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I’ve started writing this review mere moments after I’ve finished Virginia. Its eerie yet beautiful experience still lingers within my mind, my thoughts a distorted amalgam of “why’s” and “what if’s”. What have I just experienced?
I honestly have no idea, but I liked it. Or rather I’ve spent the last two hours immersed in one of the most captivating and beautifully bizarre digital experiences I’ve encountered… and I absolutely loved every second of it.
Virginia is a narrative-driven first-person mystery game created by Variable State Games. The story takes place over the course of a few days in a fictionalized 1992 version of Kingdom, Virginia and places you in the shoes of Special Agent Anne Tarter, a newly recruited member of the FBI.
For her first assignment, Agent Tarter is partnered up with veteran agent, Maria Halperin, and tasked to investigate the disappearance of a young boy, namely Lucas Fairfax. Unbeknown to Halperin, the FBI director has also told you to secretly observe the activities of your partner.
It’s clear Halperin has a shaky relationship with the bureau. While all your other peers enjoy the company of each other in window lit offices, Halperin is stationed multiple floors below in a dark and gloomy basement office.
Virginia is a narrative-driven first-person mystery game created by Variable State Games
The relationship between you and Halperin starts out a bit tense. At first, she merely tolerates you as part of her job and quickly becomes annoyed with your presence when she catches you inspecting her belongings.
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But as the game progresses, the sullen Halperin lets her guard down and while delving into the case of the missing boy — which grows increasingly bizarre with each new piece of evidence — a strong bond starts to form between the two of you. This starts to weigh on your conscious and eventually you find yourself torn between this new friendship and the expectations of your FBI superiors.
Through the duration of the game you will not witness a single word of dialogue. The narrative is conveyed through a blend of gestures and detailed environments, woven together by a dramatic and spell-binding score. The atmosphere conjured by this title is absolutely awe-inspiring.
From the very start to the very end, the story seamlessly flows between scenes and interactions, showcasing a brilliant sense of narrative pace. The story starts out slow but as it progresses the tensions gradually builds and by the end escalates into mind-bending experience, bombarding your brain with a symphony of twists and thought provoking themes.
Love, loss, trust, betrayal, mystery, guilt… you’ll be amazed at what the developers have managed to pack within Virginia’s few hours. Here, it has to be said, that Virginia is presented more as a film with interactive elements than a game with cinematic elements.
Through the duration of Virginia, you will not witness a single word of dialogue
If I were to make a comparison, its execution reminded me much of Layers of Fear, as you are clicking and walking your way through a linear narrative rather than playing through branching one. With Virginia though, the story is even more linear. The spaces you explore are never more than a few rooms and there is only ever one way to progress further.
But that’s not to say that the world feels small. Through the story you will visit and revisit a multitude of locations, each saturated with character and meaning. You will also never feel stuck as the intuitive level design instinctively guides you through this masterfully crafted narrative.
In experience, to yet again make a comparison, Virginia often made me thought of Firewatch. It’s emotional and human tone makes the game extremely relatable, while its various elements of mystery transports the player to an extraordinary world.
I must warn you though, Virginia boasts a rather complex story structure and it would be best to approach it with a fresh mind. I must admit that, as hard as I tried, I struggled to keep track of the rapidly developing narrative. The tale is told with such intricacy and artful vagueness that a moment’s inadvertence could leave you lost and baffled.
In the “Letter From The Creators”, which can be found on the main menu, the developers leave us with this thought: “It’s been a strange and confounding experience making Virginia. We hope it’s resulted in a strange and confounding game”.
Confounding. There is certainly not a better word to describe my time with Virginia. The Variable State crew can rest assured that they’ve certainly achieved what they set out to do. While this game might provide us with a strictly linear narrative, the wealth of interpretations that can be drawn from its subject matter are endless.
The tale is told with such intricacy and artful vagueness that a moment’s inadvertence could leave you lost and baffled
As a story, its interactive nature truly immerses you in its ethereal and dreamy experience and I doubt that it could be so poignantly replicated in any other medium. As a game, it stands far apart from anything I’ve encountered.
We can be truly glad and grateful to the recent rise of the indie industry, for no AAA-studio would touch anything in Virginia’s likeness, which is sad considering its profound and exceptionally unique character.
We definitely need more games like this. The perplexing impression that Virginia has left on me will loiter in my mind for quite some time to come.
Release Date: 22 September 2016
Developer: Variable State
Publisher: 505 Games
Genre: Narrative-driven adventure
Platform(s): PC (review platform), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Average Playtime: 2 hours
Industry Average Score: 79/100
Price: R109 (Steam)
Verdict: Its potency lies within its narrative and the gameplay aspect is merely a medium through which you experience this story. If you’re looking for something that’s easily digestible and will numb away the hours, then Virginia is definitely not for you. Even as a narrative game, it satisfies a very distinctive taste. But I implore you to give it a chance, no matter what your interest in gaming is. Virginia should not even be looked at as a game but simply an experience that needs to be experienced.