2016’s Orwell: Keeping an Eye On You was one of GameGrin’s favourite games of the year and Andrew and I were happy to champion it for its unique approach to storytelling and gameplay. So I was looking forward to this second season of episodes to see how the developers, Osmotic Studios, would expand on the original.
Orwell: Ignorance is Strength takes place concurrently with the original. It’s a new standalone storyline with a new cast of characters that places you back into the Orwell surveillance system as a new investigator tasked with identifying facts and information that will help suppress rising political tensions between the fictional countries of The Nation and neighbouring Parges.
For those that missed the original season, the game sees you examining a variety of in-universe websites, documents and phone calls using specific snippets of information — that the game calls datachunks — to update profiles on individuals that your Orwell handler can use to influence events in game.
The story this time focuses on the owner of the anti-government blog, The People’s Voice, Raban Vhart and the disappearance of Captain Oleg Bakay. Over the three episodes, the storyline intertwines in subtle ways with the original season but not in a way that affects understanding of its own storyline. Still, the little nods and weaving of threads are a nice bonus for those who’ve played the original.
It expands on the exploration of themes of truth and perspective from the first game and how both can easily be manipulated by context or lack thereof. The authoritarian nature of The Party, the government of The Nation, provides a great backdrop to question the price of liberty and privacy concerns and the cost associated with giving concessions to both.
The main gameplay addition this time is the addition of time pressure. Each datachunk you submit moves the time of day on, and this is used quite well to make you weigh up how valuable bits of information are. Do you flesh out that profile fully or do you carefully pick out what you think is pertinent to record? It adds a nice extra wrinkle to the investigative feel of the game.
There are also some adjustments to prior mechanics, for example when browsing web sites you can now drag elements like names and numbers from your profiles into search boxes to pull up further information on individuals. Browsing target’s computers and phones sadly received no updates but it still works fine.
A new mechanic, the Influencer tool, allows you to combine pairs of datachunks to contradict a message using social media. Unfortunately, this is introduced in the final of the three episodes and doesn’t really get much explanation or usage, it makes the finale feel less like you are uncovering information and more like you are partaking in the investigative equivalent of a Quick Time Event which is a shame as the concept is an interesting one.
The story itself doesn’t feel quite as dramatically engaging as the original season but is satisfying to play through in the moment. Being more political in nature, the story doesn’t have the inherent pull of the terrorist attacks of the first game but like the original, there are a series of points where your actions cause ripples that change subsequent events giving it some replay value as well.
Orwell: Ignorance is Strength is split over three episodes of roughly around an hour each compared to the original’s five episodes. But it does spend less time explaining the mechanics, moving some of that into your job “questionnaire” before you start, and gets you into the story a bit quicker.
Overall the game is a solid sequel to the original that can’t quite live up to the impact that had. It’s more of the same — which is no bad thing — but doesn’t offer anything new or really expand on what came before. That being said it’s well worth your time, especially if you played Orwell: Keeping an Eye On You and want to spend more time in that world.
Orwell: Ignorance is Strength (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
An interesting sequel to one of the best games of 2016, delving further into the role of government as an all-seeing eye with interesting questions about privacy and truth. Doesn’t add much to the original’s formula but still well worth playing.