Set against a real time clock, The Occupation drops you into the middle of a complicated story with gameplay that will leave you stressed, yet satisfied. Developers White Paper Games are definitely onto something with their new game, but the compelling premise is unfortunately not quite enough to distract you from the onslaught of bugs that you will inevitably encounter.
Taking place in the late 1980s, The Occupation drops you off in North West England where a controversial anti-immigration government act has caused political and social unrest. After a deadly explosion at the Bowman Carson Group kills 23 people, Alex Dubois, a government employee and immigrant himself is accused is carrying out the attack. Players step into the shoes of investigative journalist Harvey Miller who after gaining access to the explosion site is tasked with getting to the bottom of exactly what happened on the night of the attack, and either prove or disprove Mr Dubois’ innocence.
Story aside, what’s interesting about The Occupation is that it takes place over four real time hours. After being contacted by Scarlet Carson of Bowman Carson, the organisation behind the government act, Harvey sets up interviews with various staff members of the organisation. In between each interview he has one hour where he is free to wander the halls of Bowman Carson and prepare. How players choose to spend this hour is completely up to them. You can sneak your way into staff-only areas and hack into computers, rifle through private paperwork, eavesdrop on conversations, and try to gather as much evidence as you possibly can to open up multiple lines of questioning for your later interview. Or if you prefer, you can take a seat and simply wait as the clock ticks down.
Once Harvey’s hour is up, the story will progress regardless of how much investigating you have done, so to get everything out of your investigation and to avoid falling to a passive role in the story, it’s important to make use of your time and follow through on as much as you can. However, I personally found that one hour is nowhere near enough time as every level is a complex web of puzzles that takes a lot of brain power and stealth to solve. Most of my time was taken up simply by trying to navigate the building and by the time I had figured out what to do and where to go, I barely had enough time to complete one lead, never mind even begin the others. With that being said however, the investigation itself is very exciting and you find yourself utterly engrossed. The game does a brilliant job of making mere seconds feel like hours which has you in a constant state of anxiety as you frantically check your watch. This can be equally frustrating as exiting, especially when Steve, the security guard, catches you in a staff-only area and takes you back to his office, causing you to lose 15 of your precious minutes.
The game is structured into four-hour long levels where you are free to do as you please, with shorter story filler sections in between. The game will save at the beginning of each level and not again until the end. Unless you don’t want to commit and hour at a time this normally wouldn’t be too much of an issue, but a huge problem with The Occupation is that throughout its 5-ish hour runtime you will find reoccurring bugs and glitches which range from small to game-breaking. Levitating in mid-air and unresponsive commands, although annoying don’t really have too much of an impact on gameplay, but a couple of times throughout my playthrough I was caught in glitches that ultimately effected my investigation.
During the first level, I arrived at my meeting a few minutes before the scheduled time only to be told that my subject wasn’t ready. I figured this was because I wasn’t there at the exact-to-the-minute time, so I hung around for the couple of minutes that I had spare. I went back to the interview at the exact time it was to be held only to be told again that she was not ready. The level then suddenly ended and moved the story forward to the next chapter, preventing me from attending the interview. A similar thing happened again towards the end of the game, but this time the clock decided to jump 20 minutes ahead not only causing the final level of the game to end but also stopping me from getting an item that is vital to the plot. I was still able to complete the game despite these two issues but I had no control over the ending and just had to watch as it played out. White Paper Games have since released patches which should fix some smaller issues but it seems that many of the larger problems still persist.
The visuals of the game are very fitting with the overall story and are reminiscent of atmospheric games such as BioShock (2007) and Dishonored (2012). The environment reinforces that the plot is set in the 1980s and has very cool original touches that really make the game special, bugs aside. The story is a very compelling one that you have full control over and with stellar voice performances and intricate gameplay details, it has a lot going for it.
The Occupation has so many moving parts at work that it is easily one of the most detailed games that I’ve ever played. While you only have an hour to do so, you could very easily find yourself exploring each level for hours. I’d say it’s near impossible to gather all evidence in one play though so there’s plenty of replay value. The game is hugely ambitious and it’s a real shame about all the issues that it has because there is definitely something great there that someone else will no doubt jump onto.