The Occupation Review – On The Clock
The Occupation Review – On The Clock. I’m glad I played through The Occupation a second time. My first playthrough did not end well. Yes, I made it to the end, I saw a final cutscene and watched the credits roll, but I wouldn’t say I reached the conclusion of the story. In fact, I felt like I’d barely scratched the surface.
After finishing it a second time I had a good handle on the major events of this bureaucratic thriller, but it wasn’t until I’d played all the way through for a third time–and replayed individual sections several times over–that I felt confident I understood the motivations of the main characters. Even now, I’m contemplating a fourth go in an effort to figure out the smaller details and fathom just how deep the conspiracy goes.
The Occupation is a story-driven stealth-adventure game that rewards repeat plays even if it can also, at times, feel hostile to the idea of enabling you to delve into its narrative nooks and crannies. It tells a mature, challenging story that is both overtly political and ambiguous enough to leave plenty to interpretation, while its core stealth mechanics deliver a suitably tense experience.
For most of the game you play as an investigative journalist who is reporting on a terrorist attack at the stately campus of a prominent IT company. An immigrant employee of the company has been arrested in connection with the alleged bombing, but you’ve received a tip-off that not all is quite so simple. There’s also the matter of the company’s work on a personal data harvesting project that seems worryingly linked to the British government’s proposed Union Act, an anti-immigrant and anti-civil liberty bill about to face a crucial vote in parliament. It may well be set in the 1980s, but the issues tackled feel all too relevant today. It’s a smart story that’s told with a deft, delicate touch.
It’s essentially a detective story in which you investigate scenes, gather clues, compile evidence, and interrogate eye-witnesses. You have arranged interviews with three key players at the company, and in between your appointments, you are able to explore the offices. The catch: you’re on a time limit during each of the three main investigative periods. When that time is up–and it varies between 30 and 60 minutes of real-ish time–your interview starts regardless of how much incriminating information you’ve managed to obtain, and your line of questioning is limited to what you can actually prove.
Navigating the office space is in itself a challenge. These buildings are a maze of corridors, security checks, staff-only areas, ventilation shafts, crawlspaces, and temporary construction sites. Remembering how to get from one room to another when you have to travel to another floor, in and out of restricted areas, stealing an ID card here, shutting off the mains power there, is a stern memory test even once you’re familiar with the basic layout. But the environments have a real tactile feel that makes you want to keep exploring them.
Complicating matters further, if any staff find you in a restricted area–rifling through their filing cabinets, for example–they’ll ask you to leave, and if you persist, call security. Fortunately there are gaps you can exploit, both physical ones like the vent under that desk that leads into the locked room next door and temporal ones like those few minutes you have to log in to someone’s computer and read their emails before they return from the bathroom. Little touches, like pausing to close the blinds in an office window before continuing your snooping, go a long way to making you feel like a genuine detective.
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