Old MacStalin had a farm, ee-eye ee-eye oh.
Orwell’s Animal Farm, as you can probably tell from the title, is a video game-ized retelling of the classic 1995 film Babe. The game focuses on Babe’s pre-Pig-in-the-City days and brings in a lot of political themes that weren’t present in the original film. It also swaps out a lot of Babe’s characterisation, making him a lot meaner and changing his name to Napoleon, presumably in an attempt to situate the game as another gritty reboot.
I am, of course, being ridiculous.
Orwell’s Animal Farm set itself the ambitious goal of taking a novel about communism and converting it into a choice-driven text-based video game with a branching story and multiple endings. Somehow, despite the mammoth-ness of the undertaking of transforming a century-old linear novel into a game where your choices matter, Orwell’s Animal Farm absolutely smashes it. Just to show off, it also makes it cute, charismatic and captivating as well. It has a thematically appropriate style that reminds me of a children’s storybook and some buttery smooth narration from the wonderful Abubakar Salim of Assassins Creed Origins fame.
The game’s opening is what you’d probably expect from an Animal Farm game. You’re dropped into the Animal Farm barn, with the animals conspiring to free the farm from its human owner, Jones. The animals go ahead and do this with relative ease and very little prompting from the player, begging the question of where the animals’ competency runs away to once you’re left in control of them. The main gameplay picks up straight away after that, leaving you in charge of controlling the animals as they begin running the farm for themselves. It’s sort of like a communist Animal Crossing, in which case the farm’s raccoon has probably been taken to a quiet corner and shot in the back of the head for his capitalist agenda.
The game spends most of its time on an overview screen which shows all of Animal Farm and a selection of its animal inhabitants. Every day you’re given a scenario and the on-screen animals will all have different opinions on how the scenario should be dealt with. It’s up to you to choose which animal’s option to go with, balancing the potential gains and probably consequences. The game shows you what improvements and damage that choice will cause by placing little up and down arrows on the things being effected. These things often include the happiness of the animal itself, the happiness of other animals and some of the different resources you have to balance. These resources include:
Animalism: Don’t trust anything on two legs, don’t drink alcohol, don’t sleep in a bed. The rules the animals set for themselves when they revolted. Break them at your peril.
Supplies: Plough the fields, harvest the crops, don’t starve. Use up all your supplies and you won’t make it through the winter.
Defences: The humans will come back. You better be prepared to fight them off.
Repair: Winter will damage the farm’s buildings. You better repair them if you don’t want your animals to get sick and your supplies to spoil.
Windmill: You’ve had it too easy for too long. The animals want a windmill. You’ll need to use some of the time that you should be managing the other resources to focus on building it.
On top of managing your resources and the happiness and health of your animals, there are several events and achievements you can acquire through your choices in the game. They trigger different story events, such as animals arriving and departing from the farm, your relationships with the humans changing and the prosperity of the farm as a whole being altered. They come thick and fast so you’ll get a whole bunch of them through your first playthrough for that instant hit of dopamine. There are also 8 different endings your choices can lead to, some harrowing (like the one I got) and some, presumably, less harrowing. This branching narrative allows a significant level of replayability to the game as you’ll want to choose different options to see the story beats you missed the first time and how a different ending might unfold. In my mind, that’s a great way to encourage replayability as the game is only a couple of hours long, which is reasonable considering the story being told and the price of the game.
On that subject, there are a few flaws in the game due to its small scale. The same choices come up several times throughout and I’m fairly sure the same story event triggered twice for me during the same playthrough. I don’t think anyone was expecting the levels of choice and branching story that you might from an RPG along the lines of Skyrim, but, after a couple of playthroughs, I can imagine you’d be bored of seeing the same narrative, like tuning into the news on the day 335 of a pandemic.
There also isn’t any kind of tutorial to the game so the exact consequences of your choices aren’t always completely clear. When all the choices increase supplies but decrease the happiness of the animal doing the work, except for the sheep that doesn’t have a negative consequence, why wouldn’t you choose the sheep every time? I suspect I was missing something and those choices tie into the progress of story events behind the scenes but I’m too much of a pedant to let it slide without a mention.
Orwell’s Animal Farm is a great retelling of a classic story. It’s almost a visual novel but the level of interactivity and choice elevates the game well above what it could’ve been with a little less ambition. It’s small scale but the number of options and potential story outcomes give a good amount of replayability and intrigue. Overall, I think the content is perfectly pitched for the price and, whether you’re a fan of the novel or want to experience the story for the first time, it’s definitely worth a couple of hours of your time.