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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

REVIEW: Capitalism's a drag in the work-work balance simulator CorpoNation: The Sorting Process

CorpoNation: The Unofficial Severance Video Game Adaptation

I'm gonna say something a little controversial here, so bear with me... Capitalism sucks.

I KNOW, I KNOW! I'm so brave.

But really, by now we're all facing and witnessing the horrible consequences of late-stage capitalism on a daily basis, with no shortage of evidence in the gaming industry itself. We've all seen CEOs grow plump with riches and we all heard the Embracer CEO call layoffs "something we all have to get through" as thousands of newly jobless developers and artists flooded social media looking for work.

It's worse than it's ever been, and it has left a lot of us wondering what the future looks like.

It's a system designed to feel like inescapable — something that Canteen, developer of CorpoNation: The Sorting Process, completely nails with their debut dystopian game. The world they've built, a "corporately-owned state" that controls and commodifies everything about your life, feels painfully, itchingly close to the truth. Even if it's weirdly kinda fun.

An animated GIF showcasing the core gameplay of CorpoNation: The Sorting Process. It shows the player taking genetic samples from trays on the bottom of the screen up to tubes labeled "Alpha, Beta, Delta, Zeta". There are other machines to toss the samples into.

​Just the Facts

Developer: Canteen

Publisher: Playtonic Friends

Platform(s): PC

Price: $12.99

Release Date: February 22, 2024

Review key provided by publisher.

The corpofuture is corpobleak

CorpoNation: The Sorting Process is the debut PRODUCT from the exciting INDEPENDENT ENTITY that is Canteen, a game development duo out of the UK. Founders Sam Scaife and Vicki Tingle are a couple who game together and dev together. Together in 2020, just before lockdown, they prototyped this dystopian view of corporate life in the future. The overwhelming stress, the cabin fever, the corporate speak about being in it all together — all of the COVID-19 pandemic's greatest hits certainly fueled CorpoNation for the better and set up Canteen's debut for success.

In CorpoNation, you play as Max, a newcomer to the Ringo corporate family in the genetics department. As a lab technician, you're expected to sort through various genetic samples for some unspecified reason and, like all Ringo employees, to contribute financially to the Ringo CorpoNation's economy. That's it. That's your existence. Wake up, enter the elevator that takes you straight from your room to work, finish your shift, go home, buy Ringo branded goods or spend money on Ringo branded entertainment, go to bed. Repeat.

It's a horrifying mirror of what the world can already feel like sometimes, a scathing piece of satire for the smothering corporate lifestyle and the illusion of free time. It generates just as many genuine groans as it does giggles. When you read delighted announcements from your employer (a megacorp that also is the government) about how inflation is hitting and how exciting that should be for your ability to funnel money back into the economy... when you read about the innovative five-day work cycle and the company's incredulity at the idea of having two days of "rest" like the old world once had... all you can do is laugh through the pain.

As with many games like this (Papers, Please is an easy comparison), you eventually get introduced to a resistance group called Synthesis. The coworkers you're allowed to chat with start questioning what it is you're doing exactly, and the bait is set for intrigue and hope. Maybe you can change things — maybe you can make a difference from the bottom rung. The place the story ends up is a little lackluster, but CorpoNation's journey is one full of interesting twists and turns and it doesn't overstay its welcome. At a breezy 9-12 hours, depending on how lost you get in Ringo's entertainment offerings, CorpoNation flies by.

Especially with how weirdly enjoyable the work is — I can't believe I'm saying this — I kind of liked going to work in CorpoNation. At least, for a while.

An animated GIF showcasing the rebel group Synthesis hijacking the employee's computer. The player is scrolling through the news as the screen blips out and a giant red warning appears reading caution. A giant eyeball appears and flashes on screen before text appears that reads: "This is it, Temp."

Do games have to be fun? Especially corporate life sims?

As Ringo's latest lab technician, you identify samples by a variety of simple visual cues — shapes, patterns, number codes, and descriptions — and place each sample into its appropriate tube. Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Zeta. The gameplay relies on simple pattern recognition, but there's something satisfying about quickly shuffling through these samples and getting as much money as possible to spend back in your housing pod after work. The actual work shifts go by in a flash, too, making it a blip in your day rather than something that makes too much of a negative impact on your day-to-day. The breeziness tied to the genuine satisfaction of the work made it something I kind of looked forward to each day.

And then something changes. You're asked to keep up with way too much in way too little time. You're expected to put out the same amount of productivity as you did in the beginning while paying more for the housing and food Ringo provides, despite no actual changes in quality. Where you started by sorting through one set of identifiers for four samples, suddenly you've got four sets for each sample, each with their own unique variants, and even more to worry about like expiration dates and such. There are multiple devices you've got to work with, processing the samples first before they can be sorted.

The work stops being fun really fast. I stopped looking forward to the work portion of the game when it started to hurt my brain thinking about the seven different layers of tasks I was doing when I got there. I was desperate to not get caught slipping to help keep the resistance's espionage going, and simultaneously desperate to please my manager to keep the work going.

By the end, the work was genuinely (and purposefully) unfun. It became something I dreaded, especially when anchored by the draining blues of Ringo's brand and the repetitive beats of the music offered both in and out of work. The same thing day in and day out. It's an excellent simulation of the work-life grind, which is clearly Canteen's point here, but actively works against them in the fun department. It's hard to say it's a failing, but it's definitely something to note as many people come to games with certain expectations of entertainment or escapism.

An animated GIF showcasing the storytelling of CorpoNation: The Sorting Process. There is slow scrolling on two documents: an email and a news article. The email is a warning after the employee's 1-star work shift and the article is about the Ringo pioneers, the founding citizen-employees of the company.

And now, your state-approved gaming

Beyond the genetic sample sorting, there's lots to do thanks to the corporate overlords at Ringo and the Entertainment Department. It starts with Ultimate Ringo Fighters, a state-approved active turn-based fighting game that comes complete with a full battle pass, avatars and backgrounds to buy, and multiple characters to level up. I fully recognize that the structure of this game is a criticism of the current money-grab schemes infiltrating game design broadly at the AAA level... but I'm a weak man. I wanted to see the numbers go up. I was willing to sink my hard-earned Ringobucks into the game with no questions asked. While it's an incredibly simple combat system, rounds are addictive (spoiler: they’re designed like that in real life, too) and Ultimate Ringo Fighters was where I spent most of my “free” time.

After a few in-game weeks, you unlock the next game, Ringo Solitaire. And as a solitaire expert with over 30+ days of playtime in Microsoft's Solitaire Collection, I was ecstatic when I did. It could have just been a simple Klondike solitaire, the traditional style you're most familiar with: instead it takes the Klondike system but replaces the traditional playing card suits with CorpoNation's genetic sample tubes. This ends up being a unique way to test your recognition of the various sample identifiers as you not only play out a game of solitaire but sort out the samples accordingly. It's a fun little twist that made me better at working! Bless Ringo!

Jokes aside, these two distractions are painfully enjoyable. The minigames are meant to be distractions from the banal hell you're living in and takedowns of greed manifesting in the gaming industry, but I can't deny that they're sneaky fun, too — well worth the time you'll inevitably spend in them.

The minigames are meant to be distractions from the banal hell you're living in and takedowns of greed manifesting in the gaming industry, but I can't deny that they're sneaky fun, too.

An animated GIF showcasing the Ultimate Ringo Fighters minigame in CorpoNation: The Sorting Process. It shows two femme characters exchanging punches against a background of spectators cheering them on. The character on the right heals after the first punch and has the advantage. Chat windows can be seen below the screen.

Subject: Unfortunate performance

If there's any one letdown for me in CorpoNation, it sadly comes on the technical side. At the time of playing, glitches hurt the experience from start to finish. A few weeks in, the fighting RPG minigame broke, no longer allowing me to matchmake toward the end after I'd wasted hours of game time sinking into my character. Solitaire also ended up in a place where finishing a deal was virtually impossible. There were a few crashes that lost me a day's worth of progress. And, while it did get a Band-Aid fix via the Day 1 patch, there was a glitch that affected the culmination of the resistance storyline so much that I was simply unable to finish the game.

Canteen are dedicated to fixing things and were cooperative throughout the review process to make the play experience smooth, but these issues should be noted.

A screenshot from the game CorpoNation. The screen shows tubes for Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Zeta, where samples are to be sorted. Everything is against a dark blue background and the one thing that stands out is a box in red that says "Fixer," a hacking minigame from CorpoNation.

CorpoNation: The Sorting Process is a project that almost suffers for achieving what it sets out to do. It's an excellent satire of corporate life but ends up being a little too true to life with its simulation and the claustrophobic dread of maintaining a work-work balance. I was dissatisfied by the ending and a few technical pain points, but Canteen's debut is well worth applying for regardless. Fans of routine-based games like Papers, Please; Not for Broadcast; and Do Not Feed the Monkeys will be interested in the brilliant satire and increasingly complicated gameplay systems and should get to work immediately. Ringo highly suggests you get to it. :)

Video Games Are Good and CorpoNation: The Sorting Process is . . . GOOD. (7.5/10)

+ sharp satire of where corporate life will inevitably end up, a fun core gameplay loop, compelling minigames that exploit the weakness of humankind

- the work genuinely becomes unfun by the end, a few major glitches can halt progress, the ending is abrupt and dissatisfying

The key art for CorpoNation: The Sorting Process. A line of near identical cubicles show a variety of workers in small pods at computer desks with a chest and a bed right next to them. In the middle, one specific worker is being shown a bright red screen that shocks them out of line with everyone else. The game's logo, featuring a raccoon with glowing eyes, is in the bottom right.

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1 Comment

Mar 28

Great article as always!! I like that you raised an interesting point on almost how too well the game has emulated corporate drudgery and stress. It works really well to the CorpoNation's narrative and vibes, but does also hurt it as a game. I wouldn't necessarily say every game has to be fun, but to make it unfun should definitely be a conscious decision that you stand by.

Love the site and your writing! Keep it up!

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