Some games try all the wrong things and manage to succeed. Others try all the right things and manage to fail. The Occupation is the latter, containing a thrilling plot, well-crafted setting, and unique time-constraint mechanic, which should be a recipe for total success. Sadly, this is not the case. The Occupation does many things very well, and it has the potential to be something great if only it was not so frustrating to play.
The Occupation is set in an alternative Britain of 1987 where a terrorist attack claiming the lives of 23 people has initiated the creation of ‘The Union Act’, which threatens the civil liberties of the populace. The protagonist is Harvey Miller, an investigative journalist in search of information for his new book surrounding the events of the attack. With occasional variations, each level is designed to give Harvey an hour of time to follow leads and gather information that can be used to interrogate the character he is meeting with at the end of the hour.
To compliment this design, The Occupation is set in fixed time, with an hour of real life equating to an hour in-game. These time restrictions create a constant feeling of suspense, forcing the player to choose which leads they will follow in the short amount of time they have. In this regard, White Paper Games has given players an incredible amount of choice and freedom. Any lead presented is entirely optional, and every single piece of information can be avoided if the player wishes. The limited time provided to complete the game allows players to control their narrative to craft an experience that is unique to an individual. Featuring so many diverse pathways gives The Occupation longevity through its replayability to uncover the various outcomes available.
Time-management and problem solving skills are crucial to success in The Occupation. Every choice will use precious time, and the game is relentless, offering the player little assistance in solving puzzles. Understanding and inspecting the environment are other important features, as details are hidden in the world without any overt cues as to their presence. Therefore, attention to detail is required to have an enjoyable experience.
Implementation of a fixed timeline is The Occupation’s main redeeming quality. Beyond that, the sound design and voice acting are superb and perfectly capture the gripping tone to further enhance the experience. Unfortunately, White Paper Games’s attempt to create an immersive experience in a world where time is finite has come at the cost of gameplay.
The prologue is infuriating. As the game sets out to teach the basics, the counter-intuitiveness of the controls becomes clear. Many actions, such as opening windows or doors, require multiple buttons to complete. The issue is that, in some cases, these controls do not match. On PC, where entering a door from one side requires holding down left click and ‘W’, exiting the door from the other side will require ‘S’. A control scheme like this is realistic but also easily forgotten and quickly becomes infuriating. Adding to the element of realism is the time actions take to complete. Opening a vent to enter a crawl space is a painfully long process, which detracts from the immersion it is intended to create. Movement is clunky, and Harvey has great difficulty traversing an uneven floor. Many of the surfaces have dips, which upon entering, are incredibly frustrating to exit as the jumping mechanic does not always work as smoothly as it should.
Interacting with objects is one of the most difficult and painful aspects of the game. Many objects can be picked up or interacted with, but they have no purpose beyond aesthetics. Having interactive assets that are not useful to the core game loop is highly confusing, as the player is left wondering why they are able to interact with but not take, for example, a pen. Some objects are designed to have things removed from them. However, which objects have removable components is not immediately obvious and uses an over complicated control scheme to figure out whether or not the item is of value.
Due to the desire for immersion, White Paper Games has chosen to include minimal elements of player feedback. All mission objectives and leads are communicated through a dossier that can be viewed at any time, although some informative notes seem to get lost in Harvey’s briefcase, and the game provides little advice on how to access these later. Furthermore, waypoints and maps are lacking, and, despite the extensive use of environmental feedback to guide the player, a lot of backtracking and disorientation remains to waste what little time is available.
Game-breaking bugs are quite common. One of the most notable that emerged during the preparation of this review being an impossibility of leaving the opening area, as the game had not triggered the event which would allow me to open an object and progress the story.
The existence of so many issues is a shame, particularly despite an extended production period and two delays. Nevertheless, despite the bugs, glitches, and poor controls, the narrative is genuinely thrilling and leaves the player curious to find out the truth.
The foundations are present for a really enjoyable, unique game, and given more time, it could be. In OnlySP’s interview with White Paper Games, the team already outlined plans to tweak the game after release. If White Paper Games can fix these initial problems, The Occupation may yet be one of 2019’s best releases, just not upon initial release.
Reviewed on PC.
American Fugitive Review — A Grand Tale of Theft and Auto
The original Grand Theft Auto rocked the virtual world with its violent gameplay from a birds-eye view perspective back in 1997. Once the series moved to a third-person, 3D perspective with Grand Theft Auto III, few gamers looked back and few developers attempted to replicate the original style. More than 20 years later, Fallen Tree Games has become of those few with American Fugitive.
Players control Will Riley, a man convicted for a crime he did not commit and filled with the desire for revenge. Once he has escaped from prison, Will must find old friends—and meet some new ones—to run errands and discover the person who killed his father.
The game is played from a top-down perspective in a 3D open world. More reminiscent of Chinatown Wars than the original Grand Theft Auto, the camera adds a level of complexity to American Fugitive, as players often will not see what lies beyond the edges of the screen. While a behind-the-character perspective would, at times, not go amiss, players will eventually grow to familiarise themselves with the camera, respecting the callback to classic open world titles.
The open world itself is also reminiscent of classic titles, with simplified designs regularly complimented by the detailed art style. The game’s animated, cartoon design scheme is fitting of its fast-paced action gameplay, always managing to keep the player on their toes and keen to discover more. Technically, the game plays almost flawlessly, with no significant performance issues to disrupt the player while they explore the map.
Players can explore the rural open world of Redrock County on foot or in a vehicle. The vehicular gameplay may take some time for players to familiarise themselves with, with some overly slippery mechanics leading to some unfortunate collisions, though fitting to the game’s tone. Thankfully, most environments in the game are destructible, so sliding off the road—if the player follows the road to begin with—does not often lead to disaster.
Despite beginning the game as a seemingly innocent man, Will doubles down on his criminal actions once he escapes from prison. Akin to Grand Theft Auto, the player can hijack cars, kill civilians, and attract the attention of police. Most residential buildings in the game can be robbed by the player, often leading to tense confrontations with the homeowners or police, so players must continue at their own risk.
The ‘wanted’ system in the game works similarly to Grand Theft Auto games, with players accumulating up to five stars depending on their behaviour. The stars often accumulate a little too quickly, however, with additional stars regularly added simply for evading police. Oftentimes, the player may possess a full wanted level—complete with large police vans and circling helicopters—within a minute of committing a minor offense. While this over-the-top gameplay design is fitting to the pace of the game, it may lead to frustrations within the main story missions by bringing the player’s progress to a halt.
The missions are also reminiscent of those in Grand Theft Auto, tasking the player with a wide variety of tasks to keep them busy while the story evolves. While many of these missions may seem disconnected to the main narrative structure, they are unique and regularly keep the player entertained, ranging from simple fetch quests and car robberies to full-scale shootouts. The game’s fast-paced gameplay and lack of loading screens also make the poorly-placed checkpoints bearable, especially when the beginning of missions require the player to drive to a certain location.
American Fugitive‘s storyline is simple in design but entertaining enough to keep the player engaged. The game’s ‘cutscenes’ exist in the form of text atop character designs; while some simple voice acting would elevate these scenes with more dramatic tension, they are short enough to maintain the player’s attention and continue the missions at a fast pace. Players will find themselves surprisingly engrossed in the story, wanting to see it through to its full conclusion.
Accompanying the fast-paced gameplay and narrative is the game’s music. From slow, explorative themes to fast-paced tracks, American Fugitive‘s original score is reminiscent of some of the best soundtracks across different media—from television’s True Detective to video gaming’s Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Last of Us. Each song accompanies the gameplay nicely, ramping up and down as the player makes the appropriate actions, and, along with the expert sound design, add the auditory sprinkles atop a visual and narrative treat.
American Fugitive, simply put, is fun. Fallen Tree Games has added its own unique twist to a classic gameplay formula, and utilised a simple but engaging narrative and a beautiful original score to maintain the player’s interest until the very end. Despite a few minor flaws in gameplay, the game stands strong against its competition. Players looking for a fast, fun, and mature sandbox game should not miss American Fugitive.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.
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