This is probably the most difficult review I’ve ever written. I never just sit in front of my computer and start typing right off the bat, after playing the game there’s always some sort of pondering I go through to put my impressions on it in place. For this very game though, that process has taken me a whole week so… yes, this is one of those games.
I don’t think of myself as a close-minded person and that extends to my gaming tastes and appreciations. Certain people would use terms like “interactive movie” as a way to dismiss games that don’t fit in the most conventional gaming formulas. I’m not like that myself and I wouldn’t use the term “interactive movie” or even “walking simulator” in a derogatory manner but on a merely descriptive way. Virginia is, without a doubt, an interactive movie.
Among all the games that have been called that in the past, this one is in fact the one that fits those shoes the better. There’s no meaningful choices to take (as in choices that will divert the story) and even the pacing is often taken off the player’s hand. This is a movie in which you are taking control of the camera in first person and sometimes you interact with objects. Gameplay-wise, that’s all there is to it.
It’s obviously the game’s story, the main draw of this game. You, the protagonist, become an internal affairs agent for the FBI and you’re sent to “supervise” the works of your companion as the investigation of a missing child takes place in Virginia. As it happens with story-driven games like this, it’s better that I stay from revealing any more details on the story but I have to mention some stuff you will encounter as the game progresses.
The most obvious one is regarding the storytelling. The game is told through different separated events, cut and then pasted together in a very stylish manner. It will in fact remind you to the way the stories are told in movies. The meaningless parts are “edited out” so it highlights the instances when something apparently irrelevant takes place and makes you take a more critical look at it.
Another style decision within the game that may surprise you is the fact that the whole story is told without the need for any spoken dialog. You will have to take in your surroundings and read the very situations you’ll be living in to understand what’s going on. It doesn’t feel gimmicky either but actually a very mature approach for the storytelling and I applaud that.
Lastly I have to mention that while the game starts simple and slow enough at first, as it progresses the story picks up speed and goes places that you certainly won’t expect at the start of the game. It’ll remind you of David Lynch at parts when it’ll start to throw strange imagery and even supernatural elements and you’ll have a hard time trying to discern what is real and what is not. I have to say though, that the firstly convoluted ending got much clearer to me on subsequents playthroughs.
As you can see from the screenshots the whole game aesthetic is very unique. I enjoyed the style on pretty much all fronts except for one, the facial representation. I don’t think that simplistic representation does a good job at presenting the different facial expressions of the emotions that the characters will try to convey at certain points in the story.
As for the audio department, like I said before, there isn’t any spoken dialog between characters during the whole game but the music department surely deserves a mention. While tremendously underplayed at most parts, as the game as a whole is pretty sober in its presentation for the most part, the shimmers of music sprinkled in during some scenes is brilliant. Virginia has a truly great soundtrack.
Things I liked
- Storytelling: I’d argue that for this game, even though the story seems to be the main aspect of it all, it’s the way that story is told where the real focus is. While it can make certain scenes a little too confusing, I truly enjoyed the mature cinematic storytelling of Virginia.
Things I didn’t
- Faces: While I did enjoy the artstyle on most fronts, I feel like the faces of the characters aren’t properly designed in order to truly convey certain emotions. It’s good enough to show that a character is grumpy for example but it fails at some more “complex” mood states trying to be represented.
Who’d like this?
Do I regret purchasing this game? Not at all, it’s an experience to be had and a living representation on how videogames can really achieve anything in terms of storytelling and encompass deep and complex stories.
Would I recommend this game to everyone then? No, not at all, not even to most people. This is indeed an interactive movie and a textbook example at that. Don’t expect RPG mechanics, moral choices or anything gamey out of it really.