The Occupation Review: A clock-watching, whistle blowing thriller
“Who’d have thought that Steve, the wannabe actor-cum-security guard, would be more intimidating than a Xenomorph.”
As the in-game clock runs in real time, you’ll have to carefully manage what you decide to get up to in the lead up to your meetings, while making sure to still be on time.
Throughout your visit to Bowman-Carson, you’ll be escorted by the building’s security team, comprising of Dan, who resides at the front desk, and Steve, who typically patrols the corridors.
At the beginning of each section, Dan will typically tell you to preoccupy yourself while you wait on your appointment, which is your queue to start devising questions based on any information you can gather.
Armed with nothing but your briefcase, dossier and trendy digital watch, you can either abide by the visitation rules, or make things interesting by sneaking into restricted zones.
As previously mentioned, Steve the security guard will be keeping an eye on you while you loiter around the building.
Our first encounter with Steve has us experience his impersonations of various film characters, which paints him as fairly harmless.
While Steve as a character is fairly goofy and laid back, he is going to be the biggest threat to your investigations throughout the game. If you’re within a restricted zone, it’s important to stay vigilant, playing attention to the sinister-sounding audio queues that play when someone is nearby.
The security team aren’t the only ones you’ll need to be wary of when breaking the rules, a lovable Geordie cleaner called Marlon will also be floating around with his trolley, as well as the less lovable interviewees of Bowman-Carson.
You’ll also need to be careful not to set off any alarms while conducting your trespassing spree, as Dan will often use the intercom to ask Steve to check out the area.
If you’ve been wise enough to close doors behind you and not make much noise, Steve will often dismiss any suspicions, allowing you to sneak out like nothing ever happened.
This is merely one of the many ways of tackling security systems; with other methods including obtaining key cards or alarm codes, shutting off the power to a specific area, or finding an alternative route through a vent or a window.
Providing a variety of paths throughout each level adds a great layer of replayability, as well as providing an alternate way of progressing, if things prove to be too difficult.
The Occupation nails the element of suspense when within risky situations, creating a sense unease and tension that proves to be relatable.
It’s the same anxious feeling you’d get if you went into a staff area of a shop in real life, while you know that the worst that would happen is being told to leave, the terror of being caught will still instinctually emerge within our heads.
There are times within the game that prove to be even more stressful than the likes of Alien Isolation, with nothing but a whiteboard hiding you from the potential of being foiled.
Who’d have thought that Steve, the wannabe actor-cum-security guard, would be more intimidating than a Xenomorph.
Each scenario will have a specific set of leads, which give the player an indication of what information is required to substantiate the line of inquiry. Harvey’s editor, Mina, will frequently call using a payphone, in order to provide a lead to follow up on.
While Mina’s instructions aren’t mandatory for progressing through the game, it’s nice to be given a step for a hint, especially since there’s a vast amount of information to collect and little time to spare.
Information can be gathered in various different forms such as documents, emails, floppy disks and audio cassettes, which will either provide clues or substantiate leads, which will come in handy when questioning within your interviews.
Successful retrieval of each media type can turn into a puzzle of sorts, with gates which will wipe floppy disks, requiring them to be restored on ‘Data Doctor’ machines and items being stuck within pneumatic tubes.
Figuring out how to obtain the item you require is a vital part of progression, requiring careful attention to the fine details around you.
A highlight of this is when you have to save an email to a floppy disk, print it out and fax it to Mina, which demonstrates a strong sense of realism that isn’t common within the world of video games.
Mechanically speaking, The Occupation uses stealth and environmental manipulation at the core of its gameplay, having the player sneak around while rummaging in places we really shouldn’t.
Most objects can be interacted with, from server terminals and desk drawers, to the flusher on a toilet, your actions can either be fundamental to progression, or the digital version of a fidget cube.
It’s also easy to be distracted by objects that are unrelated to any clues or leads, which can feel a bit like a wild goose chase when you realise you spent 5 minutes flicking through a filing cabinet with nothing in it.
Once it’s time to attend your meeting, you’ll finally get to see all that hard, deviant, journalism pay off, as you’ll get to grill the smug look from your interviewee’s face.
If you’ve successfully backed up a lead with the appropriate evidence, you can present it during your questioning and take delight in watching them crumble as they become a stuttering mess.
While this part of the game is pretty much just a watered-down L.A. Noire, it’s still satisfying to see our actions take effect within the game.
That being said, not following up on leads is far from being a game over scenario, instead just leading to a different telling of events, after all, it’s completely down to the players choice.
There’s a lot to like when it comes to The Occupation as a whole, with a cast of high-quality voice acting and an art style that draws a similarity to the likes of Bioshock.
The graphics might not be awe-inspiring, yet the world is colourful and interesting, with a nice amount of detail put into the environment and objects.
There are also some rather quirky collectibles in the form of cassettes, vinyl and strange polaroids of Steve striking different poses, which give gamers a reason for a second playthrough.
While there’s humour to be found within the narrative, it’s hard to ignore the political message dwelling within the fabric of the plot, with themes of institutional racism resonating with current affairs.
Despite this, the game doesn’t force us into a particular moral path, with the choice between right and wrong being in the hands of the player.
The whole experience on offer with this game feels very believable, with nothing far-fetched sticking out to distract from the simulation of investigative journalism.
In its current state, The Occupation does seem to suffer from some bugs with its AI, which can prove annoying when you find yourself having to restart a chapter because Steve has got himself stuck in a wall.
The Occupation might not be the first of its kind, yet it manages to provide a distinct experience that delivers on everything it promises. With completion only lasting a few hours, you’ll find yourself craving more, whilst not actually feeling like your time with the game was cut short.
White Paper Games have created a robust formula that will hopefully be used again in future games, be it in the guise of more investigative journalism games, or perhaps something else.
If you’re a fan of first-person adventure or traditional puzzle-based games, then The Occupation is definitely going to provide you with the brain fuel you require, providing Steve can stop getting stuck in the walls.
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