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.[drop]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.[drop2]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.
- There’s nothing else like this on PS3
- Some wonderful visual effects
- The music is great
- 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.