From developers Nerial comes Orwell’s Animal Farm, an attempt to adapt George Orwell’s classic novella into a brand new medium. This title, from the creators of Reigns, gives you the reins to change the destiny of Animal Farm and its beloved citizens. What kind of leader will you be?
STORY – FARMYARD FANATICS
It has all the foundations of Orwell’s classic allegorical novella. A troop of farm animals usurp the bourgeoisie overlords of Manor Farm, establishing the newly dubbed Animal Farm, along with the central tenets of what they call Animalism. Chief amongst these tenets is – All Animals are Equal.
Animal Farm is a political satire that reflects the Russian Revolution of 1917, a conflict that brought about the end of Tsarist Russia and brought about the rise of the Soviet Union. Manor Farm is Tsarist Russia. Animal Farm is the Soviet Union. Animalism is Communism. Old Major is Marx or perhaps Lenin. Napoleon is Stalin. Snowball is Trotsky. The dogs represent the brutal NKVD, and the sheep are, of course, the proletariat.
Orwell’s Animal Farm does a good job of capturing the thematic drive of the fable. It’s a rather cynical and revealing tale of the oppressed degenerating into the oppressors. It also does a good job of giving you the essence and personality of the central characters themselves. You get Napoleon’s propensity for ruthlessness, Snowball’s more moderate pragmatism, Boxer’s lovable candour, and naivety, as well as the ever bleating conformity of the sheep.
Whilst many of the pivotal moments of the original novella are still there, it is not a wholly linear retelling of Orwell’s classic. There are about half a dozen endings, and many achievements and scenarios to get through that are catalogued in a notebook. The choices you make and the compromises you suffer through will have consequences and will affect the fate of the characters as well as the ending.
As someone who studied and adores Orwell’s work, I admit I find it hard to place myself in the shoes of someone who is playing the game without having first read the novella. Personally, I loved seeing the story come alive. But I can imagine the context and premise may be more alienating and perhaps slightly less satisfying to experience for someone who is new to the story.
There’s also the problem of pacing. Some of the more striking and poignant moments of the novella are hurriedly relayed to you through dialogue boxes and, as such, really lose some emotional punch. Still, I feel comfortable in saying that Orwell’s Animal Farm does a lot right in adapting this classic piece of literature. Its problem is not one of substance.
GAMEPLAY – YOU’RE THE TOP DOG
Orwell’s Animal Farm is a text-based, choice-driven management and resource simulator. You are the invisible managerial presence behind the Farm. You are not the characters themselves; you just select what best course to take when presented with an obstacle.
The game gives you seven years to progress through, each with its own challenges and events. It’s a game of balance and compromise. You must manage the food reserves, ensure morale is high, safeguard the health of the animals themselves and even deploy defences to combat attacking humans.
Escalating setbacks will have you reprioritising your resource consumption. It’s not just a matter of logistics. It’s a matter of principles. Your initially good intentions may need to be re-evaluated, and you may find yourself betraying your once dearly held values. It’s a solid foundation that really compliments the thematic core of the game.
It might be that Boxer the Horse is on the brink of exhaustion, but he needs to plough the field, or else every animal will starve. After all, the wise pigs are themselves above such humble labour. Benjamin, the Donkey, is recovering from wounds sustained in the last human raid, so he can’t do it. If the Hens perish, then we won’t be able to offer their eggs for trade, which would only bring about more ruin.
The game does provide an engaging but rather tedious experience if you want to stay on the straight and narrow, unlock every ending and ensure the survival of every character. The game’s biggest problem – by quite a margin – is the presentation of its mechanics and how they are communicated, or in this case, how they are not communicated, to the player.
It’s simply in dire need of a short tutorial or at least some initial direction. The player’s role in managing the farm is not made explicitly clear, leading to some errors in judgement and an early end to my first playthrough. You’re thrown into this position with no context or guidance – there’s not even any help to be found in the menus. Almost everyone will eventually get the gist of how the game wants you to play, but it makes for a poor and confusing first impression.
At one point, you are attacked by the neighbouring humans, and you must mount a defence. It’s turn-based combat with several options, among which are ‘attack’ and ‘fight’. If both options do the same thing, they should be called the same thing. If they don’t do the same thing, the game should make this clear. There are a few other instances of the game not being clear with you about what exactly a certain course of action does.
Like I said, the game has a solid foundation with a lot of potential. Its problem is that it fails to introduce and communicate its mechanics to the player. It’s confusing. At worst, mechanics can even feel rather arbitrary, with the ending’s feeling rather abrupt and not very cathartic.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO – FAIRY TALE ENGLAND
Fortunately, the game looks fantastic. It sports a gorgeous and vibrant style as if from a children’s storybook. The expression and posture of every character capture their personality brilliantly. The text panels that display dialogue and narration are lovely and clean and, along with the characters alongside them, are a great backdrop to the green vistas of the English countryside. It’s hard to fault the game’s visual presentation.
The sound design is just as delightful. The soundtrack subtly compliments the course of the story, immersing you in the Animals’ rollercoaster of trials and tribulations. Upon taking the Farm from the humans, the music is triumphant and joyful. You can feel the Animals’ optimism and hope for a better future.
However, once winter comes, or food or morale is low, or when disaster strikes, the music keeps up. It descends into a moody, foreboding and miserable tone whilst keeping the pace perfectly. Abubakar Salim’s narrator is a smooth, clean and reassuring presence that consistently provides that lovely element of British sincerity that I feel is deeply appropriate for an Orwell story.
Orwell’s Animal Farm was reviewed on PC via Steam.