It always stings a little when you get your hopes up for a game and it disappoints you upon release. Sure, there are different tiers to this; for instance, it's hard to find a recent game that upset more people at launch than No Man's Sky. But often that initial letdown leads to hyperbole; there are titles that fall short of expectations that still excel in some areas, and this applies to Virginia – an experience that's not overtly awful, but just nowhere near as good as it could (and probably should) have been.
For those who don't know, this is a first person mystery adventure title where you assume the role of FBI Agent Anne Tarver. The events of the game take place across what appears to be a week, starting with Anne getting her badge, and her first assignment. This assignment sees her keeping an eye on someone else within the organisation – a sort of Internal Affairs investigation – as Detective Maria Halperin looks into a missing persons case. The premise, alongside the rural look of the game's setting and the music, help set the title up to essentially be a video game version of cult classic Twin Peaks – surrealism and all.
The problem with the narrative, however, is that large swathes of it are borderline incoherent. Whereas a show like Twin Peaks definitely gets into some strange and confusing areas, dialogue and exposition can be used in a pinch to give things a modicum of coherence. Unfortunately, Virginia is a game without dialogue. All of the narrative events are conveyed through gestures, context of the environment, music, and in select number of instances, text. This is a problem. While some of the scenarios are very easy to gauge – a missing persons poster is pretty obvious, for instance – lots of the events taking place, particularly the game's numerous surreal, dreamlike scenes, make borderline zero sense.
Now that's not to say that these scenes aren't really cool and interesting to behold, but they lose a lot of the impact when you have no explanation for what's supposed to be happening. Maybe we just didn't get it, but most of the title's narrative elements miss their mark. Weirder still, most of the events that did seem to make a degree of sense almost always ended up being dreams of imagined scenarios, so these events technically never happened. Which is a shame, because one such scene towards the end really made us care about the things that Anne was doing in her line of work.
Not only that, but of the events that we were able to discern, not much really happened. By game's end – just north of two hours – we felt like we had just finished playing a prologue for a larger game. Except the title was finished.
Even the environments themselves are a disappointment. To be fair, from an artistic direction, the game's beautiful; the rural Virginia town of Kingdom is really delightfully presented – minus the character models, which look like Miis or Xbox Live Avatars – and many of the environments are gorgeously presented to the point where we had a lot of fun just looking at things. Which is good, because there isn't actually much more than that to do.
A lot of the time, we're fond of the "walking simulator" genre – and there are some great examples of that format working undeniably well – but the mystery surrounding this game is screaming out for interactivity. It's actually quite frustrating to only have one thing to interact with at any one time – well, apart from collectibles, that is. For seemingly no reason, you can collect flowers and bird feathers that Anne will then dress her house with. But for a title focused around a mystery, the game's shockingly short on actual investigation and interaction.
To add insult to injury, the game often transitions between scenes abruptly just so that they're tied to the soundtrack. While this is an excellent idea in principle, it doesn't really work, and this is a major shame, because the title does have a phenomenal soundtrack, with many Twin Peaks homages. One comes courtesy of a band in a bar, who play a song that we swear used the same melody as the main theme of David Lynch's classic.
Variable State's Virginia is by and large an unsuccessful attempt to make something interesting. An absolutely incredible soundtrack and great environmental art fail to lift the game from a bog of issues. There are some severe technical issues here, but real criticism should be pointed in the direction of the oftentimes incomprehensible narrative, which needed to be much stronger given the general lack of interactivity elsewhere.
This is an interesting review that seems the polar opposite of Eurogamer's, could be an interesting curio but the demo was losing me in the plot department very quickly.
@Deadcow Yeah, Graham mentioned that in the review: "There are some severe technical issues here."
I edited that criticism down, though, because I felt like his issues with the plot should take centre stage here. It's not acceptable, however.
Shame it looked Beautifull.
Gutted - Mii's aside, I was looking forward to this game and I get the experimental nature but if you have a walking sim with a story, the player (or walker) should be able to grasp the narrative structure.
A shame since I liked the idea behind this - seems it was a case of the goal being out of their skills?
I guess I can get my TP fix with Deadly Premonition again...
@Deadcow yeah the demo made me feel sick, too. But at least I now know how hammered ass runs
@Deadcow Yeah, the criticisms in the original draft were a bit more long-winded, and I mentioned feeling sick at one point too!
I thought that was astounding, as I'm generally borderline immune to nausea from motion-based things, but not with this game!
@Cassetticons Yes! Deadly Premonition! That (and Alan Wake for different reasons) are still the gold standards for Twin Peaks game experiences!
Not surprised. The steam demo was awful and poorly optimized. I could barely get it to run at 30 fps on low settings on a PC that can run something like Skyrim at 60 fps on medium settings. Absolutely ridiculous. What I did manage to play of it was terrible. Environments lacking detail. Weird, jarring scene transitions. A narrative that was randomly bizarre.
Seems like a divisive game, I read a bunch of glowing reviews too.
For a game that's a murder mystery, I find it really off-putting that there is no dialogue and very little interactivity. As Graham said, if the game can't deliver a more coherent and effective narrative then I don't really see why I should bother with it.
The art assets were enough to put me off, sort of makes me want to watch Reboot though.
In terms of performance it just goes to show that you can have a machine with all the power in the world but performance is only going to be as good as the developers making it.
I wasn't even aware there wasnt going to be any dialogue in this until the demo.
Was really eager to try the game but after the `demo` which took about ten minutes I just thought at the end..what the hell?was that IT?? I thought maybe there was going to be speaking in the main game but the demo was so short you never got a chance to have any proper interaction..
@Wazeddie22 Yeah I was hoping for the possibility that the demo was this like separate thing from the main game (kind of like how the demo for The Stanley Parable is a separate experience from the main game) because the game seemed promising, but the demo was kinda not great, but nope haha. The demo was taken straight out of the game!
Looked kinda boring in the first place. Not surpised it isn't very good.
Pretty surprising. Seems to be reviewing quite well elsewhere.
Well there you go I created an account just to leave this comment as this is only review I found that, in my opinion, was getting above the hype and proposed an sensible take on the game. Yes, it is artistically daring, yes it has great reference and sometimes capitalises greatly on them, but I this is definintely not the glorious, shiny game most reviews out there are selling us. Especially on PS4: I don't how the game plays on the PC, but my experience on PS4 was just terrible, with what felt like laggy and choppy controls most of the time... And the motion sickness! I am so surprised to read that our of 17 comments, 3 mention the motion sickness problem! This is crazy, I have never been prone to that while playing a game before... I also agree that although it is an interesting approach, the lack of voicing, or just of some extra narrative medium (text or whatever) is sometimes a handicap to get the plot across. Factoring in the choppy controls that may prevent you for looking at the right place when a key animation occurs, this is just plain frustrating. I'd still think say the experience can be worth it though (especially if an update comes up to clear the FPS / choppiness problems).
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