An explosion in the IPA building has taken the lives of 23 people and it's up to you to uncover who was involved and what happened.
The Occupation is a first-person investigative game that takes place in 1987 in Northwest England. You play as a journalist who's investigating The Union Act, a controversial act that is said to threaten the freedom and liberties of the people and was expedited after a terrorist attack took place. You don't just play the part of the journalist, Harvey Miller; you also play some sections as other main characters and all of the investigation takes place in the same building where the explosion occurred.
Some parts of The Occupation give you the freedom to walk around and investigate as you wish as long as you can avoid the security guard, Steve. Other sections are more linear and are meant to give you insight into the thoughts in characters' heads rather than provide solid information and evidence for your journalism. A typical chapter starts with you arriving at the building extremely early for a meeting with someone who might shed some light on The Union Act. Arriving early is intentional (yet suspicious) so that you have time to nose around the back offices and find information to fuel your research and aid you in the meetings that you are supposed to attend.
Gaining access to useful evidence requires a lot of planning and paying attention to clues that are dotted around the building. Reading every note you find, logging in to computers to read emails, and listening in on conversations and announcements will do you well. Thankfully, you have an in-game list that will keep track of what you've found and store things like security codes and high level information that should aid you in your investigation. Unfortunately, what it sometimes stores isn't nearly enough to help you and can come across as nonsensical unless you take the time to piece it all together. Seeing as things progress in real-time and you only have an hour to investigate, it makes it stressful to try and piece evidence together and follow clues when you feel like you should always be on the move. Because of this, I found it very difficult to follow the story and only caught pieces here and there.
The Occupation's visuals are relatively detailed and it does a great job of providing a large open world that immerses you in the workplace of a bustling government office with extremely tight security. I don't have any major complaints about the audio either except maybe for the fact that some characters come across as a little deadpanned or the opposite by being far too shaken up. Carla's voiceover sounded like she was being held at gunpoint sometimes and it simply felt out of place.
The security in the IPA building makes the difficulty very high. For starters, take Steve: he's a security guard who seems to follow your every move and I was scolded by him on countless occasions. I was taken to the security desk on two chapters after warnings from Steve and in doing so, I lost 15 minutes of my time; that's a huge penalty! However, it did give me the opportunity to snoop around the security desk right behind the guard's back. There are also electronic gates that sit at most doorways and erase any data that you may have on a floppy disk if you walk through them. It took me a while to realise that this was what these gates were doing so I ended up wiping a couple of floppy disks and not having the time to find a recovery computer that would restore them for me.
Another way to get through gates with data is to put the floppy disk in the pneumatic tube system but that involves you knowing the location of another station so that you can go there after walking through the gate to obtain the disk again. Some rooms also have alarms that trigger when you enter them, sending Steve directly to you. Avoiding Steve is very difficult because this is basically a stealth game without any HUD to help you. No map is available either as well as any radar or warning system that tells you when someone is near. You then waste precious time hiding and hoping that Steve left the area but you can never be sure.
If the security doesn't get you down then the laundry list of bugs will. I got so frustrated with these that I wanted to just quit at points but the concept is intriguing enough that I had to continue. Smaller bugs include glitches in the scenery, characters getting stuck, and my body floating in the air; once, even shooting out the top of an elevator! Larger problems affected the gameplay immensely; the worst of which being when I showed up to a meeting on time but the character I was meeting with just stood there telling me they're not ready yet while an announcement kept blaring on the speakers telling me that I'm late. So, which is it? Is she not ready, am I late, or is it so buggy that you can spend an entire hour preparing for your meeting yet no one recognizes that you exist when it's supposed to start? Unfortunately, it's the latter and there are many accounts of players having to restart entire chapters due to similar bugs.
Restarting a chapter is the only way to resolve these problems seeing as there are absolutely no mid-chapter save points and each one lasts over an hour so ensure that you have an entire hour at your disposal or you'll restart over and over and never finish the game. I suppose I should be thankful that there is a pause button? Oh, wait; even that glitched out on multiple occasions thus causing me to have to do tricky finger work on my controller to get it to actually pause and not cancel out right after pressing the button.
Other than annoying bugs, I also faced a problem where I completely forgot that I could jump. This happened twice and although it may not necessarily be a bug, it does show how little the game does to help you out when you're seemingly stuck and can't advance the story. There are long stretches where you don't need to jump and you're just walking around which puts you in the mindset that you're playing an RPG where you see a piece of wood in front of you but your character lacks the strength to step over it so you must walk around. Then, there are parts where you are required to jump in order to progress.
I got stuck at one part where I walked around the same area 3 times while not seeing anything interactive and wondering if my game had glitched or I was missing something. After a chat with the developers, I was reminded that jumping is a thing and was then able to continue. The area I was supposed to jump at was previously always blocked by security so I'd never think to jump there. It's not a lot to ask for a game to give you subtle hints when it notices you've been walking around for a long time without achieving anything.
I have a lot of complaints about The Occupation but one redeeming quality is its replay value. Considering you're not given nearly enough time to find everything there is to find in your hour before your meeting, it lends itself well to multiple playthroughs. You can miss entire areas of a level on one playthrough then spend the next focusing on them and finding every single clue. There's also a collectibles system in finding records that you can play on your record player in Harvey Miller's home which is pretty cool.
The Occupation is a classic example of a concept with great promise but poor execution. The massive amount of bugs that hamper progress and the lack of a proper stealth system constantly get in the way of being able to enjoy this admittedly unique experience.
- + Convincing atmosphere of a high security government office
- + Lots of replay incentives
- - High difficulty mixed with a stressful real-time clock simply ruins the fun
- - Extremely annoying game-breaking bugs
- - Frustrating stealth implementation