Orwell's Animal Farm Review
Orwell's Animal Farm, which is developed by The Dairymen, gives players a chance to take the reins of their very own figurative Communist farm. That’s right, the George Orwell classic has been turned into a video game. This isn’t the first time a literary work has been made into a game. The Witcher series and Metro 2033 were based on novels — Bioshock was inspired by the writings of Ayn Rand. But this is different. Those series may be entertaining but Orwell's Animal Farm is one of the most influential books of the 20th century. Normally when a company tries to adapt or remake an intellectual property, the better the original is, the higher the expectations are going to be. But I think it's important to temper those expectations. It is not realistic to expect the video game adaption to be as impactful as the book. But what I do think is fair to hope for is that the game manages to encapsulate the spirit of the book, which to me is explaining an extremely complex time and complicated ideas in an easily digestible way. Unfortunately, that's also pretty difficult. But where there’s a will there's a way. Let's dive into whether The Dairymen met those expectations.
The beginning of Orwell's Animal Farm follows the book closely. You get to meet Major, Snowball, Napoleon, and the rest of the animals. The player also learns how they are being neglected by Mr. Jones, the owner of the farm they all live on. This of course leads to the animals fighting off Mr. Jones so they can enact animalism: a way of living that will give every creature on the farm a better life. At least, that is the idea. This is where the game really begins.
Orwell's Animal Farm is, in essence, a visual novel with a splash of strategy thrown in. The only interaction the player has with the game is pointing and clicking. There are two main settings — an overview of the farm and inside a barn where the meetings are held on a semi-regular basis. Whilst in these locations the player has to make important decisions for the farm. You must decide what tasks will be performed, such as whether to spend that time collecting food or to give the animals a rest, in order to raise their spirits. If you don’t make enough food animals will starve, but if morale gets too low they might leave. If you do not spread out the work evenly you run the risk of sending the overworked animal to an early grave. This can actually be a good way to get rid of animals you’re not fond of, if you want to take the Stalin approach. You must survive for seven years before the game ends unless you run the farm poorly enough that you’re forced to give up.
The most interesting decisions are the ones that can alter the power dynamic of the farm. Snowball and Napoleon are constantly at odds with each other and in the end only one can rule. Anyone who has read the book or knows which historical characters they represent is aware of how it ends. But in Orwell's Animal Farm the game, the player, controls the destiny. This can be a bit jarring. Despite going into it knowing that there are different endings I was still surprised when a character died in my game that never did so in the book.
My initial thoughts were that this would mess up the meaning of the book and possibly ruin the experience. But after mulling it over, I’m okay with it. From a gaming experience it makes it replayable and gives the choices real weight. More importantly the meaning isn’t too negatively affected. Even if the characters left in the end are different, the feeling you're ultimately left with at the end is the same.
While the different endings give players a reason to come back, after playing it a couple of times the game becomes repetitive. You make a lot of the same choices over and over again, such as who will work that day. It doesn’t take long before you memorise how the characters are going to respond to most of the decisions. The game is gracious enough to skip the intro and start the rest of your playthroughs at the part where you take control of the farm, but a little more variety would have gone a long way.
One thing I did not get bored with was hearing the voice of Abubakar Salim, the narrator for Orwell's Animal Farm. You might know him from his role as Bayek of Siwa, in Assassins Creed Origins. Salim played his role with a relaxing yet serious tone, which fits the setting perfectly. I hope he keeps landing roles in games for years to come.
At the beginning of this review I said I expected this game to honour the spirit of the book. For the most part I think it does. Because the endings can differ it won’t necessarily represent the power vacuum that occurred after Lenin died, but it illustrates how power can corrupt and ruin a movement no matter how nobile its initial principals are. The developers stuck to the material and because of that they have my respect. The issue is the strategy portion of the game isn’t all that exciting and can actually feel tedious. I don’t expect a game like Civilization, but there should at least be more variety in the choices you make if you're going to go this route, which is why it probably would have been better left as a graphic novel where you make a few important choices that can change the ending. The story is enjoyable and if you enjoy the book and graphic novels, like I do, you can still enjoy the game. The way it’s structured would be a good fit for a classroom. Having kids play it along with reading the novel would make for a good time and might even help cement the important lessons Orwell taught us.
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