Buggy British fun.
Just to get this out of the way first – I will NOT be covering the story of The Occupation, mainly because I strongly implore you to buy this game and experience that for yourself… So, for the majority of this review, I’m going to try and keep this spoiler free.
I’m usually not one for the walking simulator / puzzle game genre – With that said, I adore the Life is Strange franchise and will probably end up covering LiS 2 when all its episodes are released; otherwise, very few games in the genre tend to capture my interest. That being said, White Paper Games have been on my radar for a while now for a multitude of reasons – For the uninitiated, White Paper Games are a Manchester-based development team, and The Occupation is their second release, the first being Ether One, an exploration game with puzzle elements similar to The Occupation that revolves around reconstructing memories of a dementia patient.
So, for their second release, how does The Occupation hold up? Well, it’s a ton of fun – Quite possibly the most intense and immersive experience I’ve had in any game for years; you play as an investigative journalist conducting interviews with a group of individuals about to pass the ‘Union Act’, which, without spoiling the game, is set to cause calamity throughout the United Kingdom. With each interview you have, your character arrives early in order to look around the building and uncover any secrets in order to put your interviewee on the backfoot.
Whilst there are no conventional threats to your life in The Occupation, you will find that trying to hide from the security guards as you look around restricted areas is quite the tense experience – With a foreboding musical que accompanying whenever a character is close to catching you. In addition to sounds playing whenever a guard or interviewee is closing in, music ques also alert you to when other characters leave said areas, or even when you enter or leave a specific area, giving the player a useful 6th sense. With regards to the security guards, the guards themselves are shown to be quite nice, just doing their jobs. If you’re caught, they simply send you to the security office for a lecture on not going into restricted areas… However, get caught too many times and you’ll find yourself being kicked out of the building.
Having said that, you could just sit around and do nothing until your interview, in which case, you run no risk to your job. However, minutes in the game are equivalent to minutes in real time, so you’d be sitting around for up to 90 minutes… And where’s the fun in that? If you do choose to put the investigate in investigative journalism, you’ll be treated to the aforementioned tense gameplay, mixed in with some puzzle solving that can be, at times, frustrating in nature. However, if you manage to uncover enough evidence to use against your interviewees, you can get them to cave in very quickly.
Whilst the game mostly offers a positive experience, the game is still very much unfinished – I have encountered several game breaking glitches that not only ruined my immersion, but drove me to the point of taking large breaks between sessions due to the frustration of having to restart a level from the beginning after making it so far. From level critical items glitching into PNG form, to the security guards popping out of walls or seeing you from the other side of the map. This game can be really frustrating to tolerate at times. Combined with the fact that restricted areas aren’t always clearly marked out, and some really odd level design choices, there are times where I really wanted to throw in the towel completely and never return.
In the end, I powered through to see it to the credits – What was my final impression? Well, it was worth the hours I’d sunk in, if only at the prospect that it encouraged me to give it another go sometime in the future. I had fun, it was an experience like no other, with a nice artstyle, brooding atmosphere, and a city clearly inspired by the likes of Manchester that made me feel oddly comfortable with the setting… Yet it’s still plagued with bugs that can just as easily break the experience – The occasional floating coffee cup can be amusing, but rending an item you need to finish the level inoperable is downright infuriating. My advice, wait until it’s seen a few updates and patches, and then give it a shot; you might find a game you won’t soon forget.