In my version of Animal Farm, Boxer the workhorse doesn’t go to the knacker’s yard. He spends his retirement peacefully, following the abandonment of the windmill project. The ogreish boar Napoleon is unable to seize power after his canine enforcers run away for lack of food. Both he and his rival Snowball die of old age, leaving the farm in the hands of a relatively benign pig cabal backed up by an avian surveillance network. All the animals learn to read and write – the rats even start a newsletter – and the pigs never get chummy with their human neighbours. Six of seven laws of Animalism are kept unchanged: two legs are definitely not better than four, and no animal is more equal than the others.
This is one of several endings to Orwell’s Animal Farm, an interactive homage to George Orwell’s allegorical tale of an animal uprising corrupted by porky autocrats. Lasting around three hours, it sees you re-enacting and, in some cases, reinventing key scenes from the well-loved book by sliding a magnifying glass over the farm, highlighting animals and putting their thoughts into action.
As in the developer’s previous Tinder-meets-monarchy-simulator game Reigns, this branching narrative sits atop some rudimentary strategic challenges, such as making sure that everybody has enough food for the winter, building defences against invading human farmers, and trying not to overwork individual characters. All of this is simply but lushly conveyed by storybook illustrations and a stirring orchestral score.
It’s a sensitive adaptation – and a solid introduction to satire for book-phobic kids – but also a flawed one. Video games have a tendency to confuse mechanical busywork with sophistication, and the management elements feel rather aimless here – are Orwell’s ideas about how revolutions may undo themselves really furthered by having to count the bales in the hay barn, or tot up sheep morale?
The game is also too faithful to Orwell’s plot, for all the alternative endings. At its best, it encourages you to rethink and even challenge some of the novella’s concepts, including its rather dated classist metaphors. What if the rats were more of an opposition than an infestation? What if the sheep were more than mindless propaganda machines? But these divergences are frustratingly limited by the need to pack in familiar scenes and conversations from the book. In the end, Orwell’s Animal Farm can’t work out whether it’s a retelling or a revolution – but with the nation’s schoolkids in lockdown, it’s nonetheless a valuable adaptation.