If there’s anything I learned from the second episode of Orwell, it’s that I’m not particularly good at stopping terrorist attacks.
In fairness, Orwell’s first episode proved alarming in showing my callous disregard of civil liberties as I investigated my suspect. I figured the second episode would be my chance to correct this behavior. Instead of playing the dude who just does his job, I decided to err on the side of skepticism and liberty – an innocent until proven guilty mentality, if you will.
This was obviously a bit of an overcorrection, considering the death toll I racked up by the episode’s end. In my failure to put the screws to the right people hard enough, I had more or less traded security in for freedom entirely.
It’s a testament to the game’s strength that finding the balance between the disparate concepts of freedom and security isn’t quite so easy. Discovering that the player’s choices actually influence events toward the end of the episode was a nice touch, too, even if it’s still hard to tell just how much the story will deviate depending on player agency.
Things also get a bit more complicated. Whereas the first episode only has players investigating one suspect, the web of interconnected suspects expands dramatically in the second.
Ironically, a lot of the dirt you dig up on suspects is public information readily obtained through blogs and social media. If 1984 is a critique of governmental surveillance, then Orwell is the natural extension of that critique by honing in on people’s own capacity for self-surveillance. Everything we upload online can be used against us, although we don’t often realize it. Even the characters in Orwell who fervently oppose surveillance openly leave breadcrumbs for the authorities to follow.
A fairly disturbing example of this was when I stumbled upon two characters engaging in some light-hearted banter on social media about torturing each other. It was figurative, innocuous stuff, and I uploaded the conversation out of sheer habit for the sake of posterity. Little did I know my superior would actually take the conversation quite literally and mark it down as supporting evidence of the characters being a menacing danger to society.
Some of the dialogue lacks subtlety and can be a bit on the nose at times, even bordering on way too personal, but then, I think we’ve all seen our fair share of ridiculous things on social media outlets. The attention to detail and mysterious intrigue trumps any cheesiness that might be present.
Because there’s a lot more information to process now, it also means there’s more extraneous details that aren’t always worth noting. Some details can even muddle your understanding of what is going on.
You might, for instance, see a private chat between Juliet and Cassandra, only to find out that Juliet isn’t actually talking to Cassandra because her boyfriend Joseph has logged into her account. So if Joseph says he’s a lawyer, it doesn’t quite make sense to upload that to Cassandra’s profile.
While there are still locked features, A Place Where There is No Darkness is a much more engaging experience that demands far more attention be paid to what is going on. There’s less handholding this time around and the information available to player is more layered.
It’s compelling stuff that forces you to think on your toes. For a game that’s entirely text-based, that’s an impressive feat.
The perfect game for politics and mystery junkies
Orwell continues to offer fine political intrigue and mystery, giving players a layered puzzlebox to sort out.