Posted by Mike Mason
Don't try too hard to understand. Datura is bizarre, a short adventure designed to be played in a single sitting with PlayStation Move, seemingly intended to bewilder anybody who comes before it. Yet that's one of its strengths. With no background information whatsoever, you take control of a man who is apparently as lost as the audience. You attempt to unravel what's going on by interacting with the world around you, using a floating hand that dynamically shifts whenever it comes into contact with anything, its fingers stretching and bending around objects and scenery. Just don't expect any solid answers.
Datura's narrative consistently and effectively blurs the boundaries between reality and fantasy, to the point where it's difficult to figure out what exactly's going on; a cautionary tale about the titular plant's toxic effects. It regularly lurches from the core forest into abandoned buildings, messes with your perceptions by throwing you into the driving seat of a car or down tunnels more befitting of Rez. It makes you open doors that seemingly lead to thin air and repeatedly hurls you into apparently insurmountable situations of peril. It's tough to put a finger on; you don't get a chance to get bored, but nor do you ever feel like you have your bearings.
Though it's mystifying, and ends suddenly without explanation after two hours, it's very much a game that is open to interpretation; it's likely that you'll end up coming to some kind of conclusion regardless of the confusion. It's refreshing in this regard — in a medium that so often doggedly pushes you through over-explained plots, Datura is a rare flower that asks players to think for themselves. There are several ways it could be read, depending on which parts you believe to be truthful memories and which are pure illusion.
Despite the continual scene switches and delirious storytelling, Datura's structure is otherwise pretty rigid. You find objects; you use them on parts of the environment to solve overly-simple puzzles, or interact with scenery with your hand alone. Discover white trees and you can place your palm on them to work out your location and map out the area in a notebook, though that's rarely needed as the areas are pretty small. You can complete tasks in whatever order you want in a given area, but the result is ultimately the same. There are a few very telegraphed binary choices to be made along the way, but that's about as far as it's possible to roam. Pressing Triangle at any time even directs you towards your next goal.
It's a bit of a shame, as Plastic has built an intriguing world that begs to be explored just that little bit more. Datura isn't the most polished game in the world by a long shot, but the heaps of autumnal leaves that billow up from the ground, fluttering butterflies and decaying structures give it a stylish, dreamy look. A superb soundtrack, with powerful bursts of violin whenever you achieve a goal and a few choice tracks from a range of genres, really builds on this.
Datura is unfortunately partially marred by its execution. The technicalities don't quite match up to the clear ambition; objects clip and your hand moves in undesirable ways around or through items, gets caught on walls and generally doesn't always act as you want. These foibles make Datura clunkier than it should be – stroking over the contours of the environments is not as smooth as we'd hoped. The hand activities are quite choreographed too; it's possible to mess about with it by raising the Move controller, but it's at its most usable and most fluid when you're following on-screen instructions to solve puzzles.
Travelling is a slightly sticky affair when using PlayStation Move. Appropriately enough you walk forward by holding down the Move button, shifting the remote to change direction. Holding X roots you to the spot so you can point about to look around, or you can step backwards with Circle. It's not the smoothest way to handle movement; it works, but it would have been preferable to use a Navigation for the walking so that Move could look after the camera – and hand – alone.
DualShock is supported, but it's quite clear that Move was the primary focus. With a standard controller there's less freedom to use the hand, which can be moved around all the time with Move. There's also an awkward split of all movement, including turning, to the left analogue stick, while the right stick is used for hand control and peering about while standing still. It doesn't feel great; play with Move if possible.
Datura holds very little challenge and has technical issues, but even in the face of these problems it's a title that is worth experiencing for its distorted narrative alone. It may not be an entirely great game, but it is at the least a push in a different direction and a breath of fresh air that makes you think – and for that, as more and more games fall victim to conformity, it deserves praise.