Video Games Review: The Westport Independent (PC, 2016)

I’ve already seen The Westport Independent described as “Censorship Simulator” online and, honestly, that’s not a bad way to describe it. A totalitarian Loyalist government is instituting policies that will prevent a free media from informing the masses, but the underground Rebels need the help of your newspaper to help sway public opinion and create dissent. What’s an editor to do?

The Westport Independent
is a game about the power of mass media to inform and create opinion among the people who consume it. Media can be the great divider, creating fear and panic, or it can empower us by providing enough information to form an opinion of our own. It is up to you to decide which doctrine your newspaper will subscribe to. Becoming part of the government’s propaganda machine means your backside is covered. Bringing the truth to the proletariat masses is a moral imperative. And then there’s a third, more sinister level: you can push an agenda of your own.

Similar in style to 2013’s excellent Papers, Please, The Westport Independent requires a significant eye for detail. It tasks the player with editing a local newspaper. To do this you will have to read through every article for the day (all of which are procedurally generated, changing with each playthrough) and choose which ones will make it into the paper. Once you know which articles you want to publish, you can edit them to reflect a particular ideology. A conservative headline or an incendiary one? Should you leave this particular piece of damning information in the article or leave it out?

You then divide your articles up between four journalists on your staff, each of whom has their own political leanings. From there, it’s on to Layout and determining the order in which readers will receive your stories. Finally, you must tweak the marketing of your paper depending on the day’s content in order to maximise your readership in each of Westport’s four areas. Affluent areas, for instance, prefer celebrity and industry news, lower income areas prefer to know about crime and social issues.

All of this will affect public perception one way or another, helping or hindering the government or the rebels. Due to the impending media legislation, you and your staff are under scrutiny from both sides – the government leaning heavily on you to censor anything that makes them look bad and promote anything that makes them look good. Failing to do so means the government will begin to suspect you and your staff of being rebel sympathisers, which means they may start black-bagging your staff and taking them away. As the days fall off the calendar, your suspicion meter climbs higher and the day of the new media law’s inception looms, I found my stress levels skyrocketing, desperate keep my many plates spinning long enough to incite a revolt and my staff out of harm’s way.

It’s a clever, funny, often acerbic critique of the modern media’s ability to change hearts and minds seemingly at whim. With its focus on cluster headache-inducing stress triggers and insistence on attention-to-detail, The Westport Independent may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it was certainly mine.

Review Score: 7.5 out of 10
Highlights: Cleverly written; Surprisingly tense
Lowlights: Requires a very detail-oriented mind
Developer: Double Zero One Zero
Publisher: Double Zero One Zero
Released: January 21, 2016
Platform: Windows PC

Reviewed on PC


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David Smith

David Smith is the former games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.