OUR RATING 6.5/10
Orwell’s Animal Farm has been released coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the novel but, in its essence, it is much more a love letter than a tribute. For Imre Jele, the co-founder of The Dairymen, Orwell’s story is close and personal; more than an allegory, a description of what was happening in Hungary while he was growing up during the Soviet communist occupation.
Jele tells in several interviews that Rebellion On The Farm was one of the few stories that her grandparents told her as a child and that for years she has worked to transfer the novel to the video game so that fidelity prevails. “All we wanted to do was a faithful adaptation,” says the developer, assuming that all stories are the same.
Orwell’s Animal Farm is an adventure game where all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. Immerse yourself in George Orwell’s story of absolute power and corruption and follow the ups and downs of Animalism.
The game is a point-and-click that allows us to follow the ideas of Rebellion On The Farm, making certain decisions at specific times that go through allying yourselves with some proposals or others, supporting the different animals.
In Orwell’s Animal Farm, the animals have fought off their exploitative human masters. Now they’re in charge. Assign their tasks, manage their resources, choose their laws, and direct their propaganda. Determine which of the animals will make sacrifices and which will be “more equal than others.”
It also introduces some light management options and allows the player to explore the original themes and characters in different ways. You can also choose which characters to focus on, perhaps sidelining the needs of others, allowing the story to be viewed from different angles and arrive at one of eight different endings.
While in the novel the corruption of the system devised by the farm is something that is perceived as inevitable, in the game it is something forcibly introduced. An unfair resolution, a result, after all, that is determined before it can even begin.
PROs, CONs and OVERALL GAMING EXPERIENCE
Perhaps the first error of the title is that it does not make clear to us who we are within this fable: if we take the role of an almighty God with the absolute capacity of decision, or if we are just another little animal to which “democracy” can pass in any time above. Sometimes the game acts up when the player decides too quickly; overriding these decisions with a random event, choosing another path without asking. An example of this is found when a new litter of cubs is born and you vote to prevent Napoleon from raising them.
If throughout our game we have chosen to run the farm in an isolationist way, there comes a time when the breeding event is triggered, like it or not, and Napoleon takes the cubs this time without making a choice. AsJavier Alemán writes in the Hidden Level analysis: «Who are we in this story, what we can and cannot do? Why are there times when we can decide what to do with Napoleon but at other times he does whatever he wants? ‘ This basic error, which is nothing more than a trick for the game to stay as close to the original text as possible over the player’s choices, dynamites Orwell’s own proposal in the long run.
According to Imre Jele, although the studio has felt comfortable making various changes and introducing certain nuances to the original ending – nuances that they sell as alternative endings but are not at all – the idea has always been to respect Orwell’s ideals or, as the developer himself puts it, don’t “justify the oppression” with a positive and satisfying ending. The problem is that by ignoring the decisions of the players (and especially those of those who have read the work and reject the pigs by system) the message is not the one Orwell intended but a much more dangerous and based in prejudice. While in Rebellion On The Farm the author attacks the corruption of the values put into practice at first, pointing to a specific class and its actions, the game seems to be directly primed with the very concept that all animals are equal as if the idea were per se monstrous and not something that can get corrupted in your application.
The game is structured like a visual novel, complete with the voice of a soothing narrator and lots of bright, cozy artwork. Between bits of story, the player can choose to perform tasks around the farm like collecting hay, repairing buildings, or adding defenses.
Farm Rebellion is not an impossible story to translate into the video game while staying true to Orwell’s ideals. Many titles – like Disco Elysium without going any further – have a story with a predetermined ending in which the player becomes an agent by discovering their favorite way of exploring it. The problem in Orwell’s Animal Farm comes from applying decision-based gameplay to a story that doesn’t benefit from it; to focus more on having a traditional playable look and forgetting about the purely performative value that the medium allows.
Despite the lack of actual gameplay, Animal Farm remains an important story. This retelling in game format feels incredibly timely and poignant. With lots of ways the game can play out depending on your choices, you can revisit Orwell’s themes as well as being able to dive even deeper into them.