Massive thanks to Nil from FullSync for this one! Another guest review. This time for the game adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
If someone made a definitive list of literature you’d never expect to see a game adaptation of, I’m pretty sure Animal Farm would be on it. George Orwell’s 1945 novella took a hard look at the practical realities of communism, critiquing the Soviet Union through the story of animals overthrowing their human masters and forging a new society themselves. The fact that we live in a world where someone’s figured out how to make satirical political fables into a playable game is impressive enough, but how exactly have Nerial managed to do it?
Well, this is the developer behind Reigns – basically a medieval ruling simulator that plays out like you’re on an intoxicated Tinder binge, swiping left and right until you die horribly. They’ve built upon that choice-based theme with Animal Farm, fleshing it out with a shifting narrative, artwork that wouldn’t look out of place in an actual child’s book of fables, and a bunch of new potential outcomes. While this is certainly built on George Orwell’s foundations, it has the potential to spin off in a bunch of different directions depending on player choice.
So – for once – there’s the chance that everything might not turn out quite as miserable. Your choices have the ability to affect how the farm’s practice of Animalism – and the motto of “Four legs good, two legs bad” eventually plays out. Which animals are more equal than others? It’s pretty much up to you. As the years pass, your decisions will shape the wellbeing of the farm, the moral of its inhabitants, and the steadily increasing strength of Animal Farm‘s leadership.
What the game doesn’t necessarily present so well, is how to achieve those objectives. For the most part, you’ll be clicking through dialogue, making decisions that lead to the story twisting one way or the other. The consequences of your decisions don’t often become apparent until later on. It isn’t “tracked” so well throughout – there are hints as to which animal is affected by them on screen at the time, but it’s hard to connect the dots with so little contextual dialogue. Without knowing which choices brought you to which outcomes, the sense of player agency diminishes, and you’re left playing a political visual novel.
As the years progress, certain animals might die before their time, and specific events will unfold at scripted times to drive the ongoing narrative forward. There was one moment where a character who had pretty definitively died and been buried popped up to get involved in a scene, which made me feel like I had failed so badly at the game it was forced to raise the dead. Unfortunately the bulk of your decision making will be recycled on a yearly basis, leaving what starts as an interesting story feeling stale quickly. There are certainly peaks of intrigue, but they’re followed by massive valleys of dull screen-clicking.
Orwell’s Animal Farm overall thoughts
There is some irony in that, considering Animal Farm’s message, but if the game was preaching something about the illusion of choice and the futility of hope, it doesn’t really land. It’s interesting, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest Nerial wanted to make something a little more cerebral – but the meat and bones of the game is too dull, too vague to hold your attention through multiple playthroughs.