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Review

Datura Review (PS3, PSN)

Smell the flowers.

Datura: toxic, hallucinogenic, fatal.

The human mind is a wonderful thing, capable of so much and yet so easily distracted, confused, tricked. Through our own doing or otherwise, it’s possible to convince yourself that things are happening that aren’t, and that things that did happen didn’t. Videogames don’t often really attempt to cover this kind of subject, let alone quote Divine Comedy in the opening title card, so on the surface at least Datura is a brave effort, but one that’s not entirely successful.

The trick that Plastic have pulled off so successfully in Datura, though, is in making it almost impossible to distinguish reality from fantasy – it’s a trick that works for as long as the experience lasts (roughly 80 minutes or so on a first run) and lingers for a note or two afterwards. There’s little of the deep poignancy that punctuated Journey or LIMBO here, but there’s a sense of bewilderment and confusion as the credits roll, the game – such as it is – ending as abruptly as it begins.


A real Datura flower. These appear in the game, and their spiky fruit also.
And, of course, that’s the point. The eponymous plant is deadly, sure, but whilst it’s peppered around the world you explore from the eyes of an unknown – at least until the final section – character, it’s omnipresent but not in your face, at least to anyone that’s not really looking beneath the surface of what is an off-kilter experiment from a team clearly at ease with the PlayStation hardware. This, Plastic’s second PSN title after Linger In Shadows.

Datura is controlled exclusively with a Move controller. An extension of your hand, the game projects the dismembered limb in front of you, your every move, twist and tilt echoed one-to-one on screen. It’s a sometimes lifeless, limp appendage and one that seemingly needs gentle visual cues and prompts to coax it into life, but it can open doors, twist valves and push stone with – after a brief introductory passage – relative ease.

My first few minutes were frustrating – it’s not initially clear how actions are triggered and the fact that the hand moves in three-dimensional space (so much that it can disappear if too far back) takes some getting used to. You can’t fail in Datura (although you will feel like you have done a few times) but that doesn’t mean that you won’t miss a requirement simply because you weren’t using the Move controller as intended.

Instead, you’ll quickly realise that the Triangle button is your best ally in this bizarre, fractured world. The green notification pops up to allow you to focus on your next object or character, and once close enough it’ll change slightly, teased into life with another tap and then you can follow the prompts to figure out what you need to do with the Move. Breaking it down like this also breaks down the figurative fourth wall, but it’s the easiest route.

That route, of course, will take you in and out of the mind of the player character, but there are no story spoilers here – Datura warrants a fresh, ignorant playthrough because it’s really something that needs to be experienced first hand without any preconceptions. Aside from the brief introduction there are two main areas to explore, and each houses four distinct elements that must all be investigated for the game to advance.

There are actions and consequences, but it’s a tightly controlled game world with stringent rules and a schedule that must be adhered to regardless of your choices. Indeed, try to circumvent the running order and it’ll just wait for you to catch up, and act unexpectedly and – in one case – risk a hardware crash. Isolated, perhaps, but it forced a reboot nonetheless – Datura is a game most easily experienced through the will of the designer.


Some iconic art for the game, which highlights some of the things you can expect to see.
It seems unfair to spell out Datura’s structure such, because it’s designed to be played as a singular movie-like adventure, but by the end the skeleton of the game was more than obvious. Plastic’s ability to keep you guessing holds up well, though, even after a second run, during which the controls (the trigger tends to grab, the Move button walks forward, Circle backwards and Square brings up the map) feel more instinctive, even if the cue points are more obvious.

It is a game worth exploring though – visually it’s pushing some impressive tech (the sheer amount of leaves for starters) with Santa Monica presumably pitching in with one of the most striking filter techniques I’ve seen: Datura looks like a moving painting, an effect that plays off against the underlying idea that nothing around you is real, or at least chronological. The music too is wonderful, with a powerful melodic soundtrack battling against static and rumbling bass.

So whilst the PlayStation Move has been mostly left alone by developers, Plastic have embraced the device (the game needs a camera, too) and used it to create something that feels immersive and natural, and coupled it with great graphics – although the 60fps frame rate halves in stereoscopic 3D – and a soundscape that screams out for a decent rig. It’s not a perfect game by any stretch, but it’s not really meant to be a game – this is an experience, and on that front it clicked for me on a number of levels.

But will you like it as much? That depends, more so with Datura than anything else on PlayStation Network, on an open mind and a willingness to just let go and try something new. The price, £6.49, might seem a little steep for such a short play time, but there’s nothing quite like this out there and once again I’m left thinking we should be applauding innovative and risk, something Sony are pushing on both fronts of late.

Pros:

  • There’s nothing else like this on PS3
  • Some wonderful visual effects
  • The music is great

Cons:

  • It’s a little short
  • More exploration and more things to find off the beaten track would have been great
  • The puzzles are far too easy

Above all else, Plastic have come up with a complex, clever slice of software that taps into the idea of delirium with such aplomb it’s slightly unnerving, as if the developers have encountered this state, those flowers, and somehow documented what often feels like a free-fall through the mind of severe, unhinged paranoia and nightmarish visions. Applause for pushing the boundaries of what we conceive as interactive entertainment, at least.

Score: 6/10

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17 Comments
  1. colmshan1990
    Member
    Since: Apr 2009

    I’m sold on this anyway.
    It seems interesting, and it costs more or less the same as a cinema ticket, so it’s not really that steep of a price for 80mins entertainment even if I only ever play it once.

    The text of the review helps me here- from it, I expected a 7 or 8 from 10. Kind of surprised to see a 6, but as I said, the text has convinced me, the score is of secondary importance.

    Comment posted on 07/05/2012 at 15:21.
  2. Sitorimon
    Member
    Since: Jul 2011

    I seem to dig all these strangely different “games” at the moment. Dear Esther was fantastic, Ling In Shadows was entrancing, all the weird and wonderful games appeal to me so I was going to get this regardless. Surprised its £6.49 after seeing how cheap LiS was but its just inside my range :)

    Comment posted on 07/05/2012 at 15:24.
  3. TSBonyman
    Member
    Since: Dec 2009

    Good review, despite the overall score I’m still interested in this one.

    Comment posted on 07/05/2012 at 15:57.
  4. R1MJAW
    Member
    Since: May 2010

    Quite looking forward to playing this. I was kind of expecting it to be somewhere in the £8-10 range, which may well have put me off buying it, but for £6.49 it’s a definite purchase.

    Comment posted on 07/05/2012 at 16:10.
  5. gazzagb
    Master of speling mitakse
    Since: Feb 2009

    “Datura is controlled exclusively with a Move controller” and yet in the related stories for this review it says “Datura Hits PSN On May 9th, Features Dualshock Support”.
    Can you clarify if it is playable with the Dualshock or not? If it is, I’ll probably picking it up this Wednesday, 6 quid seems like a decent price for it.

    Comment posted on 07/05/2012 at 16:22.
    • TTP
      Member
      Since: Sep 2008

      DS3 is supported. It’s Move “recommended”, not exclusive.

      Comment posted on 07/05/2012 at 16:59.
      • gazzagb
        Master of speling mitakse
        Since: Feb 2009

        Cool, thanks for clearing that up.

        Comment posted on 07/05/2012 at 17:39.
    • nofi
      One for all.
      Since: Forever

      Hi.

      Yes, sorry, you /can/ use a Dual Shock but it’s not an altogether pleasant experience and it’s apparent that it was added at a late stage.

      Movement is with the left stick (ie the left stick turns rather than strafes) and you can’t invert the right stick (so up is up). Controlling the hand in 3D space is odd, and some of the gesture movements feel a little awkward.

      It’s playable, but better with Move for sure, IMO.

      Comment posted on 07/05/2012 at 19:09.
      • gazzagb
        Master of speling mitakse
        Since: Feb 2009

        Ok, well I don’t have Move so the dualshock will have to do. Thanks.

        Comment posted on 07/05/2012 at 20:30.
  6. Jakster123x
    Member
    Since: Aug 2011

    Extra 20% off for Plus members as well

    Comment posted on 07/05/2012 at 16:29.
    • Kennykazey
      Member
      Since: Mar 2010

      Well, it’s a no-brainer then.

      Comment posted on 07/05/2012 at 17:04.
      • Jakster123x
        Member
        Since: Aug 2011

        That’s why i mentioned it :)

        Comment posted on 07/05/2012 at 21:25.
  7. bmg_123
    Member
    Since: Feb 2012

    This seems amazing, despite the score, but I would simply have to get move to buy this, and move itself doesn’t seem like a good investment for one game. Maybe if I can pick up a bundle on the cheap…

    Comment posted on 07/05/2012 at 21:33.
  8. Sympo
    Member
    Since: Aug 2009

    You know, Datura is odd but I like that. Reason I’ll buy this is because its different or well intriguing.

    Comment posted on 08/05/2012 at 02:17.
  9. shields_t
    Member
    Since: Oct 2008

    Sounds like another hark back to the Amiga demoscene like Linger With Shadows. I worry that this kind of approach might actually mean 80 minutes playtime is too long rather than too short.

    Comment posted on 09/05/2012 at 13:59.
  10. Nigeyboy
    Member
    Since: Dec 2011

    Has anyone else been playing this in 3D? I’m finding it really hard to watch. I’m getting a kind of double image as the camera pans around. This is especially obvious in the trees, which is pretty much all the time! I thought it might be some sort of 3D cross talk, but if you take the glasses off I can see a quadruple image. Anyone else seeing this?

    Comment posted on 14/05/2012 at 15:53.

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