Review: Virginia (PlayStation 4)

Virginia: Official GBAtemp Review

PlayStation 4 1,917 view 5 likes 7 comments
Reviewed by Tom White, posted Sep 24, 2016, last updated Sep 24, 2016
I quite like interactive fiction and adventure games so I sat down to play a new one.
Sep 24, 2016
  • Release Date (NA): September 22, 2016
  • Release Date (EU): September 22, 2016
  • Publisher: 505 Games
  • Developer: Variable State
  • Genres: Interactive film
  • ESRB Rating: Teen
  • PEGI Rating: Sixteen years and older
  • Also For: Computer, Xbox One
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
505 Games sent us their newly published piece of interactive fiction for review.
Tom White

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Virginia (PS4 version reviewed).

4.1 gigabytes.

Thematically some things might be stronger than the average game, at the same time though it is nothing you would not see in an episode of your favourite American police procedural.

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See the picture above, tell me something about what is going on.

Around here I am often tapped to do some longer game reviews but today I got a shorter one in Virginia. Short is the word of the day as I launched the game at 12:28 and with a break for lunch I was watching the credits at 14:23, but that is getting ahead of things. There might be some light spoilers ahead but nothing major.

The game starts with you graduating the FBI academy circa 1990 to become a silent protagonist rookie FBI agent, you are then put into internal investigations and teamed up with someone you are supposed to investigate as they, and you, try to find a missing child. Rookie is the key word there as your incompetence over the coming days would probably get you fired from insurance investigation, let alone as an FBI field agent. To go with another legal system based game then how court works in Phoenix Wright is less divorced from reality than what this game showcases. Anyway the game itself* is a point and click adventure game at its heart with a slight dip towards the surreal as things go on.

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*Actually “what is a game?” probably wants further discussion. A definition I once heard that I quite like is “a series of interesting decisions” and this then fails to really provide any of those. Indeed the only two decisions I ever really had were not to investigate two rooms, something I did on the first play through and thus lacked context for a couple of things later, and whether to turn the radio on in the car early on. This is furthered by “press A to start” in this game being “press X to take a trip” and continue story being “resume feature”, at the same time though the letter from the developers available the title screen ends with “we hope it's resulted in a strange and confounding game”. Speaking of pressing buttons then if Japanese games like those Square (Enix) makes have been described as cartoons mixed with spreadsheets then this is point and click with a pause button, it never quite reaches press-f-to-pay-respects level but at times it was somewhat jarring, though the jarring might have been more from the way your character does things; you are along for the ride as your character does some things of dubious moral nature but they do it with their back to the open door and expecting a fellow agent to be there any moment.

The surreal thing feels kind of bolted on, or at least has no great payoff. In something like Max Payne 2, the closest I have to something like this, it was used to great effect to showcase a deteriorating mental state and also provide some nice backstory and exposition. Here though it made for an amusing light show but served no great purpose and while it might not ultimately have distracted it added little. I think I would probably describe it as at once both vague and heavy handed if that is possible.

That said I did get the chance to use a microfilm in a game and that is possibly a first for me.

Graphics and level design

The graphics were quite nice actually, somewhat aliased in places but a simple setup, angular seems to be a style choice for a lot of things rather than lack of funds/time/ability, with some nice lighting and surprisingly emotive character animations. Unity seems to have come on leaps and bounds from earlier days where games like this often ended up looking like those my first animation package that people use to make animated music videos.

For a game delivered mostly by actions and writing the writing left a bit to be desired in places, especially as the devs clearly understood “show, don't tell” when it comes to exposition.

Level design was also solid in that I can actually remember the rooms and layouts where on something like Battlefield 4, my recent game of choice, then I can barely remember stair placement in buildings for maps I have played for many many hours. Though the camera choice is a somewhat wide screen with a narrow vertical view which saw me miss some things if just walking without taking everything in. For the most part it was good and if it was not clear where to go then you would find your way back to the path fairly quickly, or at least your refusal of the call would not go anywhere fast. The levels themselves are somewhat timed for events and it also employs little banal sections that skip in and out which quite effectively establish a tone. Controls wise it is a classic twin stick first person with a single action button affair, you can customise the sticks strafe and turn any which way you please which is nice. The game is also available in many different languages.

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Audio

The game proudly proclaims its score being performed by an actual orchestra, in this case the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, and indeed it sounds very nice, nothing amazingly memorable but one might wonder if they did not borrow from the xfiles a bit there.

Conclusion

If you want strange goings on as a FBI agent in small town America then Deadly Premonition is a better bet. If its indie darling rivals are something like Gone Home, though where that attempted to make a fully realised 1990s house this had fewer investigative choices than L.A. Noire and was more like you were walking through a museum at times, or Stanley Parable then play either of those again. If you want investigation then Phoenix Wright, Runaway, Secret Files or anything like that is a better bet. At the same time if you find yourself playing it then it is not a bad play and I was somewhat curious to see what goes with the characters. Whether it would have made a better animated short I am less sure about, I have subsequently watched the Snowman as it put me in that kind of mood, though a proper film suggestion would probably be Enter the Void. “From the creators of Virginia” is something I will not reflexively laugh at should I see it at some point in the coming years as they are onto something, perhaps more so than a lot of their indie game brethren.

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At time of publishing this game is retailing for $9.99 US, this is unfortunate for also at time of publishing the humble bundle folks are offering a whole bundle of similar playing games that the beat the average prices are less than half for. Back when I were a lad it would have been called an interesting rental and seen as the game is set in the 1990s I will go with that too. It is absolutely not the thing to try to sell your mates on if they are dubious about indie games, adventure games, interactive fiction or similar such things.

Verdict
Pros
+ Great first person visual storytelling.
Cons
- Short
- No real replay value, even by "adventure game" standards.
- If you want to call it a game then there are no decisions worth speaking of.
6 Presentation
Some less than tight writing combines with some excellent visual storytelling to tell a story I found compelling enough. The surreal stuff did little other than pad the shorter runtime.
- Gameplay
How do you score an interactive movie? What was intended to be there worked as it should, there was not a lot there though.
1 Lasting Appeal
There are some collectibles in some levels, otherwise play it once and you have probably seen it all.
6.5
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
If a virtual museum of chekhov's guns is your thing then there might be something to it.
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