Sunday 11 December 2016

The Westport Independent review: Printing the propaganda

The Westport Independent (PC/iOS/Android); rating: 7/10; Age: 15+

Published 11/02/2016 | 16:02

The Westport Independent
The Westport Independent

NOTHING to do with the Co Mayo town and everything to do with media censorship, The Westport Independent simulates running a newspaper under a heavy-handed Orwellian government.

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Another indie outing from Coffee Stain Studios, the publisher who brought us the delightfully daft Goat Simulator, Westport pivots in a more serious direction, with a downbeat 8-bit aesthetic to match. Just one glance at the monochromatic visuals is enough to transport you to 1980s Eastern Europe. They also trigger a flashback to 2013’s Papers Please, the cleverly subversive immigration sim by Lucas Pope.

The Westport Independent: A simple interface for publishing
The Westport Independent: A simple interface for publishing

Indeed, Pope cops a mention in the credits, so Coffee Stain clearly wears its admiration on its sleeve.

You’re given three months as editor to sway public opinion by choosing four articles a week reflecting the government in the best light. Except that you can also edit the articles to throw a spanner in their propaganda.

The Westport Independent: The writers are more like typists
The Westport Independent: The writers are more like typists

Each edition generates feedback from the powers-that-be, corporations angry at your exposés and the readership themselves via the sales figures.

It takes a couple of playthroughs (each lasting about an hour) to realise there’s less to The Westport Independent than meets the eye. The overall idea proves intriguing but the editing is unsubtle to the point of being a binary for/against in just a few paragraphs.

You can’t add or subtract words to subtly alter the meaning of the sentences and are reduced to merely expunging blocks of text to fit your narrative favouring the government or the rebel opposition.

Similarly, the game leaves underexplored other concepts involving the political sympathies of your journalists and the preferences of the population for tabloid gossip. Your writers (well, typists really – they just reproduce what you hand them) can refuse to handle a particular story, notionally based on their political allegiances. Annoy them enough and they’ll just disappear from the staff. But they don’t display enough personality to make a telling contribution.

The Westport Independent makes some thoughtful points about ethics and the dangers of groupthink but the political angle was handled more subtly in Papers Please.

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