Virginia, from indie studio Variable State, is described as a single-player first-person thriller. The developers list many influences for the game including Brendon Chung’s Thirty Flights of Loving and TV shows such as Twin Peaks, True Detective, Fargo and The X-Files.
The story is set in Burgess County and the secluded town of Kingdom, Virginia. A young boy called Lucas Fairfax has mysteriously disappeared. Players take the role of graduate FBI agent Anne Tarver who is sent to investigate along with her more experienced partner Maria Halperin. To say much more about the story details would start to spoil it so I’m going to avoid doing so.
Before playing the game for the first time I was presuming that I’d get to travel around the town, look for clues and interview the various characters. However, this isn’t the case at all and the game is rather a lot different than I was expecting.
Check out the Virginia cinematic trailer below:
The action is viewed through the eyes of Anne and in many ways Virginia is an interactive movie. The game is designed to be movie-length and it’s divided up into around 40 chapters. Each of these is just a few minutes long and your path through the story is linear. You don’t get to choose or influence where you go and there are no puzzles to solve in order to progress.
Despite the story being linear I found it entertained me to the end. At times it felt confusing and it left me a little conflicted to what was actually happening. Multiple playthroughs are worthwhile to try to fully understand everything but you are left guessing about certain things. Several days after my first playthrough I found myself still thinking about events causing me to jump back in for another go. Most players will want to do so a few times to pick up achievements that they missed which aren’t obvious to complete.
Each chapter is a collection of one or more short believable scenes that progress the story. During a scene you get to walk or look around as Anne and interact with certain things. The interactions you are allowed to perform are very simple and there’s nothing more complex than pressing the action button to do things like open a door or grab an item.
As you move through a scene there are set points when the game will move onto the next one. There is nothing to tell you when this will happen and you have no choice to not progress. Until you get used to how Virginia works the changing scenes can be a bit jarring. However they quickly grew on me and left me wondering why more games don’t use them.
For example rather than having to walk your way through an entire building the game will let you walk across an office, then cut to a corridor, then maybe the stairwell and finally back to another corridor. You soon work out what is happening and it removes the tedious and unnecessary filler than some games have.
The most surprising omission in Virgina is that there is absolutely no dialogue. You interact with characters and see others interacting together but you never hear speech or have text to read. The game purposely leaves some story elements ambiguous and it’s up to you to work out what is happening. It’s a clever design decision that really makes you pay attention and keeps you thinking.
Check out some screenshots from Virginia in our gallery below:
A variety of techniques are used to help you such as visual and audio cues, well thought out scenes, cinematic camera angles and clever character interactions. I found it was always clear where to go next and that taking extra time to have a good look around can be rewarding.
Graphically, Virginia uses a painterly aesthetic which looks absolutely stunning. The animation is well done and really brings each scene to life thanks to great attention to detail.
There’s also an incredible use of music with a stunning soundtrack created by composer Lyndon Holland and recorded live by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. At times the music is key to understanding what’s happening. The mood and emotion of it changes making it easy to detect an optimistic piece compared to a pessimistic one. The music has a big influence on each scene and really fits in well instead of dialogue.
Virigina is a fantastic achievement and succeeds in telling a gripping story that keeps you guessing until the end and beyond. Some players will definitely miss the dialogue and freedom to go where they want. However, those looking for something a little different or who are fans of the influences behind the game should definitely give it a go. Highly Recommended.
Developer: Variable State Publisher: 505 Games Release Date: September 22, 2016 Reviewed On: Xbox One Also Available On: PS4, PC (Steam)