There are surprisingly few interactive fiction games that are overtly political. “Ostrich” is one such game, presenting a restrained but effective depiction of a government that becomes increasingly repressive over a short span of time.
Gameplay: The work is similar in tone and play to “Papers, Please,” another work about a bureacrat who’s forced to confront the morality of his job under an autocratic regime. The main difference is while that game takes place in a government that’s already gone over the edge, this one describes a government that slides into fascism. The scenes showing the government’s gradually more oppressive measures and the public’s reaction to them are executed well, and the game is well-paced despite its length. 8/10.
Mechanics: As in “Papers, Please,” the player performs his job during the day and has a choice of recreations at night. The protagonist is a government censor, and so the player has to decide whether to reword or even completely ban certain messages. This mechanic is fun, although it doesn’t seem to have much an effect on the game beyond the endgame summary. (I did, however, get a comment on “sloppy” work after some mostly random clicking during a replay.) Choosing how to spend the evenings opens up a few sidequest options, which enhances the game’s replay value. The main difference between the two games, though, is that “Papers, Please,” was also more interactive (befitting a game in a different genre), while “Ostrich” focuses more on the growing repression and how it affects the public. 8/10.
Presentation: The tone is agreeably sinister throughout. The cautionary scenes in the plot aren’t farcially overwrought; it’s a slow burn. Still, the explicit moral at the end is ham-fisted, particularly as the rest of the game does an excellent job of showing rather than telling the progressive government encroachments. The only significant problem I had with the text is that it contains deliberate pauses, As always, they break up the pace of the game and frustrate me for no benefit. 8/10.
You might be interested in this game if: You read and were disturbed by “1984.”