Time is often twisted and contorted in games. Characters repeat routines far too often in a short space of time to let you take advantage of a window of opportunity repeatedly, for example, or simple actions like booting up and logging into a computer are instantaneous to spare you from staring at the very real start-up sequence in a time sensitive situation. The Occupation sees this and tosses these ideas out of the window. The central hook to this fascinating thriller is how every action takes place in real-time. Your actions and inactions have real consequences in a handful of scenarios, which can be both enthralling and frustrating at the same time.

The Occupation takes place in Britain during the late 1980’s, as the country is on the brink of passing a new law that will see the deportation of immigrants based on public safety concerns. The game’s opening features the bombing of a big tech company aiding the government in public data sourcing – a large Big Brother project that very quickly looks like a breach of public privacy in the name of public safety. Being pinned on an immigrant worker only accelerates the urgency to get the bill passed, leaving it up to you and a handful of interested parties to uncover the truth.

The Occupation’s tale is thought-provoking and relevant, often questioning what the role of a journalist is when presented with information with further reaching consequences than just a strong story and impressive byline. It’s setting in a fictional timeline and much earlier period of history don’t mask how this story tackles issues prevalent today, yet it’s done with a delicate touch that doesn’t make it feel like an ill-deserved reference. The incredibly strong voice-acting throughout The Occupation is mostly to thank for how well the story is conveyed. The raspiness of an emotionally strained monologue is powerful, making each word hit with strong emotional impact. The Occupation gives its actors great material to work with, but their delivery is punching so far above its weight that it deserves recognition.

You play predominantly as Henry Miller, a local renowned reporter and writer that has three important interviews booked with the company in question. Each of these interviews play out as strictly timed information gathering exercises. You’re given a dossier of clues and leads to follow, each of which will open new questions for you to ask when your time is up and you (hopefully) attend your interview. If The Occupation were a shooter, these questions would be your guns. Without them an interview is impossible to excel in. Without evidence to pin to your subject or leads to hunt them down over, your interviewee is let off light, steering the conversation away from the truth and obfuscating the underlying conspiracy. It affects the story and how much of it your exposed to, encouraging multiple playthroughs to see everything it has to offer.

Snooping around will force you outside of the spaces you’re allowed in, meaning you’ll have to conjure up inventive ways to circumvent security. Colour-coded doors can be accessed with carelessly lost ID keys or skipped entirely by finding an open vent nearby, for example. Getting into restricted areas is only half of the job though. Hunting through dustbins for thrown away computer password or incriminating documents will become second nature, while diving into deleted emails and copying their contents (slowly) onto a spare floppy disk will help you compile a strong case against your next subject.

The Occupation contextualises its leads and clues with strong links to its setting and time period. Its technology is just on the edge of revolution, forcing you to impatiently wait for a printer to spit out a single A4 piece of paper or a desktop to slowly authenticate password credentials. The spinning of a hard drive or the infuriating sound of a dot-matrix printer remind you of all the precious seconds ticking up as you wait, slowly stealing away more potential snooping. The Occupation doesn’t allow manual saving either, so you’re forced to either replay an entire chapter (usually an hour long) or resign to your choices and performance and carry them forward. It creates a tangible tension that is engrossing most of the time, but also leaves the door open for countless instances of frustration.

While the inability to rewind saves adds to the tension, it also drastically hampers your enjoyment of The Occupation when unexpected errors occur. Although I didn’t experience any crashes, I did encounter multiple faults that affected my progress late into a chapter. A bug prevented me from picking up a floppy disc with crucial evidence on it, in turn preventing a large avenue of questioning in the subsequent interview. Another prevented me from exiting a room undetected, after a security guard refused to move away from an entrance after briefly spotting me. This ultimately led to my second capture, and prematurely ended the level without the chance of an interview. These two instances had massive impacts on this playthrough and would require full replays of the chapters in question to rectify.

Various other technical issues were less severe on overall progress but did impact the otherwise strong atmosphere. Characters regularly phased through security doors when attempting to scan through them, while pieces of furniture would frequently get stuck to other characters after they stood up from a chair or moved close enough to them. It’s difficult to feel enraptured by The Occupation’s well composed dystopian setting when a security guard is scolding you while having a desk chair levitate above their head. Compounded with the more serious bugs abound, The Occupation is in rough shape as is.

It’s a pity given how unique The Occupation’s gameplay is, and how strong its engrossing tale is to slowly unfurl. Poking around The Occupation’s dystopian setting is captivating thanks to a strong atmosphere and clever stealth mechanics, but it’s undone by its dedication to its core mechanic and its overall uneven technical performance. It’s easy to feel hard done by The Occupation far too often, especially when it’s easy to lose hours of progress to trivial bugs. But when it is hitting the right notes, The Occupation is a clever thriller, and one that is deserving of your attention.

Last Updated: March 11, 2019

The Occupation
The Occupation's clever real-time investigations and immensely engrossing story are undone by its dedication to inducing tension by restricting saving, which is exasperated by uneven technical performance.

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