Pressing The Issues For Naught

Original: https://www.gameinformer.com/games/the_westport_independent/b/pc/archive/2016/02/18/the-westport-independent-review-game-informer.aspx

So, you say you want to start a revolution? As we've seen
through history, the press has helped facilitate change by informing the public
of corruption. The Westport Independent gives you the intriguing duty of
managing an independent newspaper in the final weeks before a government
censorship bill passes. Will you make your last days matter by printing the
real issues and exposing extortion or will you try to stay on the government's
good side to avoid a total shutdown?

Unfortunately, that summary is more exciting than playing
The Westport Independent. It takes place in a fictional post-war country, where
an oppressive government rules with an iron fist, censoring movies and preventing
subversive propaganda. Two extreme groups have formed: The Loyalists, who are
in blind support of the government, and the Rebels, who want to bring it down.
As editor-in-chief, you select which stories to run, alter headlines, select
writers, and omit certain information to push your agenda. The concept has
potential, but falls short due to undercooked ideas.

Your main goal is to tell the side of the story you want and
attempt to sway the other side if possible, all while selling newspapers.
However, the game doesn't make it seem like the other side can waver, nor does
it explain how you can influence public opinion in the opposite direction. For
instance, advertising is more strategic than it first appears. You can
advertise to increase your popularity in certain districts, but their political
allegiance still dictates their opinion, so you have to throw in some articles
to please them if you want them to support your paper.

I constantly felt like I didn't have enough options to
report the way I wanted; instead, it felt like it was making reporting too
cut-and-dried to be satisfying. You can't even get extra sources to confirm the
stories you're receiving are true. The whole interview process is absent. In
journalism, it's essential to get both sides of the story to print, but you
never get that opportunity. You only get two headline options for the news that
appears in your inbox. When you select the headlines, your choices are either
sensationalized or sanitized; more options would have gone a long way.
Sometimes you're forced to pick a side in your title, choosing to tell the
story from the Loyalists' or the Rebels' view. After all, you're trying to sell
papers, but at what cost?

That brings me to one of my other problems with The Westport
Independent: it operates on extremism. It doesn't have middle ground –
reporting events as they happen doesn't get you anywhere, as your paper sales
and popularity depend on catering to these rabid groups. Maybe insincere
pandering to a specific audience is part of the point, but the game makes you
feel like you're this town's last hope for change, making you not want to feed
into either group's problematic agenda.

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This can be tough, because both sides do some horrible
things to get what they want. The Loyalists will look the other way at the
police being violent if it ensures less crime, while the Rebels have no issue
with ignoring laws and leading dangerous and violent protests. Egging on either
of these groups can accelerate their extremism; rebels resort to terrorist
attacks, and the police get more corrupt in dealing with dissidents. If you go
full-on with catering to the rebels, the government shuts you down, resulting
in a game over. Siding with the government only has narrative repercussions,
resulting in them increasing censorship and influencing the academic
curriculum.

Your staff is also in the crosshairs. Of your four writers,
each lands somewhere on the Rebel or Loyalist scale. They may refuse to write
certain stories if they represent the opposing side. Assigning the work to the
right people is a balancing act, and the government might arrest your employee
if the story goes too far, giving you fewer articles to print. At the very
least, you learn about your staff's feelings about the articles you print each
week in small skits that delve into their personal lives. This is a nice touch,
as it humanizes them instead of just making them faceless supporters of one
side. 

If your paper can stay open without making the government
suspicious of propaganda you get an ending that focuses on the state of each of
the four districts you sell the papers in and the current lives of your staff
members. You can't stop the bill from passing, but you can overthrow the
government. Most playthroughs will take anywhere from 30 minutes to an
hour depending on how thorough you are, but you can test out different
strategies and see how they play out in the multiple endings. Even so, the
endings are unsatisfying. Winning over these extreme groups by catering to
their agendas is easy. However, I was disappointed to see the game end without
any solutions or progress, despite the fact that I feel like I made the right
calls and ran stories that exposed corruption. I had the most fun seeing how
covering certain stories played out and seeing if I'd get a nasty letter from
an unhappy reader or government official.

The Westport Independent is a great idea, but
doesn't have enough content to capitalize on it. More strategy, variety, and
reward would have gone a long way. Journalism is far from a glamourous job, but
stories that make a difference are the most gratifying part. Unfortunately, The
Westport Independent never made me feel that was possible.  

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