The Occupation Review
Lofty journalistic aspirations that needed a bit more time
The great thing about single player games is that they usually fit around any schedule. If you can only play thirty minutes at a time, then you can still eventually complete almost any modern game. This is not true of The Occupation, a new adventure title by White Paper Games, because you will need to play for more than an hour before the game actually saves. The Occupation is about a journalist that hunts through company files for dirty secrets that can be used in scheduled interviews. Although the infrequent saving is a concern, limited investigation time and rudimentary stealth are like spelling errors in an otherwise outstanding news article.
Welcome to the offices of Bowman Carson
In the introductory level, you take the role of Scarlet Carson, a senior employee of the Bowman Carson organisation. This beginning serves as a tutorial, involving stealth as you enter codes and use computers to retrieve data. On her walk home, she sees a distant explosion—a terrorist has blown up part of her workplace, killing several employees, including her husband.
Six months later, journalist Harvey Miller is tasked with finding more about the bomber who still protests his innocence. We learn that the bomber worked at Bowman Carson and his family was due for deportation, which could have been an influencing factor. Things are never that simple, though, and Harvey aims to learn more by interviewing key staff members. Bowman Carson deals with policies regarding data collection and illegal immigrants, making the story quite relevant in today’s political climate despite its 1980s setting. Harvey has three interviews scheduled and each takes place in a different building within the facility.
Like a good journalist, you arrive for each interview one hour early. Every minute in the game world is in real time, and this creates palpable tension. But the game only saves after each interview, so it’s possible to lose an hour of progress. There is a pause when using the menu, but there is no long-term save option. You can sit and wait until the meeting, and have a few basic questions to ask, or you can follow leads and uncover more about the company and the explosion. How do you follow leads? Well, you go snooping around of course.
If curiosity wins out, you can explore staff-only areas and find clues. Characters go about their business, cleaning rooms, accessing computers, using the restroom, and even talking to each other. The sole security guard, Steve, roams the buildings, and he, along with other employees, will not take kindly to seeing a journalist rummaging through the filing cabinets. But if you want to find secrets, that’s exactly what you need to do.
If you corrupt a floppy disk, you can copy the file again or repair it
What you are looking for is evidence: cassette tapes, notes, ID cards, passwords, and floppy disks. A dossier keeps track of observations, and your briefcase can store documents and items for later retrieval. Interaction with the world is simple enough, requiring a few button presses to pick up objects, rotate them, and push open doors; some of it is clumsy, as opening a folded letter takes far too long. When you find something important, your editor might want it faxed, but if it’s on a floppy disk then it needs to be printed first, which requires a working printer. Finding a printer may be hard enough, and getting a floppy disk through magnetic security gates requires forward thinking.
The best part of the investigation is how many varied ways there are to access secure areas and find information. Notes have passwords, computers hold deleted emails, love letters lead to interview tapes, pneumatic tubes can transfer important disks, and switchboards cut the power. Like the Deus Ex series, there are many vents that lead into locked rooms; so many, in fact, that they actually have directions inside them.
Fortunately you have some basic abilities when recovering sensitive information. You can crouch, lean, and even crawl under tables. You can shut blinds to obscure views and turn off lights. If you set off a motion alarm in one part of the building, Steve will use a flashlight to scan the area before declaring the all-clear.
Steve will be your shadow so try and be in his
As mentioned, stealth is a big part of the game, but the mechanics are rudimentary. Aside from some weak sound cues and subtitles, there is little indication about impending detection or risk. There were countless times when I rounded a corner and found Steve waiting to chastise me. He spotted me through tiny gaps and saw me under desks, despite line of sight obstructions. If you get caught, you must leave the area and receive a warning. You can hilariously run away—Steve is clearly not paid enough to chase—but he’ll warn you next time. If Steve has had enough of your shenanigans, he will take you to the head of security, who will give you a final warning before that building’s interview is cancelled.
Aside from the iffy stealth, there is inadequate time to complete all of your investigative leads. After replaying the first chapter a few times, I managed to race through all investigation points with four minutes to spare. The second chapter required half a dozen attempts to do the same with a two minute buffer. And that was doing nothing extra, beelining it straight to the important objects and using codes found during previous attempts. If you like reading notes, listening to Steve’s funny audition tapes, and just generally absorbing the world, then you’re going to run out of time, in no time at all. Twenty minutes are needed just to understand the layout. The game is designed to be replayed and a better saving system would have made this less tedious.
If you fail to uncover all clues then the story will be hard to follow, although not quite as difficult as when you’re denied an interview after being caught red-handed. Interviews are upwards of ten minutes, and they are full of PR speak and double-talk. You might have no idea what is happening in the last stealthy chapter. The game has multiple endings, and they’re worth seeing, but grasping the narrative threads requires superhuman attentiveness. It makes far more sense on replay, and it also shows the depth of a great gameplay experience, but it comes at the expense of a cumbersome first playthrough.
Use what you've uncovered at each interview
The Occupation teeters between an awesome investigative adventure and a clumsy stealth game that requires multiple attempts to fully comprehend. When everything goes to plan, it’s ambitious and enthralling. Having a myriad of ways to infiltrate and acquire information is reminiscent of some of the best games ever made, and the tension is electrifying. It’s a game that may gain a cult following, and with fixes to stealth, saving, and a clearer story, it would be a special experience. Unfortunately you only get one chance at a first impression and The Occupation arrives just a few minutes too late.