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The Westport Independent (PC) artwork

The Westport Independent (PC) review


Censorship can crop up just about anywhere. It can also take many forms, whether that be the government preventing you from speaking out against a political official, or citizens banding together to make a social outcast out of anyone who dares voice an opinion contrary to current societal norms. Some forms of censorship are more egregious than others, because they have more potential to interfere with liberty.

In The Westport Independent, a fictional country suffers from censorship of the highest order. A new political regime has recently been established. Its leaders expect absolute loyalty from the country's abused workers, morals as pure as the driven snow and a "free" press that is willing to write the words that will most effectively contribute to such an outcome. As the editor-in-chief at the local newspaper, you know that your livelihood and the well-being of your workers hang in the balance. You must continue producing your paper, and while doing so, you must keep the right people happy.

The Westport Independent (PC) image

The work of a tiny development team, The Westport Independent clearly owes a debt of gratitude to Papers, Please. That other game's creator, Lucas Pope, even warrants a mention in the brief closing credits. Both games function primarily as mechanisms to deliver obvious political messages in an interactive fashion. Unfortunately, the team at Double Zero One Zero hasn't produced as memorable a title as the one that served as its obvious inspiration.

The Westport Independent plays out over a period of 12 weeks, which directly precede official enforcement of a new decree by the Loyalist party that censors basically everything. It's not technically illegal to spread dissent quite yet, but it might as well be.

A week doesn't take long to play out at all, and in fact the entire campaign is easily enough beaten within an hour and a half or so, even on your initial run. All you have to do each time another week rolls around is glance over a few articles, choose their final headline--out of a total of two blatantly skewed options--and make any necessary cuts to a few brief paragraphs, then hand the results to your team of four editors so they can file the actual stories under their bylines. Sometimes, they'll offer up resistance, but you can always force them to write whatever suits you. In later weeks, you'll also have to budget spending on marketing, but that isn't a substantial enough wrinkle to add much to the game's overall complexity.

The Westport Independent (PC) image

Each time you publish a paper, you're essentially graded based on the response from your audience (which is divided into four regions within the area your publication serves), as well as the Loyalist party. You also get to see what impact your story is having on public perception of that party, and you might even get fan mail... of a sort.

In theory, this is an awesome setup that could have made for a truly compelling game. It would have needed to dig a bit deeper than it actually does in order to accomplish that, however. There are several plot threads that persist throughout the 12 weeks, and you do get to decide how to report on them and will even see occasional ripple effects, but it's clear that mostly the game is about whatever secret numbers lurk under the hood. If a writer's numbers drop low enough, he or she may resign. If other numbers drop low enough, he or she may be detained by the overly zealous government, which basically has the same impact on your overall ability to continue producing a satisfying newspaper.

On my first trip through the game, I played as an editor who wanted to keep everyone working, and who was willing to bow to the regime in order to accomplish that. This was absurdly easy, even though it was difficult to tell how some stories might be received. The tutorial at the start lets you know that you should talk up the government, avoid too much discussion of scandal, and in general inspire people to be patriotic. You can make a number of mistakes and the game is quite forgiving, to the point where I basically managed to fail only on my second run through the campaign, when I purposefully reported on the most incendiary of topics and portrayed the Loyalists and their allies as absolute thugs (which was a quick way to drive up subscriptions, as it so happened). I still managed to make it through something like 8 of the 12 weeks, so you can perhaps see that the game is not trying to make itself especially difficult, the way Papers, Please did.

The Westport Independent (PC) image

Once I had a feel for how things worked, my third run through the campaign showcased me at my most juvenile. By that point, I had learned the "personalities" of the four writers on my staff. In a nutshell, half of the team mostly sympathizes with the Loyalists and the other half doesn't. So I forced everyone to file stories contrary to his or her actual views. It was the most fun I ever had with the game.

Naturally, The Westport Independent doesn't require much in the way of presentation. There's relatively little to the graphical side of things, since images mostly just depict a desktop and some newspapers. Somber music plays in the background most of the time, sounding vaguely political and certainly appropriate for the themes, but in general, this is not a showpiece for whatever computer you might use to run it and that's okay.

I really hate censorship, and I liked the idea of playing a satisfying sim title that would meaningfully explore a subject near and dear to my heart. The Westport Independent has some neat ideas and starts to do precisely what I thought it might, but it doesn't do enough with the subject matter and play mechanics. The result is a brief diversion that gets tedious well before it should. Although there are achievements you can earn if you play through and manage to produce enough different effects with your choices, I doubt most players will bother to unlock them all because subsequent trips through the campaign aren't different enough. It's certainly worth looking into the game if you find it offered at a sufficiently attractive sale price, but otherwise you're probably best off either waiting or talking someone else into purchasing it for you as a gift.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (January 23, 2016)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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