An Interesting Concept Poorly Executed
From Dishonored and Deus Ex through to Metal Gear Solid and Hitman, stealth games have been a mainstay in video games since the early days of console gaming. Taking ideas from a broad source of different games, The Occupation conceptualizes an idea of using time as a gameplay mechanic whilst delivering an authentic stealth game full of investigating and sneaking. While there are some nice ideas here and the game itself does well to pace out its narrative in a compelling way, the lack of auto-saving, long stretches of monotony and a wealth of glitches make this more of a missed opportunity than it should be.
After a brief prologue used to get you accustomed to the mechanics of the game, you take control of an investigative journalist in the heart of England in 1987, looking into the cause of an explosion that’s rocked the country. As England lurches ever-closer to chaos, you’re tasked with piecing everything together and solving the case before it’s too late. Story wise, the narrative plays out well with the various investigating Chapters broken up with a couple of linear walking segments used to explain more of the story and characters’ motivations. All of this builds toward a branching finale that differs depending on how thorough you’ve been in your investigation up until that point.
The fixed-time mechanic is both the best and worst part of the game
As a pure stealth experience, The Occupation has all the ingredients to be a really compelling game. Unfortunately the various gameplay mechanics undermine the potential. Once you start the main chapters of the game, you’re given a briefcase, watch and pager. In a bid for realism, The Occupation utilizes real-world time as a mechanic which can be viewed with a flick of the left directional button. The pager informs you of how long you have until meetings and other real-time events like phone calls while the briefcase holds all the clues you find.
The main objective in each of these segments revolve around you building up questions and following leads to help in an interview scheduled for later on that day. As you walk around the various rendered areas, you come across all manner of different documents, items and computer logs along the way that help you piece together what’s happened. More importantly, it sheds light on who can be trusted, who’s lying and just what happened that night.
Non-essential items can’t be stockpiled either and this certainly comes into play later on down the line when things like floppy disks holding sensitive information need to be transferred from one PC to another. Most objects are interactive too, with little touches like hand dryers, coffee machines and taps all nicely animated. It helps add to the immersion of the world too and along with the aesthetic, which nestles itself somewhere between We Happy Few and Dishonored, helps to really immerse you in the world.
Areas are detailed, nicely designed and fully interactive
Of course, things aren’t quite as simple as collecting clues and ticking them off as you go along though and some areas require a specific password or combination lock to break into. Others require a specific ventilation shaft to be opened in order to enter a room stealthily that way. Each mission gives you two or three leads to follow, with a list of clues and things to do but sometimes you’ll find yourself stuck or unable to progress. This is really here where the game comes undone. With a list of vague clues and a less-than-helpful UI, The Occupation regularly finds itself caught up with long stretches of mundanity as you walk between the same rooms in a hope of figuring out what to do. This is made even worse by some pretty poor AI and glitches that crop up almost every step of the way.
Most restricted areas have alarms or if they don’t, the game alerts you when you’ve entered an area you probably shouldn’t. If you leave the room quickly, the resident security guard Steve will come and find you, nonchalantly informing you that someone seems to have set off an alarm and he’s sure it’s not you. This unskippable line of dialogue repeats every time you break into a restricted area and after a while it does become annoying. The same goes for the people inhabiting these rooms too. At first they’ll act surprised and inform you they’re going to call security but when you leave and return, they’ll say the exact same line and give you around 30 seconds before security arrive and escort you out. During this time you can actually bypass a lot of the guesswork and investigating by charging in, hammering square on items around the room and freely exploring drawers and computer logs.
The cut-scenes are nicely rendered and give a good amount of story content between chapters
Given its relatively cheap asking price, I can forgive a game like this when it comes to bugs and glitches, especially in the wake of the recent Anthem issue, but there are a lot here. Some of the issues I experienced during my playtime included graphical glitches, physic-breaking jumps, being stuck in the environment and the AI getting stuck in doorways. Given the inability to auto-save throughout the game, one nasty little glitch had me caught in no man’s land between a ventilation shaft and a locker forcing me to restart and engage in the 30 minute segment all over again. All of this, while grappling with long loading times between chapters, make this an unpredictable game at best and difficult to really recommend in its current state.
As an outright stealth game, The Occupation is certainly a promising prospect but it’s let down by long stretches of mundanity and gameplay mechanics that don’t always mesh well. The fixed-time system is both the best and worst part of the game and whilst the latter stretches are a bit dramatic as you scramble to make it to the right room in time for your interviews, the middle portion of every chapters, combined with no auto-save features, make this more of a chore to play through than it should be. I wanted to love The Occupation and as a concept, along with its interesting story, this stealth game certainly has some things going for it but in its current state, it’s a difficult one to recommend, even with its cheap asking price.