With the release of titles like Papers Please, it’s becoming more and more difficult to dismiss Video Games as just “Murder Simulators” To dismiss all Video Games this way would be an injustice. The Westport Independent is an interesting thought-provoking game which has an interesting premise but falls short.
The tagline of the game is “A game about censorship, corruption and newspapers” which sums up the game nicely. The story revolves around a country which is under the rule of an authoritarian regime known simply to the player as the “Loyalists” who have recently passed a new law which would give the government increasing power over the media, allowing them to censor whatever they want. This law comes into place within 12 weeks and in the final weeks before the law comes into effect, the player takes on the role of the editor of a newspaper and must choose what stories to publish. It’s a simple enough premise and has a degree of replayablity due to the choices the player can make depending on the stories they choose to publish.
As the editor you have the choice between what stories you submit to print, you do this by editing stories by amending details, an example of this would be the President recently increased the police prescience in the suburbs due to the rebel activity, the other power faction in the game who are attempting to overthrow the regime. You can choose to edit the story by changing the story to portray the President “President protects his people from anarchist rebels, increases police in residential area” Alternatively you can view this more negatively seeing it as prioritizing the needs of the wealthy “President leaves the slums to the wolves, protects rich cronies” both of these have consequences, portraying the President positively keeps them off your back as they monitor your paper and may take action if they become suspicious that you’re a rebel sympathizer. On the other hand becoming very supportive of the regime may incur threats from the resistance who may take action against you if they believe you to be a glorified propaganda machine.
What I enjoyed about the game was the dilemma of juggling politics. After receiving a formal warning from the regime that the article that I published regarding the failures of the government to control the deficit, I tried to appease them by writing a positive piece on the arrest of a known rebel after a bombing, I then received a note from the rebels threatening retaliation for being “A glorified mouth piece” for the regime. In addition to this you have staff writers that submit the stories and they have political leanings which may make them refuse to write about particular events depending on their political alignment. One of your writers for example is from the rich suburbs and therefore is a supporter of the Loyalist faction who refuses to write anything negative about the government, you can force him to but this will lower his opinion of you. Additionally if they become a “suspected rebel” for writing too many anti government articles they may leave as they now fear for their lives as the government promises repercussions.
While The Westport Independent does a lot to invoke thought on the issues of censorship, there is a bit of a disconnect between the player and their staff. The game tries humanise them by showing brief cutscenes in between the start of the next day but I never felt connected to them so when government suspicion rose to the max I didn’t feel as though I should intervene as the game didn’t make me feel like I should.
While I enjoyed the game, it felt brief. The 12 week cycle didn’t give me as much time as I would have liked, That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time with The Westport Independent but I can’t help but feel as though the game should have been longer. It’s a game that had it been a little longer and did a better job on character development I could wholeheartedly recommend. It reminds me of Papers Please, but it’s rougher around the edges. The endings in particular confused me somewhat. There wasn’t a sense of finality on the last week, weirdly one of my writers just up and left for seemingly no reason and left note promising to be back a week later… Additionally upon playing the game for a second playthrough the game makes you go through the tutorial and intro video where the sound of the projector is louder than the person talking.
So I’m left with somewhat of a dilemma, The Westport Independent is fun for what it is, it has an interesting premise and I really want to recommend it as there very few games like it, the only game akin to it would be Papers Please in my mind. But the length of the game and the lackluster plot as whole makes it difficult for me to recommend. My recommendation would be to get this game during a steam sale opposed to full retail. I wish I could sing the praises of this game because of it’s interesting take on censorship but the overall package makes me wish there was something more to it.
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