Here’s the thing about Virginia: it’s not confusing, but it kind of is. You play it, and the plot moves along quickly and goes in a direction you don’t expect but you still feel like you’re following along just fine, then the end hits. It’s like the first season of True Detective where piece by piece it kind of makes sense before the finale throws you for a loop. Not a big loop, but enough to make you want to immediately call or text or tweet someone to discuss it further.
Virginia is like that.
In a mere two hours, the game takes you through a week of the life of rookie FBI Agent Anne Tarver who sits at a crossroad in her young career. She thinks her main goal is to find a missing boy by the name of Lucas Fairfax, but quickly learns her FBI superiors want more out of her. Finding the missing boy is portrayed as a top priority, but not the only one. As Tarver and her new partner–Maria Halperin–set sail to Fairfax home to search for clues, visions and conspiracies alike start to cloud her mind on top of a special assignment from Internal Affairs to investigate her partner.
As the partners work towards solving Lucas’s disappearance, the relationship between the two is stretched and nearly broken. As Tarver contemplates her future through a vision quest–courtesy of some confiscated paraphernalia–she sees a future for herself she doesn’t particularly like. The vision reveals more investigations of fellow agents with others follow. Promotions beget promotions though she contemplates the cost and careers it took to get there.
While searching for Lucas, Tarver and Halperin uncover a disturbing secret society that involves those being investigated in the young boy’s disappearance. As the clues start to form, those under suspicion become more relevant to the case, even teasing the possibility of otherworldly answers to Lucas’s whereabouts. Lucas was an aspiring photographer who may have found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time capturing the wrong type of moments.
The show-and-tell style of the game is mostly show, as the lack of any dialogue whatsoever allow you as the player to form your own narration through the two hours of gameplay. As strange as it was to play on a current-gen console (PS4) with not so much as a word of admonishment from any of the characters, it was refreshing. The soundtrack–performed by The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra–uses the lack of dialog as a strong sentiment to the highs and lows of Tarver’s story, and the intensity is punctuated by the rare moments of complete silence just when you’re drawn in the most.
The gameplay is simple. The joysticks and one button were used throughout the entire game, which is a slower change of pace, but not unwelcomed. The ease of which the story draws you in steers thought process away from being reminded that this is a video game. Even the lesser-styled graphics become secondary as the story progresses. At first the feel and look of the characters took me back to Goldeneye 007 N64 days, but it wasn’t long until that feeling shook.
The story carries the game, and that is where the flaws lie. The game is described as an “interactive thriller”, which isn’t totally wrong. The thriller aspect is there, but the interactive ability is the bare minimum. While the game allows you to move around certain confines, the ability to explore is extremely limited. You can walk down the a hallway full of offices, but only open the door the designers deem necessary. You can walk around a grass field, but the rocks and cliffs keep you looking for one solitary escape. You can explore a basement office space, but only pick up items of importance.
The inability to fully wander and explore forces the story to continue moving forward at a steady pace, but those hopeful for added clues or surprises will be disappointed. The story is the key while the gameplay is there to simply move the story along and nothing more. On more than one occasion the thought of this game as a movie floated through my head because that’s basically what the game already feels like.
Because of the lack of exploration options, the entire game can be completed in two hours. Once started, the game quickly conditions you to not look away during cutscenes that have you driving in the countryside one second to suddenly sitting in a diner the next. Minimalistic interactions with other characters seem trite at first, but are revealed to be more as the story progresses. There’s a constant shift between Tarver’s reality and dream worlds that run together so frequently it causes the story’s ending to be open for interpretation after a single playthrough. There’s answers, but more questions.
Virginia certainly isn’t for everyone, but for fans of a twisting story with Alice in Wonderland-like rabbit holes, this game is worth a look and more than one playthrough.
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Review note: the author of this review received a code for the purpose of this review