Four Legs Good, A Thousand Mouseclicks Bad
HIGH Managing to resist the humans and defend the farm.
LOW Having to click endlessly to get through dialogue.
WTF Getting the same ending three times in a row.
George Orwell’s novel debut, Animal Farm, remains as relevant today as when it was first published in 1945. A satire first and foremost, it chronicles the takeover of a farm by its overworked animals. They are initially united in their cause, but soon fall into the same self-serving mindset of the humans who came before them. The choice to port this novel into a videogame format may seem strange, but anything that offers some social awareness these days is a good thing.
The game is presented a ‘storybook’ format, along with graphics which never get too scary or realistic. While the title is described by the developers as something along the lines of farm management, the truth is that it’s actually closer to being a visual novel. It’s not possible to build or milk the cows, for example. Instead, the player’s interactions are limited to a few choices available each day on the farm, and most of these involve taking sides in the animals’ internal struggles over the course of seven years.
The main screen is a bird’s eye view of the farm. Every day, the player usually gets to decide between gathering food (hay) or other random choices like building a fence or singing to cheer the animals up. Sometimes the actions will unexpectedly benefit or damage one of the characters, but there’s no way to predict whether the player’s choice will be wrong or right.
The only two indicators on the farm screen are hay reserves and animalism, which functions as the farm’s religion. These things sometimes suffer through no fault of the player’s, so it feels a bit like clicking random choices without much rationale.
The only other screens are the barn meetings that the animals organize every once in a while and the battle screen. These meetings don’t seem to deviate much based on player input, and the rare battles aren’t much of a departure — again, it’s a matter of clicking an animal and choosing between a choice such as attack, defend or hide.
The novel’s story remains intact, and the developer added in a few new details and characters while keeping true to the original tone and style.
A single playthrough takes an average of less than an hour, but I’m not clear how it would take to unlock all the endings because there’s no way of knowing which steps to take in order to change the story. There is a logbook that keeps track of unlocked achievements (keeping a granary fully stocked, etc.) and story twists, but there’s not much else to guide the player.
I commend the developers for keeping true to Orwell’s work, depressing endings and all, but unfortunately what we have here is a worst-of-both-worlds situation — as a visual novel, it’s a slog to get through the repetitive mundane, choices, and the gameplay isn’t refined or engaging enough to be an solid management sim. Simply reading the book might be a better option.
— Damiano Gerli
Disclosures: This game is developed by Nerial and published by The Dairymen. It is currently available on PC, iOS and Android. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is not rated by the ESRB and, while the game does have cartoonish graphics and no violence of any kind, its political messages and dark undertones are definitely not appropriate for kids under 12.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is subtitled, but there are no options to resize or modify the subtitles. There are no audio cues needed for play. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: On PC, the game is entirely controlled via the mouse. There is no control diagram.
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