The first time I read Animal Farm was for English class in year nine. When we got our copy of the book, I read ahead and looked up analyses of it online so the next day I could sound like I knew what I was talking about. Whilst I expect the rest of my class found me insufferable, it’s the first book I remember such an in-depth analysis of, and sitting here over a decade later writing a review for Animal Farm the game is a bit strange.
Orwell’s Animal Farm developed by Nerial is a retelling of the classic book. However, it doesn’t stop there, it also introduces some light management options and allows the player to explore the original themes and characters in different ways. You can also choose which characters to focus on, perhaps sidelining the needs of others, allowing the story to be viewed from different angles and arrive at one of eight different endings.
The opening of Orwell’s Animal Farm closely follows the book; after a group of animals, led by a pig called Old Major, drive out the farmer and workers, they begin to run the farm on their own. They develop a new ideology called ‘Animalism’ that has seven rules to abide by, but for the sake of simplicity is summed up by the phrase ‘four legs good, two legs bad’. Orwell wrote Animal Farm to highlight the ways that the Soviet Union failed to uphold the tenets of communism in the way Marx intended and allowed Stalin to become a dictator. It focuses on the irony of the violent, oppressive society that grew from a revolution aiming for liberty and equality, the ways those in power can use language to manipulate, and what happens when the working classes are unable or unwilling to question those in power.
It all sounds uncomfortably familiar, doesn’t it? This is why if any classic book deserves a retelling in this format - one that highlights the original themes in interactive ways whilst broadening the scope of the original story, it’s Animal Farm. I’m assuming it still gets covered in schools, and even though I’d never tell someone not to read the book, Orwell’s Animal Farm feels like an excellent tool to use alongside the original text.
The game is structured like a visual novel, complete with the voice of a soothing narrator and lots of bright, cosy artwork. Between bits of story, the player can choose to perform tasks around the farm like collecting hay, repairing buildings, or adding defences. You can also choose to side with different animals, maybe allowing Napoleon to order everyone around and build up his army of dogs, or let Snowball spend more time teaching the animals how to read. Whatever choices you make impact the story, I played through twice and even though I achieved the same ending both times, the journeys there were wildly different.
The work on the farm is mostly split into the different seasons, with a maximum of seven years possible to survive. However, I found that the story and the gameplay quickly became repetitive over this length of time. Overall, it doesn’t take long to play through the entire thing, but when you’re endlessly clicking through the same choices over and over again, and the same characters making the same comments, it feels like it takes longer than it actually does. Taking some of the management options out and simply focussing on character choices would have made the experience run a lot smoother, whilst still allowing the game to revisit the story, and letting the developers make it relevant to today’s world.
Animal Farm still feels like such a poignant and important story, and being able to experience it in this new way definitely makes it feel like it’s worth picking up. Especially because Orwell’s Animal Farm is not a simple retelling, but allows you to explore different ways the story could have played out whilst never straying from the point Orwell was trying to make.
If fourteen year old me knew that all those nights pouring over Wikipedia and SparkNotes to sound smart in class would eventually pay off in more ways than expected, she probably wouldn’t believe it. However, I do think she would have loved to experience this game as a different way to look at Animal Farm. If you’re someone who’s managed to get through life without reading it, you should definitely get yourself a copy. If it makes you curious about the themes and political commentary that Orwell conveyed, then Orwell’s Animal Farm would be a great next stop.