The Occupation is a brave game. Set in 1987, in an Orwellian nightmare, it’s a first-person, puzzle/detective game, set in real time. There’s a lot going on in The Occupation and one playthrough is certainly not going to let you see everything.
And you’re going to want to play it again. Not because the gameplay is so great, it’s not. I mean, it’s fine, but it’s just a first-person puzzle game. No, what’s going to make you want to play again is the mystery.
I won’t spoil it here. I will say though, that while, at first, I was a little ambivalent to the narrative, the deeper I dug, the more intrigued I became. I suppose that’s the idea, especially as you’re playing as Henry Miller, investigative journalist.
The Occupation Review
Miller has been sent to investigate an explosion that has rocked the city. Lives have been taken, citizens are in an uproar and the political climate is tense at best. The lynchpin for the entire situation seems to be something called The Union Act. About to be voted on by parliament, this act seemingly strips some citizens of their rights and privacy.
Although set in 1987, The Occupation deals with contemporary themes; terrorism, xenophobia, erosion of privacy and civil rights and the role of government. Finding out exactly what happened isn’t going to be easy with so much at stake, but the mystery is deep and will definitely maintain your interest. Especially as you go further down the rabbit hole.
The Occupation is split into several chapters with the main ones lasting for an hour of real time. In that hour you’re given a vague list of leads and clues to follow up on before your scheduled meeting. Whatever you discover within that hour, you’re able to use as ammunition in your interview.
Time is not on Your Side
Find out very little and your interview isn’t going to be very revealing. However, should you sneak around, discover contradictory information or additional clues you can present it to your interviewee and try and extract a little more detail. As a visiting journalist, most of the areas you visit are out of bounds; staff only, secure rooms and the like.
As you explore, you’ll need to keep a watchful eye out for security to make sure you’re not caught and escorted out. To stay out of sight you can crouch and hide under desks or simply run away until the AI loses you. I never really experienced a negative outcome from being caught though. Perhaps being narratively driven it’s too important for the player to take part in the interviews. A few times I wondered why security didn’t simply throw me out altogether.
That would make for a fairly pointless game though.
What really ramps up the tension and anxiety is knowing that the clock is ticking. In other detective games — Sherlock Holmes, Ace Attorney — players have unlimited time to build their case. The Occupation plays very similarly, however, the ticking clock makes a world of difference.
Plum, Wrench, Kitchen
Each chapter has a handful of leads and each lead has a number of clues that can be found. Only by finding all of the clues will a lead be fully investigated. To complete all of the leads in the allotted time means knowing exactly what you need to do before you do it. In my first playthrough, I was lucky to complete two leads before my time expired and I had to attend my interview.
To help keep track of all the information you collect, be it keycodes, safe combinations, computer passwords etc, Miller has a dossier and a briefcase. Both store a treasure trove of discovered clues which you can bring up at any point to refer to and help point you in the next direction. Miller also has a stopwatch that can be used to set reminders, though I never found it necessary.
For the most part, The Occupation sees you sneaking around in air vents, stealing documents, logging onto computers to print files and trying to avoid detection. It’s pretty simple, but it’s certainly addictive. Those who prefer their games with a bit of action won’t likely be too impressed with The Occupation. Though, if you enjoy a good story and mystery and like walking simulators and puzzles then The Occupation is certainly going to have something for you.
Find The Truth
The 1980s setting is a nice touch and it definitely has the feeling of being inside a George Orwell novel. It’s not as oppressive or terrifying as 1984, but it’s a world that’s heading in that direction. The environments are also nicely detailed and well rendered, thanks to Unreal Engine, but the character models are pretty terrible. They’re very boxy and cartoony with low polygon counts and low-res textures.
Thankfully, the voice acting is top notch and sells the story well.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Occupation, but I found a great detective game. I was sceptical of the real-time mechanic and worried it would be far too much of a gimmick. Instead, I found that it ratcheted up the tension and pushed me to try and solve the mystery more quickly, take risks and hopefully not get caught.
It’s not going to be for everyone, but The Occupation is a great game that deserves to be played by those who love the detective genre.
The Occupation was reviewed on PS4 using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game Title: The Occupation
Great mystery - 9/10
Simple and often buggy gameplay - 6.5/10
Multiple playthroughs - 7.8/10