Orwell is one of those games that makes you think. It makes you think about how surveillance works in the real world. It makes you think about what you put online as this can be misunderstood or taken out of context. It makes you think about what your credit card statement says about you. Most of all though it makes you think about what is considered as right and wrong.
Orwell is a game where you play a person sat at a computer terminal extracting information from the internet about people to stop a series of terrorist bombings. Through what information you decide to pass on to your handler and which conflicting statements you believe the game will pan out very differently. How relevant is it that somebody doesn’t like to go out and party? Not very much on the surface, but what if they later say they are going out clubbing all night? Seems unusual for somebody who actively dislikes this, doesn’t it? Are you reading too much into this? Or is this information going to stop a bombing? Orwell constantly asks you to reassess your understanding of the characters you are investigating. One phone call or chat message could convince you that they are a terrorist or vice versa and you need to just weather the consequences.
This is where Orwell excels. It makes me simultaneously feel like a hero stopping terrorists and a terrible human being who snoops on private phone calls that have nothing to do with anything. Remember when I said this game makes you think, well here is a right old question. Do you listen in to a conversation that is probably harmless and won’t affect your investigation except for the small chance they mention something relevant? If this stops a bombing do the ends justify the means?
And that is what Orwell is trying to show you and make you question. Do the ends justify the means? Does stomping on people’s privacy become a necessary step to saving lives? And when does it go too far? The world today is terrified of terrorists and the catastrophes they could cause, but how much of that like in Orwell is just fear breeding more fear. How much of it is people jumping to conclusions and not seeing the full picture? How much of it is information passed from person to person like a digital Chinese whispers? Some of the things you do in Orwell are not far off what the NSA does, and that in and of itself is terrifying.
Orwell does sometimes fall down a little, though, but only a little. Extracting text to add to your database can be a little frustrating and simple. Basically, you are scrolling down looking for highlighted text. This means there is no need to read all the excellently written articles, blogs and conversations in Orwell and instead zoom in on only what the game highlights. This is a bit of a shame as sometimes I think things that aren’t highlighted might be relevant. However, I can understand why Orwell can’t just let you use every word in the game.
At the end of it, though, Orwell is an excellent experience. I considered the surveillance state in a way I never had before. It made me feel very uncomfortable at times – which is a good thing! It makes me regret some of my choices and feel bad that I had misunderstood information or gotten conflicting statements the wrong way round. There are a total of five episodes with two yet to be released. Having played the first three, I have been blown away by the quality. Orwell weaves an interesting story throughout. It makes your choices have weight, and more than anything, it makes you think.
If you want more Orwell, then you can read my review of the second instalment Orwell: Ignorance is Strength over on Old Grizzled Gamers.