally caught up in the investigation?

Orwell is a very ambiguous game, and it is precisely this ambiguity which really makes the game work. Thought is upset about living in a surveillance state, but it is clear from your perspective as The Investigator that the system is designed to be humane in many ways – the investigator passes on information to someone else, whose job it is to analyze the data. You cannot investigate people who aren’t targets – unless someone has been designated as suspicious by actual data, you cannot collect data at all them, nor are you allowed to go snooping through their things. But if they are a target of interest, you have nigh unlimited authority to go snooping. And while the state is clearly a bit authoritarian, it is also clear that the system works – crime has gone down, and you can catch several criminals over the course of the game who really did do bad things. The person on the other end, who helps to determine whether or not the data is really indicative of wrongdoing, is a genuinely nice person who cares about people and who urges you to collect more data. The leader of The Nation appears to genuinely be trying to help out neighboring states.

But all of this is muddied with the ambiguity of the fact that not everyone in the government is nice, and the general sinister nature of your surveillance. Your actions do have consequences, and it is clear that if you made the wrong decisions, you could potentially feed people bad data and get people put in jail – and the choice of whether or not to feed people bad data, and the impression you leave the government on people, is dependent on what data you give them.

The game, thus, is a combination of an investigation and a moral choice system – you are not only investigating who might be the bomber, but also deciding what is and is not relevant, what should and should not be part of the investigation, and you have the power to wrongfully put people in jail or put people in danger. The very simple gameplay of choosing what pieces of highlighted information to put into a database from various documents, webpages, emails, and phone and text conversations thus takes on a great deal of weight, and makes you think about what you’re doing in a very different way from other investigatory games, as you think of it not only in terms of true/false, but also whether the information morally belongs in the hands of the government.

The game’s gameplay also shows how a system like that can lead to paranoia, as you see people engage in a lot of extremist rhetoric and it is easy to jump to conclusions and morally convict someone in your mind who didn’t do anything worse than complain, as well as how easy it is to prejudge someone in the opposite direction as well, making you think more positively of them than they truly deserve. And it puts stress on the player as well – you cannot take back your actions, so if you incorrectly present someone as a dangerous criminal, you can’t fix it and have to live with the consequences.

How humane the system is – and who is in the right and wrong – is a complicated question that the game ultimately doesn’t answer for itself, but which the player answers via their actions throughout the game. Like “The Lady or the Tiger”, the way the player responds to the story really reflects as much on the player’s own evaluation of humanity, and how they weigh the risks and benefits of a system like that. Rather than being preachy about how evil the system is, the game also shows why people might like a system like that and want it to be implemented. It is perhaps the most even-handed presentation of the subject matter I’ve seen, and it achieves this by putting the player in the seat of someone who might be a part of such a system and showing just how ambiguous the system can be and how much power they wield, both how dangerous it can be if misused but how beneficial it can be if used appropriately.
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