Those of you who’ve been reading this website for a while may know how much I adored Thirty Flights of Loving; the extremely short indie game that showed you can evoke drama, emotion and story from any game, even if it has no voice acting or dialogue.
Virginia is one such game that was also heavily inspried by those weird and wonderful experiments all those years ago. Set in the town of Kingdom, Viriginia, you play as Anne Tarver, an FBI Special agent which is assigned a partner who is already working on a case of a missing teenager called Lucas.
Throughout the course of the campaign you’ll be given control of Anne as you make your way from one location to another, seeing what unfolds before you. Since there’s no dialogue, it’s up to you to determine the intention of what is happening in each scene, making the story confusing, but extremely intriguing and engrossing. This constant guessing kept me on my toes throughout Virginia’s two hour playtime, so much so that even know, I’m guessing my interpretation of the story may actually be different than the developers originally intended.
It has to be said, but the way in which your character is teleported throughout the world is genuinely stunning. Holding a piece of paper and examining it one moment in the office you’ll find the next you’re looking at the same page whilst now in a car to your next destination. The Scene transitions are sublime, so much so that at times you never notice.
If anything, the abruptness to which you’re thrown around the story adds to it’s appeal. Tension and intrigue would be lost in making the player walk from point A to point B, so to speed it all up and getting rid of the mundane, Variable State have managed to make a refined and dramatic experience, one that keeps your entranced from the moment it begins to the end.
To coincide with the amazing jumpcuts throughout, Variable State have managed to employ an absolutely amazing soundtrack, one which is so great that I’m listening to it now as I write this very review. It’s genuinely has the production values and acoustics of a Hollywood film, and is so integral to the story that the storybeats happen just as the music drops a beat, resulting in euphoric moments that push you to get more involved with the weird and wonderful world. Seriously, give the soundtrack a listen whilst you read the rest of my review; you will not be disappointed:
Story-wise, Virginia is a mixed bag. Whilst my interpretation of the story may be wrong, and I enjoy that you have to interpret it in your own way, the constant shifting of scope can also be seen as a bad thing. Unlike Thirty Flights of Loving, where there was some ambiguity, but for the most part you could figure out what was happening, Virginia goes the opposite direction, and proceeds to make the main story so ambiguous that entire threads were created just to discuss what had actually happened.
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As an actual game, Virginia could actually be considered a “Walking Simulator”. Whilst some may consider that a detriment, I find it endearing, as all I wanted was to experience the story and little more. There are opportunities to walk about in some sections of the game, but due to the simplistic graphic employed throughout, I found no reason too. I mean, what’s the point in walking over to a desk full of books when there’s no actual writing on the books themselves – they’re merely a prop to the environment, and little more.
Don’t take my “Simplistic Graphics” comment to mean that Virginia has bad graphics. Far from it. In fact, there are many times where the minimalist aesthetics work to its advantage, giving some spectacular scenes where I couldn’t press the screenshot button fast enough to show how beautiful the game is. Each character is suitably animated, to the point you can properly detect what emotion they’re meant to be portraying at that moment in time. The animations were so great and fluid that they actually helped to make the characters and world as a whole feel all the more believable, despite the minimalistic graphics seen.
Virginia is, if anything, a testament to what can be done in the “Walking Simulator” genre. Given enough time, and talent, these games are able to make an audience feel, and think, so much more than a typical medium like Television. The fact that you’re actively engaging with the world and pushing the story along helps make you more aware of every little detail, stopping you from zoning out and missing elements of the story. I managed to pick the game up in the Sony sale, and for £3.49, you really cannot go wrong. If you like mysterious games with pleasing graphics, give Virginia a go; you won’t be disappointed.