Virginia – My most disappointing game of 2016

No spoilers here folks!  Read with confidence that no story elements will be mentioned in any depth.  Screenshots won’t give away much, if anything, either.

I like a good walking simulator.  You know, those games in which you travel through the world and experience the story, but interaction is limited.  The best ones allow you to take part in the story, or perhaps guide its direction somewhat.  Firewatch was a good example of this, there is plenty of exploration and what you say and do leads to different responses.  The Vanishing of Ethan Carter adds a light puzzle element to the gameplay and has hidden sections that you can easily miss as you continue through the story.  Virginia does none of this and basically has you find the magic button that continues the story and little more.  This is not a good walking simulator to my mind.

Virginia Intro
We start of with a partially on rails section. There are no loading screens in the game at all, with instant camera cuts being very noticeable and technically impressive.

I had high hopes for this one.  It had been likened to Twin Peaks by many (which is a show I enjoyed immensely) and had a very interesting art style.  But this is not a game; this is a walking simulator in its original, derogatory sense.

We play as Anne, a newly qualified FBI agent who is sent to investigate a missing child in the small town of Kingdom, Virginia with her newly assigned partner Maria.  The whole game is played in first person in small environments that can be walked around at your leisure until you find the object/person you are meant to interact with to progress the scene.  There are hidden items to find, but finding them doesn’t seem to do much other than award you with the obligatory achievements.

virginia music
The Twin Peaks inspiration is visible throughout. You’ll even notice it in the music.

What’s very noticeable is that there is no dialogue throughout the game.  All information is conveyed either through very occasional papers given to you or through body language.  This is an interesting move, and could work quite well if there was a simpler story here.  There are so many bizarre dream sequences and visions that at times I had no clue what was going on.  Either a character with spoken lines or a simpler plot would have been ideal here, just to explain what was happening.  There were times where Anne (“me” for all intents and purposes) had worked something out and went to the next area, but I had no idea what she had worked out or why we had moved on.  Silent protagonists are fine.  Gordon Freeman is a perfect example of one in a world with an unclear plot; but he had people talking to him to explain why things were happening without explaining absolutely everything.  Either Virginia does not handle this well, or I’m not smart enough to follow what’s going on (both are possible!)

virginia environment
The environments are really rather impressive, although very small in most cases.

As the game moves on, it becomes clear that different characters have different, hidden goals (although I still have no idea what some of them were) and things aren’t quite what you expected.  As the end of the (roughly 2 hour) story approaches, the weird, dream-like scenes become more frequent and imply…something.  Honestly I’m not sure what happened at the end of the game beyond figuring out what happened to this missing boy (who doesn’t seem to be too important to the plot beyond the original reason for you traveling to Kingdom).  What I am sure of is that I don’t think I really played a game here.

virginia ending
The game takes a rather strange turn later on, making its convoluted plot even harder to follow.

There is almost no interactivity in this game.  Approach a new area, walk around looking at the admittedly pretty environments and listening to the stunning soundtrack (really, the music is fabulous and absolutely the highlight of the game for me), find the interactive object, watch the result and move to the next area.  Rinse and repeat for 2 confusing hours.  I was so disappointed by this.  Coming from playing Firewatch to this is like a step back in time in terms of what a game is.

virginia creepy
Occasionally creepy moments kept me interested in spite of not knowing what the hell was going on.

Virginia was developed by Variable State and published by 505 Games.  I played the game on Xbox One and wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re after an extremely abstract, non-interactive “game”.  Though the world looks pretty and the soundtrack is worth a listen to the extent that I intend to buy it separately.

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15 thoughts on “Virginia – My most disappointing game of 2016”

  1. I enjoyed my time with the game but, as I commented when I published some gameplay, I also found its interaction surprisingly low, even if I like the genre (games you also mention, like Firewatch or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter). Story was a bit confusing. Interesting game, with some great things (art, music) but with some flaws and not as good as other similar games.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We’re on the same page here. I enjoyed my time with it, I was really interested in seeing how everything was going to develop, until all of a sudden a completely different story took over, and one that wasn’t immediately obvious to me.

    The magic point idea was a tad annoying, because I was trying to explore thoroughly. In addition to this, because I was trying to explore fully I would immediately turn around to explore whenever I arrived in a new location – the problem was with this that later in the game certain scenes were timed, meaning I’d be rummaging down a corridor and I’d end up launched forward to the next scene.

    Great idea, but overlapping story with themes, and then fading out the story unresolved does not a great experience make. I am pretty sure I pieced everything together, and if I did miss anything on my two playthroughs then I’m afraid I’m simply not observant enough for this game; and I’m meant to be quite observant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If it’s taking a 3rd playthrough of the same game to find what the actual plot was, then I don’t think the narrative did its job properly. I tried to explore the areas in the hopes of finding some of the hidden items, but a lot of the time I just happened upon the item that progressed the story. I think I found a couple of flowers and an item in a bin, everything else I missed because I was either not looking hard enough or I triggered the end of scene event. At least the imagery was interesting though!

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    1. Going for a dialogue free narrative is brave, but I feel a more simplistic plot would be needed to get away with it. Here, I just felt utterly lost by the end, although some of the story does hit.

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