Orwell: Ignorance is Strength Review

War and Peace
Developer: Osmotic Studios Publisher: Surprise Attack Platform: PC

The second season of the Orwell series continues with a strong narrative rooted in contemporary issues, with a couple of new mechanics keeping the gameplay alive

It’s a chilling notion to think that our wholehearted readiness to engage in the creation of virtual selves in the modern age has made us more vulnerable than ever. Whether it’s the powers that be wanting to know what we’re up to and collecting metadata on our virtual comings and goings, or private companies acquiring data to produce psychometric profiles so they can influence how we think, feel and more importantly, consume, it’s easy to become a little paranoid. Orwell: Ignorance is Strength plays on this notion, putting you in the pilot seat of an investigator tasked with digging through the online world in order to compile information on dissidents and other potential threats to the Nation’s peace.

Thoughts and prayers have long been known to be the most potent weapon against terrorism

Ignorance is Strength is the second season in the Orwell series (the first being Keeping an Eye on You), and the events actually take place parallel with those in the first season. While there is some quite clever crossover between the two, it isn’t required that you have played through the first season to fully understand what’s happening. The main person of interest you’ll be pursuing is a man by the name of Raban Vhart, a refugee currently residing in the Nation after being forced to flee the neighbouring country of Parges, which is currently embroiled in civil war. Despite the fact that the Nation has given him safe harbour, Vhart seems to be no fan of his adopted country and actively seeks to subvert popular opinion through his blog The People’s Voice. It’s up to you to dig through all of Vhart’s secrets as well as the people connected to him in order to find out what he knows (or thinks he knows) and defuse the situation lest the Nation’s volatile relationship with Parges reach a point of no return.

Orwell also addresses the so-called ‘post-truth’ era we live in and the concept of fake news, where the new aim is not to inform, but distract through carefully crafted narratives

The second season of Orwell directly channels some contemporary issues that will be immediately recognisable to anyone who has ever watched the news or has a Facebook (or MySpace) account. Namely there is the rise of nationalism in a post 9/11 world, where the threat of terrorism has given rise to a burgeoning ‘us and them’ mentality, and how this reflects in or treatment of refugees. Orwell also addresses the so-called ‘post-truth’ era we live in and the concept of fake news, where the new aim is not to inform, but distract through carefully crafted narratives. It’s an intriguing concept to try and tackle in a game, and Osmotic Studios do a decent job of weaving these themes through the narrative.

Familiar faces make a return

In terms of gameplay not much is changed from the first iteration, but there are a few new wrinkles to keep things slightly more interesting. You’ll still be trawling through people’s Timeline accounts (the game’s equivalent of Facebook), checking out their bank statements and perusing the contents of their phones, but now there are also several instances where you can enter the information you find in order to go deeper down the rabbit hole. Think someone might be a government operative? Search their code name in a database and find out. While this example may seem simple, doing so can reveal other strings to tug on, and what started as a simple query in a database can end with you decrypting secret files in the trash of their personal computers. It’s a good addition that encourages some lateral thinking.

Another cool addition is the use of the Influencer, a tool that specifically uses data chunks to craft a narrative as the antithesis to a dangerous idea getting around the Internet. The narrative is then disseminated through social media webs to sway public opinion and turn it against the progenitor of the dissident notion. For example, if xXXNo-scopez_69_blaze_it_with_urM0M420Xxx tried to spread the idea that Xbox was better than PlayStation, you could craft the narrative that Xbox has no games, and before you know it the entire Internet will beat him into submission with their keyboards/primitive controllers. Unfortunately, the Influencer is a feature that only comes into the play in the third and final episode, but it does make for some tough choices when you’ve got a few competing narratives crafted to combat a certain idea.

Under the influence

It won’t take you long to burn through the second season’s three episodes, with each taking an hour or two to complete. As with the first there are multiple endings to enjoy which theoretically gives the game some substantial replayability, although after a second playthrough of relentless data chunk clicking and dragging I’ll admit I was ready to down tools as an investigator.

Final Thoughts

Orwell: Ignorance is Strength manages to craft another socially relevant narrative through its unique gameplay system, even if that gameplay system is starting to feel overly familiar. If Orwell doesn’t make you paranoid enough to put a piece of al foil on your computer’s camera, stop using the same password for everything and sharing every minute detail of your life on Facebook, then you’re probably doing it wrong.

Reviewed on PC/ Review code supplied by publisher

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Good

  • Socially relevant narrative
  • New mechanics encourage lateral thinking
  • Unique gameplay system

Bad

  • Variety in game mechanics is somewhat lacking
  • Data mining is occasionally a bit of a chore
8

Get Around It

Kieran is a consummate troll and outspoken detractor of the Uncharted series. He once fought a bear in the Alaskan wilderness while on a spirit quest and has a PhD in organic synthetic chemistry XBL: Shadow0fTheDog PSN: H8_Kill_Destroy
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