Fire, Play with Me
Once in a while a game comes along like Virgina, one that challenges you to look at things in a very different way, to fire up part of your brain that delights (or is repulsed) by conundrums, puzzles, mysteries and good old fashioned detective tales. I got a chance to take a look at this one, inspired by the likes of the X-Files, Fargo, Twin Peaks, and other bizarre tales - what I found was a narrative-driven, suspenseful, tightly-wound thriller that will likely be just as polarising as the latter shows.
You'll either love this game, or hate it.
Personally, I love it.
A Neatly Framed Mystery
Anne Tarver and her partner in solving crimes, Maria Ortega are paired to solve the case of a missing kid. Anne's just graduated from the FBI training academy in 1992, and her partner isn't fond of her, setting the game's story up for a less-than-buddy cop drama with twists, turns, and some truly mind-bending scenes later on. It's hard to talk about the game too, because everything I say could be considered as a potential spoiler for the surprises that stalk the locales and are woven into the game's story.
A story it tells without words, relying instead on the superb art-style, solid animation, especially in terms of facial animations. These are key to interpreting many of the social situations that Anne will find herself in. Yes there are classified documents and things to read which will give you clues, but you'll be looking at those characters, their attitudes delivered through body language and expressions - forcing you to engage with them in a way that not even L.A. Noire managed.
You'll find a lot of depth in the characters through careful study, and you might need to play the game a couple of times to see all of it. It's a short title though, so repeated plays will definitely be a thing through the 2-3 hour mystery.
There's a lot to see in the various locations you'll visit as well, and whilst you can zip from plot object/point to plot object/point - there's a bunch of optional places to poke around even though it's a decidedly linearly designed game. You might find there's a few jarring scenes, and the narrative is fond of skipping around, this might put you off, but it's worth sticking with it.
If you enjoy jump-cuts and highly cinematic adventures then it's going to float your boat. The great thing too is that it's packed with symbolism and for someone like me, who enjoys the heck out of those kind of story telling elements, it's a great game.
It's refreshing to play a simple game too, one where I'm not punishing waves of enemies with the latest high-tech murder-rifle, or making moral choices that will turn the narrative into a different direction. I'm interacting with certain objects, putting 2 and 2 together, and watching people's lives for subtle (and not so subtle) clues to help me piece together just what the heck's happened to the kid.
You're not going to get bogged down by QTEs (Quick Time Events) or Inventory management systems in this game.
It's a decidedly minimalistic clean experience that tells an old story, it does so by packing that story in a new way. It puts you in the shoes of someone who has problems, has a lot to prove, and struggles not to fold under the pressure of all the responsibility on her shoulders. With the cinematic flair, jump-cut scenes and visual tricks that are often engaged by TV shows, Virginia manages to do a superb job of telling its story with flair and style.
Pretty as a Picture
Sweeping Orchestral Soundtrack
That right there is all I really need to say about the soundtrack to the game, it's gorgeous and I want it stand-alone so I can listen to it time and time again. It's up there with the likes of Journey and Abzu for me.
Thrilling and Disturbing
Virginia is a thrilling and disturbing game in equal measures, jarring and thought-provoking. If you enjoy narrative-driven experiences like this, it should be a no-brainer, be warned though if you're looking for something more akin to the AAA first person adventures, or even Firewatch, you might want to skip this.
It won't be for everyone. If you're a fan of Indie titles which push the envelope - get it.