Platform: PC, Mac
Release Date: 21 January 2016
Developer: Double Zero One Zero
The Westport Independent cannot help the comparison to Papers, Please. If the idea of a slightly grim game about working under an oppressive totalitarian regime doesn’t make you think of Papers, Please then the art style certainly will. Lucas Pope (creator of the aforementioned game) is even credited in the special thanks. But with Papers, Please being one of the most critically acclaimed indies of all time, it’s a hard act to follow.
You take on the role of editor of an independent newspaper under the particularly ruthless ‘National Government’. Each week you must sort through a number potential articles, changing the title and censoring the content to fill your aims.
On my first play through I whole heartedly took on the role of a nationalist. My paper oozed fascism with every article making the government into saviours of the people and the rebels into the scum of the earth. Whilst one of my employees, Frank, was taken away for ‘correction’ (as you’ll see this is something of a habit of his) it was largely uneventful. At the end of the game almost everyone was completely in favour of the government with the air full of music and laughter and only the occasional dissenter being bundled into a van.
The second time round I went full rebel, calling out the government every chance I had and painting the rebels in a sympathetic light. This time lots of threatening messages from the government landed on my desk and before long Frank had been dragged away in the back of a van. Keeping up my anti-government sentiments, the paper was soon after shut down and I was thrown back to the main menu without even an achievement.
For a final run through I decided to become a tabloid. Stay as neutral as possible, publish mostly celebrity gossip and local news stories. Despite my best efforts however my paper came under suspicion from the government and, you guessed it, Frank was escorted out of the building by some men in suits. At the end the richer area of Westport remained under state control as did the Middle class area (with some protest) but the poorer regions were in full riot.
Despite the clear impact of my reporting on the world around me The Westport Independent doesn’t lend any weight to your actions. The censoring and headline changing feels like ticking boxes and the other options you get are sliders for slider sake. It feels all too easy to just choose your outcome. Your employees have lives, you hear them talk about current events and their opinions on the work they’ve produced but I’m simply do not feel invested in them
So the question perhaps is what did Papers, Please do that The Westport Independent doesn’t. In my opinion it comes down to two main things. Firstly, making a choice is too easy. Papers, Please builds investment in characters leading to difficult decisions where you need to decide if you obey the government and let an innocent girl die or let her live but leave your own family without food. Westport has what feels like no or little consequences and the stories you deal with are out of your control, and you’re disconnected. Secondly, there is the time pressure. In Papers, Please time is constantly ticking down making you feel pressured and with constant changes you need to learn and keep track of there is a real feeling of oppression. Westport again has none of this, you are free to look through the articles deciding what will affect what value in your own time and with the exception of losing a journalist or so there’s no change.
Perhaps it’s overly mean of me to compare this game to one of the most renowned games of its type. But it’s worth noting that Lucas Pope himself once created a very similar game The Republia Times for Ludum Dare. Ultimately The Westport Independent isn’t a bad game, it just suffers from the fact that it is both a game that sacrifices fun for impact but falls flat and that it is unavoidably held to Papers, Please. For most people this is a game to be missed but I think there are some out there who would appreciate the experience this game offers. Even if it falls a bit short.