I’ve played a few adventure games based on literary works in my time—heck, at least one of them was this year with Metamorphosis, a first person adventure game based on Kafka’s work. That’s why it wasn’t so strange when I got the opportunity to review Orwell’s Animal Farm based on the work of the same name written by George Orwell—you know, the story you probably had to read in school.
Orwell’s Animal Farm is an adventure game that plays a lot like an interactive story book. If you’re familiar with the novella, you’ll be familiar with the video game. There are decisions you can make at major junctures, but for the most part the story follows the plot of the original novel. At least, that’s my experience. As much as I wanted to try to follow the absolute ideals of Animalism, or in another playthrough, eschew animalism altogether, it seemed like the story still took the same major plot beats.
I tried to change the story of Animal Farm a few times. One of my main goals was to save Boxer, the loyal, hardworking horse that is given over to a knacker in his old age so the pigs can buy whisky. In both of my playthroughs, I was unable to stop this event—which is a total shame. Strangely, I was able to sacrifice Napoleon during one of the battles with humans, which I thought was a decent change. But in my experience, only small details change while the main plot remains mostly the same.
After your animals take over Manor farm and rename it Animal Farm, you have to start making choices for your animals. You can choose to have your animals learn to read, or you can work them harder to make sure the supplies are full for the winter. The thing is, it doesn’t really feel like it matters which direction you take—animals may die over the harsh winters without food, but it seems like you’re only told animals died—and that it doesn’t have any major effect on which characters you can interact with. At some points you’ll have to fight off humans trying to reclaim the farm. These sections work like any other though: the humans come, and you click on certain animals to then act. These are similar to the decisions you make as the seasons progress on the farm. Most of these decisions are a balance between the well-being of the farm, the well-being of the pigs, or the well-being of Animalism—the anti-human doctrine adopted by the animals. These choices are always reactive, and never active. It’s not like a management or a sim game where you can put your animals to different tasks.
It’s not always clear what action will follow clicking on an animal. For instance, while the harvest is in full swing, and you’re getting animals to bring in much needed food, you can hover over each and they’ll all have different actions. Hover over the horse Clover, and you’re given the option to haul—which will deplete some of “Clover” as a resource. This is indicated by a red down arrow and a reddening circle behind her head. You might also get an indication that the food stores will increase with this action. In that same scene, I can choose a cow and have her “complain,” which might have associated dialogue, but seems to do nothing but increase time spent. My point is: it’s a strange game, where you’re given interactive sections with little context and little to quantify those action’s effects. In other words: I press the buttons, but I’m not always sure what they’re doing. It feels like no matter what decisions I make, the interactive storybook turns to the next, prewritten page anyway. If this isn’t the case for everyone, it’s certainly the same experience I had through two playthroughs.
The art style of Orwell’s Animal Farm is attractive and hand drawn, with an accompanying soundtrack that sounds reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s works. There really isn’t much art to look at, though. Most of the time is spent on the farm through four seasons, and there are a few scenes within the farmhouse, barn, and at the site of the battles between human and animals—and that’s most of the art right there.
Orwell’s Animal Farm feels like a game you’d play in a classroom as a supplement to the source material. That’s okay, and even great in certain contexts. But for someone who wants to play an adventure game based on Animal Farm, it’s a shame. If you’re hoping to shape the tenets of Animalism into your own style of governance, you’ll be sorely disappointed. There’s definitely more story here than management aspects, and it feels like the story follows its own plot regardless of the major changes you try to make. I’m not saying Animal Farm couldn’t make a good video game, just that this ain’t it.
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