By Tyler Lubben / October 5th, 2016
In this Internet age, it’s hard to keep anything from getting online anymore. People constantly post personal details about themselves on websites and social media, without giving much thought to who might be seeing it on the other side. Likewise, as foreign threats and violent groups become more connected, countries and governments are taking more steps to protect themselves. This often comes at the cost of the privacy of individual citizens, as agencies may sift through terabytes of information to track down potential online threats. Many people are apprehensive about outside entities having access to their online information, even if it’s in the name of national security, but, if Osmotic Studios’ new title, Orwell, is any indication, I would be super good at it.
An explosion rings out in the middle of a busy town plaza, killing and injuring a handful of people nearby. Terrorism is suspected, and it is decided that a new government initiative will be rolled out to investigate the attack. The twist: It seems as though this grand experiment is helmed by people unaffiliated with the government, i.e. you. This is all done through the use of the ironically-named “Orwell” system, which gives operators unfettered access to all sorts of online sources like police records, websites, blogs and chat conversations. From these sources, it’s up to you to parse the information found therein and build a case against the person or persons responsible for the attack.
In this first outing, all signs point to a woman named Cassandra Watergate as the perpetrator of the bombing, so you’ll have to scour the Internet for any information that may implicate her in the attack. You work with an advisor named Symes who guides you through the basics of the Orwell system and offers pointers as you proceed. You’re initially given access to two sections of Orwell; the Reader and the Listener. The system also contains the Insider, though it was not used during this investigation. The Reader, as you can probably guess, is what you’ll use to access various webpages to find information related to your suspect or other persons of interest. The Listener, on the other hand, is used to monitor conversations the suspect has within chat clients. As you work your way around the various pages, key terms and phrases will automatically be highlighted. Things like a suspect’s employment history, relationships, hobbies and interests, chat handles, aliases and quotes they’ve made online are all pertinent information that can be given to your advisor by clicking and dragging them to the submission window on the left side of the screen. Once submitted, Symes will make a note of the new information, and new sources of information may crop up. It can seem a little unwieldy at first, but it makes more sense once you get used to it. For example, looking through the comments section of one of Cassi’s blogs reveals that she sometimes goes by the alias ‘Cassarthis.’ Plugging this name into Orwell comes back with a hit from another website where a writer with the same alias wrote a scathing piece about the surveillance cameras used to monitor the public, which can potentially point to a distrust towards the government. It’s quite a unique system, and one that always had me interested to see what the next bit of data might reveal in the investigation.
In the apparent interest of impartiality, advisors are not given access to the Orwell system and are only able to act based on the information that you submit to them during your research. Due to this, it is important to only submit information relevant to the investigation. It’s usually pretty easy to tell what is and isn’t useful here. Cassi is an artist, so when she starts waxing poetic that she lives “just behind the rainbow” on one of her blogs, you can pretty well guess that that probably isn’t actually her address. Where the real problems present themselves are when you find conflicting pieces of information, and it becomes difficult to decide what to submit to Symes. On one of Cassi’s blogs, she espouses nonviolent protest by herself and her fellow activists, yet, on another page, she is seen praising the bombing as a strike at the government’s invasive surveillance practices. You are only allowed to submit one of these such mutually-exclusive accounts, so the portrait painted of the accused ultimately comes down to how you present it. Unfortunately, you may not find out until later which option was the correct one, since new information that might have helped with your decision is sometimes revealed after you’ve made a decision. Sadly, there simply wasn’t enough game in this preview to see the possible ramifications of my choices.
I think the main issue I’m having with Orwell right now is that I don’t really know who I’m working for. It’s hard to say whether Symes and those above him are interested in finding the truth or simply someone to pin the attacks on. It’s obvious that they were pretty intent from the start to find evidence of Cassie’s involvement with the bombing, but everything is presented to you in a very black-and-white format that doesn’t really feel right no matter how you slice it. Having just come off of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, I’m used to things getting wrapped up in a nice little package in the end. But maybe that’s the point of Orwell. In the world of national security, it seems there are always shades of gray, and it’s up to you to make the best decision based on the information you’re given. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to feel good about it at the end of the day. Either way, I’ve been given a taste of a very interesting story and gameplay style that I’m looking forward to really sinking my teeth into when the full game comes out from Surprise Attack Games later this year. In the immortal words of Ru Paul…
Impressionsorwellosmotic studiosPCSurprise Attack Games