Review: The Westport Independent02 Feb 2016 0
When I first heard about The Westport Independent, I thought "Great! Lucas Pope's fleshed out that newspaper-editing jam game." It took me a moment to wrap my head around the fact that this wasn't an expanded version of The Republia Times, and a great many other reviewers have compared The Westport Independent to Pope's smash hit, Papers Please.
Double Zero One Zero seem proud of that influence: they credit Pope as an inspiration, and the game's art is cold-war retro-pixelated in a way that invites comparisons, though the extremely restrained palate of The Westport Independent is one of the first hints that this game will go in a completely different direction from the frenetic desperation of Pope's political games.
There's no rush in The Westport Independent, and the game's superb minor-key jazz soundtrack underscores this fact. As the Editior-in-Chief of a newspaper under pressure from a repressive government to censor its content, you will have a very real impact on both society and the lives of your reporters, but it is likely not to be the impact you would have chosen.
Weekly meetings of your writers help bring home the consequences of your decisions, as each of your four staff writers has a personality and a home life as well as a political leaning. If your reporters irk the Loyalist government enough, they'll be arrested, and empty chairs at staff meetings are poignant judgments of the human consequences of the player's decisions.
That focus on how you affect other people's lives combined with an almost tycoon-like sim engine full of knock-on effects are what make The Westport Independent tick. It's a bit like Cliff Harris' Democracy 3 in that you have real influence, but your influence is limited by institutional control and public opinion. It's not hard to rally support for the rebels in the economically desperate docks and among the factory workers of the east side, but it you want to change the minds of the middle-class, you'll have to get their readership first with puff pieces about celebrities and potentially counterproductive crime articles.
You get a fair amount information about the business decisions you have to make: on the paste-up and marketing screens, the game virtually tells you how to sell more copies of your paper. But this isn't a tycoon game, and The Westport Independent clams up when it comes to what the political consequences of your decisions will be. The game asks you to choose what articles to run, which which headlines, and whether or not to censor/edit out part of the stories as they cross your desk.
On my first playthough, this felt positively magical, and I spent a lot of time trying to make articles subtly anti-government. It didn't work, and the second time through, I experienced a lot of disillusionment and just ran everything by my most-conservative writer as a litmus test. After that I developed a better sense of what ticks off the Loyalists, and the magic crept back in.
Inasmuch as the game succeeds in keeping one focused on the content of the articles, doubt creeps in. If I take the most incendiary bit out of this article, will the Loyalists give me a pass? Even if they do, will people still see that this story's about abuse of power? Sooner or later the big questions dawn, and you're left wondering how true any of your stories are, and whether you even care what the truth is.
The Westport Independent is a contemplative game, and while it's mechanics are enjoyable, they're not evergreen. That's okay, because in the end, The Westport Independent uses it's political-sim and business-sim elements to leverage it's story. If you're excited about getting into the role of newspaper editor and seeing what impact you can have, what impact you want to have in a time of unrest and tightening restrictions on expression, you need to play The Westport Independent.
There's just enough crunch here to offer a thrill of nostalgia to anyone who's ever pasted up an article by hand or worried about whether the Opinion pages were getting bloated. If you're dying for a hardcore newspaper management sim, you'll have to wait.