CorpoNation: The Sorting Process Review – AdminPunk

In 2013 Lucas Pope surprised the industry with an office simulator game called Papers, Please where you play as a immigration inspector on the border of the communist state of Arstotzka. The gameplay is simple: follow the daily guidelines on who is or is not allowed into your state and check their passport for irregularities. The surprise came when Papers, Please turned out to actually be really good – weaving in side quests from a rebellion group and facing you with the decision of doing what’s best for the nation by helping the rebellion or protecting your family by remaining a cog in the machine.

Canteen’s CorpoNation: The Sorting Process immediately reminded me of Papers, Please – putting you in the shoes of a Lab Technician for Ringo CorpoNation in a dystopian, corporately-owned state. You live and breath work – literally staying in a living quarters in your office building and spending your every waking moment either working for Ringo or using the credits you earn from work to put back into the economy. Like in Papers, Please, once you’ve settled into the workings of a Lab Technician, you will be contacted by Synthesis, a rebellion group who will have side tasks for you to complete – giving you the dilemma of whether to assist Synthesis and risk your professional reputation or remain part of the system.

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Another day in the office.

Each day you must sort genetic samples into the correct tube. You’ll be given different sample types, new processes and things to check as you progress. You must meet your quota while also avoiding putting samples into the wrong tube which will result in a deduction from your paycheque. At the end of each shift, your performance is rated which will affect your score in your end-of-week review. 

When you return to your sleeping quarters, you’re encouraged to spend your hard earned cash in any way that will give back to the economy – while also paying for necessities such as food and rent. Ringo has generously provided you with a computer for leisurely activities, but this world has somehow turned even these into an obligation which turns into work in itself. You can play games, however these are pay to win and if you don’t play them every night then you’re bombarded with emails reminding you that gaming is good for you and your “down time”. You can take surveys for small amounts of cash, but choosing the “wrong” answers results in penalties. You can browse the catalogue for items to decorate your room with, only to be faced with Ringo-branded posters and decor, plastered with mottos and phrases revolving around work. You can chat to your social cluster of three colleagues, but say the wrong thing and you can end up being reported – so the conversations tend to remain very simple due to caution. You can read the news – inflation is up and you’ll be paying more for food, but this is better for the economy so it’s a good thing!

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CorpoNation is set on a really interesting concept, one that’s similar to Black Mirror’s ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ episode. I particularly enjoyed reading the daily news articles at the end of each shift and finding out more about the way this world works and how the corporation twists its news to reflect itself in a positive light.

On top of a compelling premise, CorpoNation is also well-designed in terms of audio and visuals. Canteen have opted for an old school computer look for CorpoNation’s graphics, and only using black, blue and white colouring. I think this works really well with the game’s themes. The visuals have an all-round office look about them, absolutely sapping the creativity from every moment of your in-game life. You can decorate your quarters with all the plants and posters you want, but it’s hardly going to make a difference when everything is blue. The soundtrack is also retro-like, and does well to not grow repetitive and annoying as you endlessly sort samples into the right tubes.

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The cactus makes a big difference.

Unfortunately, where CorpoNation misses the mark for me is the gameplay. Whereas I found it easy to get into the rhythm of Papers, Please and, despite the repetition, I didn’t get bored – I found myself struggling with the opposite in CorpoNation. I think the core part of the problem is that there’s so much to do and more and more keeps being piled onto you. While this works in the effect of creating this suffocating feeling as we’re given further responsibilities with little reward to make up for it – it’s just not fun to play. It doesn’t help that the mistakes you make are followed up with scoldings from your manager and the company – meaning players are coming home from work, setting up their PC or console to play some CorpoNation, and then getting sucked into further feelings of failure and constant nagging from managers.

The samples you must sort are categorised between Alpha, Beta, Delta and Zeta. Each sample has a shape, pattern, number, or description associated with these categories and must be sorted into the correct one – with variations of these identifiers in the later levels of the game, making it so so much harder. In fact, I ended up having to draw these up on a sheet and have them in front of me as having to keep looking into the guidebook wastes time and breaks your rhythm. To top this off, expiry dates and TDS levels are also introduced, meaning you need to make sure each sample is in date and also has the correct TDS level for its category. And THEN the mixer and splicer machines are brought in, and your manager will give you new tasks each day, swapping out what types of samples need to be spliced or mixed before they’re sorted.

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Thank you, Your Manager.

To put it bluntly, I found CorpoNation to be utterly overwhelming. During the latter half of the game, I found myself consistently failing to keep up, which got me into trouble when Synthesis showed up and started giving me extra tasks to do on top of what my manager was giving me. I did not find this fun. And trying to meet your quota while also fulfilling Synthesis’ requests is near damn right impossible – especially when I kept on receiving quests from Synthesis to pick up certain samples and then not coming across said samples so failing that quest. Synthesis also give you no deadline warning, so I consistently failed their missions as I had no clue how long I had to complete them – and would often assume I had a couple of days or more. In fact, I found the sorting process so overwhelming that there wasn’t a “oh, I forgot to check that” when I sorted something incorrectly as the majority of the time I had no idea what I’d done wrong as there were so many things to check.

In terms of the end-of-day activities, I grew quickly bored of the minigames. The first one you have access to is a generic fighting game where you press a button to perform an attack, and another to block. You have to buy crystals to heal so it really is pay-to-win. That being said, this does feel deliberate as this is making a point about the empty world of CorpoNation which is built to squeeze as much as your hard earned cash from you as possible – it just doesn’t offer much in terms of gameplay experience for the real life player yet it does feel like you are being encouraged from all sides to engage with this minigame as it’s even heavily featured in the in-game news articles and world events.

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No Ash, no I am not.

You can also chat with your colleagues which will give you further insight into the world and the varying thoughts and views on how everything operates. You can choose whether to report your colleagues for being disloyal if they start to act suspiciously, however the game never gives an example of what counts as suspicious activity. So, during the early game, I was reporting people for simply not being enthusiastic around work – as I had previously been reported due to survey answers that reflected these same views. It was only until one of my reports was finally accepted that I realised the game only wants you to report people who are actively rebelling against the corporation. Once Synthesis become involved, you will also gain access to their servers and messages which give you a more realistic view of what people think of the world. It’s safe to say that CorpoNation has a lot of messages to read and I did find myself losing interest in these too as there were just so many to get through each evening, especially once I gained access to Synthesis’ forums. 

I think the biggest miss in CorpoNation: The Sorting Process is that lack of intertwining story that Papers, Please used to break up the repetitive gameplay cycle. There’s no interesting NPCs or dilemmas. I’m not choosing my dialogue options when speaking to colleagues, I just have the option whether to report them or not. There’s no major events to move the story forward or enough at stake to make me care about breaking the rules. I simply got to a point where, much like the work week, I just wanted it to end. That being said, I would say the message is clever and well-written, it just feels like the game forgets that it’s a game. 

Jess played CorpoNation: The Sorting Process on PC with a review code.

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