Review: Orwell's Animal Farm
After nearly 100 years, George Orwell’s books still resonate strongly with readers. One of these is Animal Farm, an allegory for Russian revolution and subsequent Stalinist era. It should come as no surprise that this is a fairly political work, with themes that resonate even today about the dangers of authoritarian rule.
Of course, this is a site for reviewing new games, not century old books, and indeed today we’re covering the game adaptation, Orwell’s Animal Farm, which came out December 10, 2020 for Steam on PC.
Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad
As one might expect, the plot of the Animal Farm game follows the plot of the 1945 novel more or less. The animals on Manor Farm have decided they’ve had enough and revolt against their owner, Farmer Jones, and rule the farm under a new set of rules emphasizing equality, ensuring every animal has a voice and none are subservient to a master’s yoke again.
This, of course, does not go to plan.
Being a game, this version of Animal Farm has the freedom to explore various options. Following in the footsteps of the original novel is certainly one such result, and my original playthrough wound up nearly doing so. It’s certainly a condensed version of the plot, with an average playthrough coming in at less than an hour, but there are many, MANY alternative paths.
Depending on your choices certain animals may live or die, with cascading effects through the rest of the years. Fitting with the original narrative however, there are no happy endings. Try as you might, your choices are inevitably filtered through the pigs that have taken it upon themselves to lead the farm, and they’re all prone to corruption and vice in their own ways, and even at their absolute best are no better than the humans that came before them.
I Will Work Harder
The best way I can find to describe Animal Farm is a narrative-based resource management sim. As the story unfolds and random events occur, you’re often given a choice between different animals. Usually each animal has a different idea on how to go about solving a problem and you’re deciding whose voice gets heard, though in many other cases you’re deciding who will get picked for something such as working the fields.
There are three main resources in the game: Animalism (how much the animals on the farm believe in their goal), the amount of hay stockpiled, and the health/morale of each animal. Each of these can be checked in one way or another and the game will usually tell you when a decision will affect one of these.
However, there are plenty of more obtuse, hidden consequences to your choices. Some are fairly obvious, like how planting more seeds will increase crop yield next year. Some are only obvious in hindsight. Often you simply have to make what you feel is the best choice at the time and pray it doesn’t come back to bite you.
Multiple playthroughs are encouraged. You can use the knowledge you gained in a previous run to try and take a different route for a new ending, and there are eight endings in all (though four are more like game overs). Thankfully, not everything is the same each time. Certain events will always happen at the same time if the circumstances allow it, but there’s also plenty of random events that can occur as well. Both are dictated by the circumstances of your farm, so a prospering farm with animals from all over feels very different event-wise from an isolationist farm struggling to get by.
That said, the random events aren’t always a positive in my opinion. For starters, it can feel a bit cheap to suddenly have your farm struggling because it kept picking events that deplete resources you need while not giving you ones to replenish them. Adding onto that, once you are struggling and have lost animals or find yourself low on supplies and morale, this can dry up the event pool to the extent that it wasn’t uncommon for me to see the same event multiple times in a row.
Beasts of Every Land and Clime
Honestly the art style is a big part of what drew me to the game. It’s cute and colorful but doesn’t shy away from portraying blood and bones. Much like how the plot and source material takes a rather serious and dark subject and dresses it up with talking animals, the art style in the game Animal Farm rides between cute and grotesque.
The music is similarly memorable, featuring primarily military-ish beats conveying either the success of failure of the farm fitting very well with the nation-building themes of the game.
Some are More Equal than Others
I really think of all the ways to adapt Animal Farm, this is definitely one of the best ways. Actually making the decisions and watching corrupt leadership undermine them, or being the one to justify sacrificing the “lesser” people for the “greater good,” really emphasizes how easily selfishness ruins a perfectly good dream.
It’s not terribly long, but there is plenty of replay value in trying for various routes and endings and it’s relatively cheap.
Review copy provided by The Dairymen for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.