Orwell – Keeping an Eye on You: Review

Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You is a hybrid visual novel, detective game and point and click adventure. It puts you in the position of spying on people in an attempt to battle terrorism. The game presents an interesting mechanic while it tries to critique government mass surveillance.

The government of a fictional nation is rolling out a new system of surveillance, called Orwell. In its first real world application, your job is to use the internet, CCTV cameras, mobile phone recordings, and chat logs to collect information to find the bomber. The way the system works is you upload data chunks to Orwell to complete profiles on people. These chunks are photos, personal information such as medical history, birth date, and anything else which might be relevant. This information is then passed on to your adviser, Symes. This is outlined in the Orwell Ethical Codex, where investigators (you) have access to the data and decide what pieces of data are relevant. Advisers then take that data and analyze it before deciding on a course of action. There is no two way communication between you and your adviser, so Symes will speak to you, but you may never speak to him.

In the game’s world, this structure is supposed to limit bias by investigators by providing “just the facts” which fails spectacularly as the game goes on. Somehow whoever designed the system didn’t take into account personal biases, assumptions, prejudice, or context when devising it. Another feature of this system is that you are not a citizen of the fictional nation on whose citizens you are spying on. The justification is that since you are not a citizen, you will be more objective in judging the information you find. The assumption is that you will be able to provide better information than someone who is closer to home, so to speak. Once again, the designer of this system didn’t take into account personal biases and context. The game does not explore this particular feature too much, I suppose it provides a narrative reason for the player’s unfamiliarity with the locations and events of the world.

So the premise is a bit silly and unrealistic, but like many games, it is there to provide a backdrop to the gameplay. Let your beliefs be suspended, and its fine.

The game starts with a bomb going off and you begin your investigation by searching through the news articles and police files trying to find the people involved. There are some limitations to what you can actually use to spy on people with. For example, phones can’t be tapped unless you have the phone number, computers cant be hacked unless you have the serial code. These limitations are more to set up obstacles to the player rather than making a comment on limiting state surveillance. In a real world application, as we have already seen, such limitations would hardly be considered necessary. Therefore, much of your early Internet sleuthing is to find the targets’ contact information by creeping their social media profiles and websites until more potential information about them is revealed. For example, their social media profile may have a link to the character’s blog, which then will give you a new website to visit and new datachunks to find.

You can choose to ignore data chunks, but Symes tells us early that some data chunks are necessary to further the case. In other words, some data chunks must be submitted for the game to progress. Sometimes there will be multiple datachunks with conflicting information. With these, you can only choose one to upload which will make the other chunks invalid. These are often “forks” in the narrative that will set part of the investigation down one path and close off the other.

Like many narrative games, there is a clear path to follow and despite the game wanting to give agency to the player, there are some actions which must be done. In Orwell, this resulted in a few situations unfolding in ways that really soured me. There are a few decisions where I wished there were more options to choose from, or that they were not required for the story to progress. In these moments, the game felt constrained in such a way that it made me a little frustrated.

The story is a bit fluid, with the choices you make being dependent on on what information you provide to Symes. Since you and him can’t communicate, Symes will only be able to see what information you want him to see. This means that you can’t influence or add context to any of the pieces of information you give. Upload a datachunk about someone buying beer, and Symes might believe they are an alcoholic. To guide the investigation in the way you want to, you have to consider what assumptions Symes will make. Orwell challenges the (shitty) belief that “facts, not feelings” matter. The facts you serve up often put innocent people at risk, because facts are never enough when dealing with human lives. However, I felt that this was more incidental than intentional, and is a point that I expect to be missed or interpreted differently by a large number of players.

Where Orwell succeeds is in the mechanics and presentation, which is pretty unique and unsettling. As I was looking over news clippings and social media profiles, I knew I was being complicit in an intrusive state surveillance apparatus. I was telling myself that I was going to see how to tear it down from the inside. I do not agree with this kind of surveillance, yet playing this game felt familiar. I knew that I had done this before, in real life. Today, it is not unusual for people to scout out individuals they meet online, whether it be for professional reasons, out of curiosity, or for nefarious deeds. We have all (almost?) even Googled ourselves to see what we can find.

While there are ample opportunities to empathize with your targets, the premise feels less intrusive to citizens than what actually exists today. The message could be stronger if it was more alike to today’s realities of Internet surveillance.

Sometimes I felt the game was better at demonstrating the consequences communication breakdowns than the perils of state surveillance. When Symes interprets a piece of data in a way that you yourself didn’t, it is usually because there is no context, and sometimes because he is a bit of an asshole.

If a quick romp through a narrative story that tries to compromise your values on privacy sounds good to you, Orwell is sure to satisfy.

Unless you are looking for a real critique.

Is Apex Legends Better than PUBG?

Like most, I have become enchanted with the newest powerhouse game in the battle royale genre, Apex Legends, which is based on the world of Titanfall 2. Apex Legends is a character based version that also brings some really “I can;t believe no one did this yet” mechanics and quality of life improvements. Playing it with friends has been a bast but I can’t help but compare it to my original foray into the battle royale genre, PUBG, and I ask myself the completely pointless question – which one is better?

Apex Legends has better inventory management

Fumbling around my inventory in PUBG led me to more than one unnecessary death. It was almost a separate mini game and was usually more frustrating than not. Apex solves this by automatically moving attachments from one gun to another, if they can fit, and preventing you from picking up an item if you already have a better version. Its like the only time I have liked it when a game has told me I can’t do something  I should be able to do.

Apex Legends has respawns

The worst part of playing with friends in PUBG is dying early and then having to wait (or leave) to join the next game Personally, I enjoyed most of my cheerleader time in PUBG but Apex solves this by giving your team mates a window of opportunity to get you or any other downed team mates back in the fight even after bleeding out. Not only does this make the game more fun in groups, but it also adds a second layer of accomplishment when your team mate manages to get 2 revives and then the squad goes on to win the game.

PUBG has better maps

While Erangel is currently getting updated because it is old and needs fixing, it is st my favorite PUBG map. I love the feeling of nostalgia I get when playing on it. I still remember specific areas of the map, such as the mysteriously downed plane with no loot, the quarry which is almost always a bad idea, the lighthouse and gas station by the bridge. Each PUBG map has areas that make them distinct. The desert map has its fighting ring, the church where you can get high up in the bell tower and it is actually a good spot, Sanhok has a resort but also a cave system you can drop directly into, Vikendi has a dinosaur park with a hedge maze.

Apex has video game. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the map in Apex. It looks fine, and has plenty of traversal opportunities with surfaces you can mantle and lines you can zip on. And I haven’t gotten my character stuck on there yet either, which makes it look good compared to PUBG.

However, the map is boring and too video gamey. While some areas like the swamp and Bonetown are distinct in their own ways, half the time I don’t feel different in any of the buildings or “towns”, and the cave systems just kind of bleed together. The design itself is good, but the looks are too functional. The spaces in PUBG fee more natural and have much more personality.

Apex is easier to win

I am not an Apex Legends god, I don’t win every game, just once a night, and while I feelthat I am still a better PUBG player than an Apex player, the latter feels much easier. It doesn’t help that I won the first game of Apex I played either, but there are some fundamental design differences that make Apex easier.

First, there are only 60 players, and everyone is in a team of 3, that means 20 squads compared to 25 or 50 in PUBG, depending if you are playing in duos or in teams.  This means there are less people to kill and less people to be killed by.

The map is also smaller and a lot faster to traverse. The circl PUBG is something which a player has to be aware of at all times, lest tehy get caught and sent to their doom. The equivalent in Apex doesn’ have nearly the same effect. The ring hurts, but each character has barks that warn if the team is outside the next circle, and the traversal options means that people who die in the ring it on purpose. Sure, it hurts, a little, but I have never felt caught out like I have in PUBG.

Less Skilled Players are gonna have a worse time in Apex

I am not contradicting myself here. I do believe it is easier to win a game in Apex, but it is not easier to win a fight in Apex, especially if you are against people with much better equipment or higher skill than you.

The reason for this is that Apex has a longer TTK (time to kill) than PUBG. A few well placed shots on an unsuspecting enemy is enough to take someone out in PUBG. In Apex, a similar situation could still end in your death 50% of the time. Apex Legends has this strange system where, depending on guns and armour of course, it can take multiple magazines to down an enemy. Since magazines do not have many bullets in them to begin with, this means that both combatants will need time to reload. 

This diminishes the effectivness of sneaking up on players, Getting a few good shots off on a duo you snuck up on in PUBG means you most likely came out on top. In Apex, it just means they start the fight at a slight disadvantage, especially if they are better than you and/por have better equipment. I have shot people in Apex multiple times but registered less than 20 damage. Of course, they had hopped up peacekeepers and finished me in one shot.

Apex Legends is hoppity hoppity, PUBG is sneaky sneaky

Which brings me to my last point. Bunny hopping (kind of?) is back (maybe?) Since the Wingman and Peacekeeper are hands down the best guns in the game for most players, even after the nerf, it means a lot of the fights turn into mid and close range dodging matches. Since it is a videogame, it means there is a lot of hopping around and sliding and generally acting like an idiot to make it harder for the enemy to predict your next movement.Its a nice call back to the frantic shooter games of yore.

However, this would be doubly as silly in PUBG. In that game, its about the sneak. Footsteps are quieter, movement is slower, and with the low TTK this means that it is always better to get off the first shot. In PUBG, I have tried moving so I don’t get noticed. In Apex, I don’t really care for the most part. I am either too far away that its gonna be hard to hit me, and I have 6 bandages and shield recharges anyway. But on Erangel, I want to sneak, stay hidden, until it is the right time to strike.

This feeling of stalking, hiding, and possibly dying from a sniper shot 600m away makes PUBG feel tense and exciting. The maps and look of the game make it feel more immersive. It is a game where I want to feel like I am the most dangerous game. It is slow and methodological and then suddenly, action! stress! panic! at the disco. Apex is just videogame all the way. Run, gun, jump, slide, and then send in an air strike.  There are some things that PUBG could take fro Apex, mainly the inventory system. Actually, I changed my mind. I want PUBG to be a game where I faff with my inventory. As annoying as it is, It adds to the mood of the game.

I like them both, and I am not sure if one is better than the other, even if Apex Legends is catching the hypefire now. While there are probably more similarities than differences, they both encapsulate two completely different feels. In PUBG I have stumbled through fog and fired blindly at an ghostly assailant, I have waited in the loft of a small barn with a sniper rifle, staring across the field in the rain for 5 minutes waiting for someone to come by. They finally did and I downed them with a headshot as they were doing a flip on their motorbike. I have waited tensely at the door of a building, not sure what will come out, or dashed across a desert as cars are blowing up around me by shots from I don’t know how many players.

I will never have those feelings or experiences in Apex because the game isn’t made that way. I am playing Apex now because it’s fun, it’s fast, it’s exciting in a completely different way, but I feel that when I am done with Apex, I will be done with Apex. I wont be thinking about it.

I still think about PUBG.

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