The Occupation review

The Occupation review
The Occupation review
The Good:
  • Real-time gameplay feels fresh and adds drama
  • Allows multiple routes to be creative and complete objectives
  • Clever use of ‘80s elements (floppy discs, fax machines, cassette players) in solving puzzles
The Bad:
  • Clunky controls make sneaking imprecise
  • Interface feels fiddly, especially under the game’s time pressures
  • Dialogue is sometimes hammy and melodramatic
  • Narrative gets lost in sea of aliases and code names
Our Verdict:

There’s a fair bit of fun to be had sneaking about the workplace in this first-person fixed-time thriller at first, but The Occupation ends up overstaying its welcome due to some clumsy implementation.

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I’m crouching underneath a desk, staring at a lady’s knees, hoping she won’t notice me. She’s been sitting at the table for a few minutes now, unaware of my contorted presence, which is really eating up the time I need for my investigation. It may look right now like I’m some kind of pervert, but if I can get out from under the desk with my stolen evidence (and dignity) intact, I’ll have one hell of a story to write up – that is, if The Occupation’s finicky controls let me open the door properly first.

At its best, The Occupation places you in these kinds of tense, flinch-and-you’ll-get-caught scenarios seen in the best spy thrillers. For the most part you play investigative journalist Harvey Miller, out to seek the truth following a deadly terrorist attack in 1980s England that triggers a controversial bill – the “Union Act” – which threatens to control the populace and erode civil liberties. But you’re no Sam Fisher or Solid Snake; you don’t have guns or fancy gadgets at your disposal to incapacitate your foes. All you have are two interviews scheduled with the bosses of the secretive data-collecting corporation where the Act sprang from – and with those interviews a little bit of time to snoop around the buildings, gathering as much evidence as you can find to implicate your interviewees.

So off you toddle in first-person round the offices of Bowman Carson, trying to avoid the two main security guards Dan and Steve. When they tell you at reception that your interview with one of the bosses starts in an hour, they really mean it: The Occupation is a fixed-time game, meaning that as time goes by in real life so too do the minutes pass in these parts of the game. You can check the time at any point by bringing up your trusty wristwatch – if you’re late at the end for the interview, you won’t have as much time to ask your questions and therefore have less time to reveal the nefarious goings-on.

You’ll have one or two leads given to you by your contact to fish out at the start of each timed hour (you get 60 minutes to snoop before the second interview as well), such as printing off an important email or getting into a certain restricted area. The rest you discover by reading notes, cracking safes and decoding computers. And as we’re in the 1980s, there are no hi-tech tools to help you with your industrial espionage – if you want to copy something from a computer, you better find a floppy disc to do so, and then a fax machine to send it off to your colleague back at base.

The first hour spent crawling around, eavesdropping on conversations and flicking blinds shut to disguise your nefarious deeds is mostly a blast. Developer White Paper Games capture that feeling of being an everyday person thrust into a Hollywood movie situation with aplomb. There are multiple ways to get into most rooms, which challenges you to be creative, be it through hidden vents, open windows, picked-up key cards or alarm codes, or even following behind security guards. Finding it too difficult to sneak past a guard who’s standing right next to a room you need to get into? Why not set off the alarm in another room so he goes to tend to that one instead!

Every second counts: if you get caught by Tweedledee and Tweedledum (sorry, Dan and Steve), then you’ll be escorted back to reception and lose valuable time needed to collect clues to question and hopefully expose the corporation heads later on in your interview. Cleverly, other actions eat up time too (it takes a whole two minutes for a safe to unlock once you’ve input the codes!), forcing you to make quick decisions in prioritising certain leads and disregarding others to get things done. You will find yourself having to suspend your disbelief a little bit – why on earth would any company with lots to hide let an investigative journalist wander freely round any part of its building alone, even the unrestricted parts?! But let the very, very laidback security attitudes of Beavis and Butthead (ahem) slide and there’s a tense, exciting hour of gameplay to be had.

If only it had been kept to an hour. Whilst the first main segment of The Occupation is flawed by its tricky interface and controls, the AI is merciful enough and the gameplay fresh enough for the issues to be largely forgiven. Shuffle on to the second building for Miller’s investigative tour de force, however, and things get a lot more irritating. Suddenly ol’ Pinky and Perky can spot you through solid walls (and yes that’s Dan and Steve again patrolling an entirely new building – I hope they’re on fat paychecks with the kind of mileage they must have to cover every day on their shifts). There’s no map to pick up so you’re often bumbling around trying to get a feel for where you need to go, across several entire floors. Your dossier holds all codes, key clues and leads you pick up along the way, but clicking through folders in real time takes ages, and becomes especially frantic when you’re alerted to a guard in your vicinity and just need to find somewhere to hide.

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