With the rise of walking simulators recently Gone Home, Firewatch, etc, it can be hard to make your game stand out from the crowd. When a game simply focuses on the simple act of walking, the world around you becomes that much more important, as is a captivating story. Variable State not only manages to bring together a gripping story, a fascinating world with an eye-catching look but does so in a unique way. So, what makes Virginia stand out?
Players take on the role of Anne Tarver, an FBI trainee who has just qualified as a fully fledged agent. You follow a few days in her life as she and her partner, Maria Halperin, investigate the disappearance of a young boy. While part of the story focuses on this, there’s a lot more going on here than first offered. Anne has also been tasked with investigating her partner Maria, as indicated by the file she carries around with her. As you play through the game, you investigate the disappearance of the boy, and you investigate Maria, learning a lot about the characters and yourself along the way. Virginia as a story is so intriguing and, though hard to follow at time, is ultimately captivating and rewarding to play through.
Virginia: Xbox One [Reviewed], PlayStation 4, PC
Developer: Variable State
Publisher: 505 Games
Release Date: 22 September 2016
Price: £7.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
The primary reason Virginia‘s story can be a little hard to follow at times is because of the developer’s unique way of storytelling, with no dialogue whatsoever; no introduction to what’s going on, no conversations between characters and no explanation as to the revelations within the story. This can leave the game’s ending to be a tad unsatisfying, as you aren’t 100% that your interpretation of it is right, and for those that like closure, this game doesn’t offer you that. This also isn’t helped by the fact the game jumps a lot, purposefully, between scenes. While this saves on endless walking, it can leave you at little confused as to where you are. What Virginia does give you is a chance to live the games story as if it’s a movie; describing the game as an interactive movie experience is the best explanation you can give without actually playing it for yourself. It’s storytelling that a game has never really tried or done before, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing at all.
The first-person gameplay puts you straight into the thick of the action with the realistic camera movements that mimic the character’s walking, breathing and head turning. The rest of the world is portrayed in a cell shaded, block coloured aesthetic that mirrors the game’s unique storytelling by being unusual yet successful. You’ll spend a lot of time on the move, in cars and walking through hallways, so you might miss some of the world around you if you choose not to explore, but there is more than just the environment itself to take in. There’s a few items, that you could describe as a form of collectible, scattered about the world you’ll be travelling through. Trying to actually find them though isn’t easy, and knowing what you are looking for is even harder. While you might find the odd flower or bird’s feather, finding all of each of these will be tough, and finding hidden items like a sun and moon is purposefully difficult.
The game uses point and click gameplay to get through the story, with a crosshair telling you when you are near or on top of an interactive item. While some point and click games focus on the puzzling aspect, Virginia simply requires you to interact with items along the way of its story being told to you. The only problem with this is that it makes the game very linear; you can’t really wander off path or do anything wrong when there’s only one direction that the game will go. What the game also does is jump between dream and reality, and sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between the two. You are thrown so much information throughout your journey, and because of the lack of dialogue, it can be hard to know what is real and what isn’t.
Virginia will challenge you, not only in how you interpret the story, but also in the actual story being told. While this is a tale about following the law “commit a crime it will catch up with you“, there’s much more going on here. Crime isn’t as black and white as it may first turn out to be. If you want to be successful, you have to fight your way to the top, and you might have to lose a few friends along the way if you do. The game suggests you have to pick between friends and success, which is something Anne has to do along the way. Virginia challenges your morals and beliefs about what is right and wrong, making the game more interesting and enjoyable to play.
Virginia is a unique experience that can’t really be compared to any other game. It is the closest thing to watching a movie you can get, while actually playing a game. The unique storytelling is largely successful, if not a little confusing along the way. The game is mesmerising to look at, and so engaging to play. Maybe walking simulators are not everybody’s ideal game, but Virginia takes the genre and throws an exciting world, gameplay, stories, subplots and more at you. A captivating story told in such a unique way that it’s impossible not to recommend it, at least for the experience of playing it if nothing else.
- Unique storytelling, that captivates the audience with no dialogue
- Engaging story matched with a fascinating world to walk through
- Challenges you to think as well as experience the story
- Lack of dialogue and game jumping means it can get confusing
- Interactive items can be hard to find and see, especially the