It’s always unlikely an indie game is going to steal the show at E3, but you never know when it could happen. At E3 2015, IGN nominated Abzu, Ad1ft, and Cuphead as their Game of the Show that year. In 2016, Night in the Woods and Absolver where listed in several writers Top 10 games by Polygon. It’s not unheard of that an indie game could suddenly appear out of nowhere and suddenly grab everyone’s attention in a way a multi-million dollar project from EA or Ubisoft ever could. Could The Occupation be one of those runners up this year, or even the Game of Show?
This year likely won’t be any different for indie games. The event has grown over the years to allow more indie games each year. The list of indie games that are already confirmed to be at the show, or that could reasonably make an appearance, is staggering. So which of these indie darlings will be the one to rise about the stiff competition and come out on top? My money’s on one of two games, and the first is The Occupation.
Developed by Ether One creators White Paper Games, The Occupation represents something of a unique game. It’s what many might classify as a “walking simulator,” only it has distinctive gameplay elements. Imagine a visual novel that presents you with choices, only with more depth. It sounds a lot like a Telltale game, doesn’t it?
Evolution of a Classic
The Occupation is really a further evolution of the “walking simulator,” which is itself an evolution of the adventure game. It portends to have an engaging story, but unlike Gone Home or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, here, you’ll have more than just a passive role.
You play as a journalist who arrives on the scene of a terrorist attack in 1980’s Britain to report on the story. The attack comes on the eve of “The Union Act,” which will “threatens the civil liberties of the British population,” as the official website describes it. It’s an incredible topical game that plays itself more than a little on the nose (you’ll be happy to hear the game is set in 1987, not 1984), but that’s just the starting point.
What really makes The Occupation sound interesting is how the gameplay and story intertwine. The game takes place over a four hour period and plays out in real time. You have to figure out how you’re going to stop the passing of this act into law through whatever means necessary, and you’ll have to figure out the how’s of that yourself. Since the game is in real time, you’re going to have to decide what path to take and when, knowing every decision your make will permanently block you from the other path. Based on the teaser trailer, gameplay seems a little more involved than simply walking from point A to B.
How The Occupation Win the West
For The Occupation to stand any chance of capturing the hearts and minds of the gaming press, it needs to do two things. The first, it needs to have a compelling story. This is obviously subjective, but given the genre the game occupies, story needs to carry the day, no matter how good the gameplay is. What we’ve seen is interesting so far, but not necessarily compelling. The story of a corrupt, overbearing government spying on its citizens under the guise of “protection” has been done to death. White Paper Games needs to find a new angle a la Papers, Please putting the player on the side of the government. Or, the story should so greatly written that it’s too compelling to ignore, such as The Last of Us.
The second thing White Paper Games needs to do is showcase its gameplay. Not just walking around hallways, but the investigation elements set against a real-time, running clock. It’s one thing to tell people about the feature, it’s another to show it in action. A great example is when TellTale first showed off The Walking Dead, and they showed the player at the end of Episode 1 having to decide between which one of two characters they had to save. It was quick, but effective, showcasing how dynamic the story was, and the player’s influence on it. White Paper Games needs an attention grabbing moment like this in a gameplay walkthrough.
Of course, all of this could be for naught. There’s no guarantee that The Occupation will even be at E3 this year. Given the timing of its announcement, March 2017, and that it’s releasing later this year, it’d be surprising not to see it in some capacity. Either way, this is definitely one to keep an eye on.
For more coverage on this game, and complete coverage of all things indie gaming at E3 2017, keep your eyes on Cliqist.