At a recent press event, I played a 3D stealth puzzle exploration game called The Occupation. The game, which is coming to PS4 and Xbox One on 9th October, made a strong impression initially, but after that... well, it's a tough one to call at this stage.
Here's what works. The game's narrative hooks are clear and work pretty well from the offset. You play as a female journalist who, upon discovering government corruption and deceit against the people, stands up defiantly, refusing to back down from spreading the news of what she knows.
Most of the demo involves breaking into a secure building, collecting and distributing information, avoiding detection, then trying to get back out again. The way this is framed is interesting, as the demo leans into character conflict very early on. The main character makes use of a stolen keycard to progress through the building, and the player is privy to her internal monologue, as she chews over the moral conundrum of what she's about to do. She's leaving a paper trail which will implicate another person as the whistle blower, and likely result in harm coming to them for her crime. It's never presented as a moral choice to the player – there's no way to progress in the game without doing this – but it at least shows the consequences of her attempts to pursue the greater good.
On top of that, The Occupation does some interesting stuff with world interactions, even if much of it ultimately feels like window-dressing. When opening or closing a door, for example, players have to hold a button then move a control stick in the correct direction. In order to vault, players have to hold a button and move the stick in a direction. When crouching, players will automatically crouch slightly lower still in order to get underneath small objects. While these are little different to a button press, they all control the pacing of progression through the environment in ways that feel nice.
There were a few useful touches that made progressing through these buildings in a stealthy way easier, like a well-implemented mechanic for leaning around corners, but it never felt like that approach was essential. The majority of the demo involved searching rooms for clues, which could be done while sprinting around, not crouched, with minimal consequences.
The Occupation is just over two months out from release but, unfortunately, the demo I played had some serious technical issues. I played on both Xbox One and PS4, and couldn't manage more than ten minutes on either without running into a progression-halting bug. Whether it was my character suddenly falling through the floor, prompts not appearing where they should, or hard locks when reading letters out of the intended order, the game as it stands crashes an awful lot. After the third hard reset, I was about ready to give up.
The Occupation's narrative crux seems interesting, and it has its own pace, but issues like this made it hard to appreciate what the game might be getting right. This needs some serious polish before I give it another look.