Republished on Monday 29th June 2020: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of July's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
If you need any further proof that video games don’t have to be about the constant act of pressing buttons, then look no further than Erica. The oft-forgotten PlayStation 4 exclusive, which went completely dark after its announcement back at Paris Games Week 2017, re-surfaced earlier this week with a new lead actress and made its way to the PlayStation Store without a moment’s hesitation. It’s a more hands-off experience that proves the FMV genre is still alive and kicking.
You control the actions of the aptly-named Erica, played by Holly Earl. Following the deaths of both her parents, she finds herself floating through life alone in an apartment as the world passes her by. It’s the father’s death that affects the protagonist the most, as nightmares bring back visions of his last moments as Erica holds him close with the killer still in the room. She attempts to suppress these memories, until they’re dragged back into the present day when new clues pertaining to his murder open the case back up.
The investigation takes us to a place called Delphi House, the former workplace of Erica’s parents, and it’s here where much of the narrative takes place. A seemingly normal care home quickly takes on a whole different vibe the more you learn of its inner workings and the suspicious higher-ups running the place. The deeper you go, the more the distrust surrounding your father’s legacy worsens.
It’s an intricate narrative that’s engrossing at every turn. Holly Earl does a great job of creating a character you quickly feel for as she simply wants to learn the story behind her Dad, while remaining timid and resolute when needed. Believable, entertaining, and interesting, Erica herself is the star of the show.
Due to the nature of the title, you will never directly control the movement of any character. Instead, using a cursor controlled by the DualShock 4’s touch pad, you’ll select actions on screen for Erica to perform. Some will be major decisions that shape the course of the plot while others simply push the scene in question forward. The experience creates a nice balance between fast-paced decisions and moments you can take your time with, and what’s happening on-screen will naturally reflect that. You’re not going to be hit with a split-second choice out of nowhere, it’s always telegraphed first.
In fact, the experience does one or two things we haven’t seen in the FMV genre before. You’ll have to wipe away the condensation on your bathroom mirror, scribble out a signature, and scrub the seams of time away in order to access flashback scenes. It’s mightily impressive what the title achieves with a single input, with one other highlight taking advantage of its time mechanic that presses you for an answer at a quicker and quicker rate. You never quite know what the game will ask of you next.
Perhaps surprisingly, the game retains its PlayLink routes that allow you to play it from start to finish via a smartphone. The initiative that we thought was pretty much abandoned following a flurry of party titles and Hidden Agenda actually turns out to be the best form of interaction on offer. The smooth nature of a touch screen means that all of your actions are recognised without fault – making it the optimal way to play if you have the option.
One minor problem is that the PS4 controller’s touch pad isn’t quite up to snuff when it comes to the precise actions the game asks of you, although that’s probably not an issue of its own doing. Nevertheless, we had inputs that weren’t properly recognised and cases where the decision opposite to what we wanted was selected.
A single playthrough is roughly two hours in length, but there’s a number of different endings to explore that your choices along the way will impact. It ups the replay value exponentially when another run is all but guaranteed to be completely different when you have the means to control its outcome.
The title is beautifully shot, taking advantage of its rural setting with wide pans and close-ups of nature to bring colour to the screen. Varying camera angles capture all the emotions of Erica’s journey, while the supporting cast does a good job with their performances. Sasha Frost and Chelsea Edge as Hannah and Tobi respectively are two more highlights in particular.
Erica is an intriguing, admirable experience that those looking for something a little outside of the video game norm will surely latch on to. With an impressive set of performances, a story that’ll have you hooked straight from the off, and meaningful decisions that have a major impact on the game, FMV is making waves all over again.