Well, it looks like I’m getting much better at capturing suspects, even if they’re not necessarily in the most alive state.
There’s a pivotal moment near the end of Orwell’s third episode in which players are reading a live phone transcript as a terrorist manhunt unfolds. It’s the culmination of about an hour’s worth of research and judgment calls, and depending on the player’s decisions, it could very well mean life or death for the suspect. There are no animated visuals during this sequence, nor is there any audio dialogue to speak of. All players have before them is some text and foreboding music cues.
At face value, one could easily chalk this up to budget constraints, but within the context of the game’s setting and theme, the sequence ends up working brilliantly. The suspense of waiting powerlessly on the other end of the line, unsure of what is happening, is a brilliant contrast to the power the player was given in rooting through the suspect’s personal information. That an indie game can achieve such a tingling level of suspense with so little deserves major kudos.
In its third episode, Orwell continues to showcase Osmotic Studios’ ability to overcome the reality of development limitations with solid writing and strong player agency, all while delivering on more political intrigue and mystery.
With a lot of the game’s world-building out of the way, Unperson focuses much more on the relationships between the various suspects the player investigates, and like the previous episode, more complexities are thrown into the mix. As the episodes have progressed, I’ve found myself teeter-tottering between emotionally detached employee and rebellious freedom fighter. After the catastrophe that occurred last episode, I once again decided to shift back to acting the role of an impartial judge, but alas, Orwell has a habit of playing tricks with your heart and mind.
As you dig through every one of the suspects’ nitty-gritty details, you might find information that leaves you sympathetic toward a single mother struggling to make ends meet. Five minutes later you might discover incriminating information placing the suspect on the scene of three separate crimes. Some time later, you learn the suspect served in the military and suffered a horrific personal tragedy. Then you learn they have a fake identity.
It’s hard to know who to hate; anyone could be good or bad, and I hate the developers for that in the most wonderful way. The only certain thing is that one can’t do this job successfully without being emotionally detached, and yet, the information players discover about the suspects presents challenges to remaining an emotional mute.
The episode also continues to force players to think carefully before uploading information to the Orwell program, thanks to the player’s oblivious bore of an overseer, who is unable to interpret the phrase, ‘partners in crime,’ as anything but literal.
This episode also unlocks an Insider feature within the interface that lets players hack into suspects’ computers and snoop around their personal files, just in case they weren’t already ashamed of violating people’s privacy. It’s a small, but appreciated addition to add some variety to the data mining.
It’s hard not to think about how much more exciting the whole experience could be with some more audio and visuals, but there’s also an undeniable charm to using one’s imagination to enhance the sense of immersion. Above all, it is the richly constructed storytelling and characters that are making this experience worthwhile, and I can’t wait to see how the rest of the series unfolds.
Less is more
Orwell remains a fine example of overcoming budget and technical limitations with rich storytelling.