505 Games / Variable State
Xbox One, PS4, Steam (Xbox One version reviewed)
David Lynch’s iconic TV series is making its long-awaited comeback next month, and fans – including me – are waiting with bated breath to see if it lives up to the classic ‘90s original.
If you’re in the same boat, Virginia may be worth a look if you want to scratch that Twin Peaks itch a little while you wait.
Set in the summer of 1992, it puts you in the oddly angular shoes of Anne Tarver, a junior FBI agent who’s been given a bit of a tricky task.
She’s been asked to investigate one of her colleagues, who’s been accused of… um, something or other.
Meanwhile, there’s an ongoing missing persons case involving a young lad who… to be honest, I have no fucking clue.
You see, Virginia is an interesting one in that, much like the aforementioned Twin Peaks, a lot of its plot doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense (at least, not during the first playthrough).
The timeline jumps all over the place, there’s all manner of weird symbolism dotted about (birds and buffalos keep appearing for reasons beyond me), and the game is completely dialogue-free, meaning more abstract moments often go without proper explanation.
Not that I was too fussed by this, of course. Some of the best films and TV shows make very little sense – remember how everyone went out of their bastard minds for Lost? – so wandering around with no clue what’s going on isn’t necessarily a game-breaker in this situation.
This is mainly thanks to Virginia’s look and feel. The character designs are the one let-down here: lead character Anne just looks bizarre and the odd angular character design straight out of Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing video can be a little jarring (though some characters fare better than others).
Far more impressive are the environments you’re made to explore. Their simplistic, minimalist design is beautiful to look at, and it’s tempting to just wander around just looking at things at times.
Not that you have much choice, mind. Virginia is a completely linear game from start to finish, to the extent that almost the entirety of its two-hour length is spent looking around for the one thing to make your dot cursor turn into a circle (a sign you can interact with it) so you can move onto the next scripted moment.
While in terms of mechanics it’s more like a point-and-click adventure than anything else, the puzzles that are synonymous with a game of that genre are nowhere to be seen. It’s literally a case of finding the next bit to press the A button on.
That’s because it isn’t trying to be a puzzle game, though. Virginia is clearly intended as a cinematic experience (as wanky as that sounds): it deliberately forces you down one path so you’re exposed to the story in the way it wants you to be.
Once you come to terms with this and accept you’re just along for the ride, the game starts to become far more enjoyable. You start to get a kick out of the numerous jump-cuts, which often appear out of nowhere.
One minute you’re sitting in bed looking at a case file, the next you find yourself months in the past, on a stage in front of an audience as you collect your FBI badge and accept a handshake from your superior.
It’s all initially a little off-putting, but it fits in well with the tone and makes it feel more like a movie than other ‘cinematic’ games have over the years.
By deliberately breaking conventional gaming rules and making it so that instead of moving logically from room to room you’re suddenly being teleported without warning – to a different time, a different building, sometimes even a different body – it keeps you on your toes and continually makes things interesting (if mystifying).
This would all be a bit easier to keep track of if the game’s various characters spoke, but they’re all completely mute. Occasionally you’re shown case files or news articles which help fill in some blanks, but for the most part this is an adventure where bewilderment lies around every corner.
Thankfully, you’re aided by the music, which almost acts as the narrator by setting the tone of each scene. Performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, Virginia’s score is absolutely fantastic from start to finish.
It’s not often I recommend you buy a game’s soundtrack even if you have no intention of playing the game, but if you’re into your instrumental music you really do owe it to yourself to buy the Virginia soundtrack from either Steam or the PlayStation Store. It’s genuinely that good.
I’m torn, then. Not in terms of whether I like Virginia – I most definitely do – but whether I can wholeheartedly endorse it without restrain.
I adore its atmosphere, its beautiful soundtrack and the sense of intrigue it builds as you play through it, but be under no illusions that this is a game for everyone.
It isn’t even a ‘game’ as such: it’s a linear storyline that you’re gently guiding along. When the title screen says “Press A to take a trip”, it means that literally, because you’re really just along for the ride here – you aren’t behind the wheel.
Bear in mind, then, that Virginia may not be for you. If you’re the sort of person who likes challenging gameplay and lots of puzzles to figure out, you’ll want to steer well clear of this one because it offers none of that.
If you’re also hoping for a storyline that wraps itself up nicely in a neat little bow at the end and ties up all its loose ends, you may as well download it to your console then fire the thing into the fucking sun.
After all, its entire two hours is a confuddled conglomeration of strange moments, culminating in a bizarre final 15 minutes that chucks in more twists and turns than a bucket of snakes having an orgy.
If, however, you’re open-minded to the idea of a ‘game’ that doesn’t really require much playing and will leave you thinking “what in the realm of utter piss just happened” as the credits roll, then Virginia is a beautiful and bizarre movie-length mindfuck that’s well worth experiencing.
Virginia is available now digital-only on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Steam.
This review was written for the first ever Tired Old Hack live review. If you want to see how it was put together in its entirety – playing the game, writing the review and laying it out on this page – check out the replay of the full four-hour process here.
This review was not based on a review code, I purchased it myself from the Xbox One store with funds provided by my lovely Patreon followers. If you enjoyed this review and want to help me write them more frequently, please consider donating to my Patreon account.
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