The task of reviewing a game like Virginia is a difficult one. It’s not a ‘game’ in the traditional sense of the word, with player interaction at a bare minimum. As such, it may immediately put off a large audience. It is, however, a brilliantly well told story that actually fits the medium perfectly.
In the first release from developer Variable State, you play as Anne Tarver, an FBI agent tasked with investigating the disappearance of a young boy along with your partner, Maria Ortega. What follows is a tense, surreal exploration of friendship, mystery and betrayal, with Variable State using familiar movie tropes to propel the player down a linear path.
There is very limited exploration in Virginia. Throughout scenes, the only interaction is done via the screen’s reticule, which turns circular when pointed to a relevant object, and then into a diamond shape when you are able to interact with it. A lot of the time, this serves to advance to the next scene, with the camera seamlessly transporting the player to an entirely different locale. Rarely can you stray too far from the path that has been given, but this is done in such a way that simply works.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Virginia is that it manages to tell a cohesive story without the need of a single piece of dialogue. Character’s are limited to silent animation and facial expressions, albeit done very well, making key scenes all the more powerful. This is complimented by a particularly stellar soundtrack, which intensifies and soothes at all the right moments.
The game stumbles in the technical side of things – playing on the Playstation 4, the framerate is sketchy at the best of times, and unfortunately dipped so low on occasions that it momentarily actually dragged me out of the story. Hopefully a patch will be released to sort this out.
Virginia feels like a much more personal and intimate story than it would initially have you believe. Players may struggle to gain much from some of the story’s more ambiguous symbolism, but nonetheless it’s an interesting and powerful journey, worth the more-than-reasonable £7.99 asking price. There will be folks out there that will take joy in deriding narrative games such as this, but for the more open-minded out there, there are much worse ways to spend two hours.