Back in 2014, I got my hands on a game called Ether One, a walking simulator/puzzle hybrid that focused on piecing together the memories of a patient suffering from dementia. The game had a profound impact on me, so much so, that I often refer to it as one of the few games that inspired me to become a games programmer (I should have my degree in the next few year I hope!). My love for Ether One had me following developer White Paper Games very closely, eager to see what they’d come up with next. That five years of waiting has resulted in The Occupation, an investigative thriller that sees you trying to collect evidence to make sense of an explosion that has rocked England. It’s bold and ambitious, but unfortunately its moments of brilliance are drowned out by a numerous bugs, performance issues and finicky controls.
The narrative takes place in North West England in 1987, a time of intense political unrest that is quickly made worse by a supposed terrorist attack that had led to the death of 23 people. In response to this attack, a new union act has been put forward, that sees to invade the personal freedoms of the people of England. Tighter laws on immigration, and less privacy for the masses are just a few aspects of this sure to be unpopular act. As the Turing Post’s most esteemed investigative journalist Harvey Miller, you are tasked with uncovering as much as you can about what truly happened on the night of the attack.
Civil unrest is apparent
I won’t spoil anymore of the narrative here, but what I can see is that it’s extremely arresting and thought-provoking. You think you finally know what is going on, only to then doubt yourself and see the situation from a completely different perspective. The story is without a doubt a highlight, and I can’t wait to see what other types of endings I can possibly achieve if I make different choices and spin the narrative differently.
Gameplay wise, The Occupation is pretty deep and engaging. You are given a certain time period to traipse around and investigate one of the Bowman Carson buildings, before having to attend a meeting to interview figures of the company, such as the head of PR for example. In that period of time (which often rounds out to about an hour), you collect as much intel as you can, as you try and formulate a set of questions that you can then ask at the meeting. The more you uncover, the greater chance you have of uncovering the truth and being able to realise what exactly occurred on the night of the blast.
Make sure to collect as much intel as you can
The coolest thing is that the hour in game is also an hour in real time, making the searches for evidence feel both tense and realistic, as you see the time on your watch run ever closer to the time of your meeting. The time also has different effects on the environment, making different areas accessible at different times. For example, the head of security Dan goes for a break and leaves the security desk unattended for 15 minutes, leaving you plenty of time to search his office if you choose to do so. Characters also take breaks, leaving areas they were previously in free for you to scope out, which is a cool way to allow for you to access areas that were previously harder to reach.
There are also numerous ways you can go about collecting the same piece of information. For example, if you want to get into someone’s office, you can try and track down their ID card and/or pin code, or you can try and find a vent that will get you into the room, or you can turn off the power and get in to the room, at the expense of not being able to access their computer. This amount of depth is constantly on display throughout The Occupation, and it offers you a variety of different ways to go about your job.
Pay close attention to your watch
The sad reality about The Occupation however, is that it’s probably the most broken game I’ve ever played. Firstly, items such as telephones and cassette players, which are essential throughout the game are completely broken, as the UI prompts when you hover over them aren’t placed correctly. Hovering over the play button the cassette player prompts you to use the eject button, while hovering a small distance away from the play button finally grants you the prompt to press play. It’s laughable how broken the UI is in these moments, and it makes using these items frustrating when it should be simple and straightforward.
The AI on display is also laughably stupid. If you break into a room, set off an alarm, and hide under a desk, the guard will come in and either stand there for a minute, or just turn the alarm off and walk off (Who’s paying these people?). It practically breaks the game, allowing you to disregard turning off the power or use the correct door code. The game also doesn’t punish you enough for breaking the rules. Characters will warn you to leave restricted areas, but all you really need to do is run away and the don’t put up much of a fight.
How do you mess up this badly?
The game is just broken in general really. Game breaking crashes occur often, textures glitch out constantly, some characters even have their animation cease when chasing you, leading to hilarious moments where your escape from security sees you fleeing a hovering guard telling you how he’s going catch you. Frame drops, walking through objects, random floating objects, incessant loading times, and abrupt cuts in character dialogue roundup what is an embarrassing rap sheet of bugs and glitches. The game even takes roughly four seconds to unpause, it’s shockingly bad. If I were a QA tester, I wouldn’t have allowed the Occupation to see the light of day just yet, as in its current state it’s arguably the most broken game I have ever played.
Other than being buggy and chuggy, I do have a few grievances with some aspects of The Occupation’s gameplay. Firstly, I can’t help but feel like hit box that triggers a prompt to interact with an item is far too small, leading to plenty of frustrating moments where you’re trying numerous times to interact with something you’re directly looking at. This becomes even more apparent in tense situations, where you may quickly need to pick up a note off a table before scurrying towards an exit. Having to manually open doors and close doors can also be finicky and frustrating as well, and while it’s novel at first to open an envelope and unfold the paper, it becomes an annoyance quite quickly.
The Occupation is without a doubt an interesting game with unique and ambitious concepts, it’s just marred with an abundance of bugs that don’t give game the level of polish it deserves. Texture glitches, animation errors, frame drops, game breaking crashes and a wonky UI are only a few of the issues I encountered throughout the game, and quite honestly I’m baffled that this game is allowed to release in its current state. The story is admirable albeit a tad confusing, the music and character writing suit the drab and mopey world, and the overall gameplay loop of collating evidence to ask better questions and figure out exactly what happened is enthralling, but the myriad of bugs were ever-present, overshadowing my moments of enjoyment with The Occupation. The Occupation is a broken mess, and even though there are some cool ideas on display, they aren’t worth wading through a horde of performance issues.
Reviewed on PS4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher