Virginia is a gorgeous, often perplexing, first person thriller. From afar, some may write it off as yet another one of those self-indulgent walking sims. You know the kind: an emotive soundtrack, jaw-dropping vistas, and a dearth of gameplay, all propped up by the promise of a gripping story and memorable characters.
While certainly derived from this ever-growing subgenre, Virginia manages to shrug of its biggest caveat: pacing. Compared to games like Dear Esther, Assemblance, and even many of Telltale’s recent works, it’s far more focused and to the point. Instead of idly pondering from one scene and into the next, the story is constantly being nudged forwards, backwards, and to the side as its mysteries begin to unspool.
As FBI rookie Anne Tarver, you find yourself assigned to the case of a missing person – a pastor’s son from the alarmingly average town of Kingdom. Subject to prophetic dreams and vivid hallucinations, she’s a troubled protagonist to say the least. It’s a recurring plot point yet one that isn’t overstated or leaned on too heavily. Developer Variable State seem to have a knack for spinning a narrative yarn without turning each thread into a cumbersome woolly jumper. They are intentionally conservative with what information they give, forcing players to construct their own interpretation.
The complete lack of dialogue between characters feeds into this strange, yet effective design choice. Adventure games, especially those that ascribe to the modern format, have a penchant for spelling everything out in painstaking detail. Virginia doesn’t have the same option, trying to convey the raw essence of conversations in a distilled form, turning them into a handful of fleeting gestures and changes in facial expression.
This streamlined approach also spills into something as simple as walking. As an impatient gamer with a short attention span, and so it’s easy to see where my indifference to many adventure games stems from. I often switch off when exploring huge locales, no matter how gorgeous they may be, as I struggle with the inescapable monotony of ambling between set piece moments.
Once again, not wanting players to dawdle, Virginia loves to jump cut, instantly snapping you from one segment to the next in a TV-like fashion. While not completely seamless, there’s a certain relief in being transported from a precinct into the passenger seat of a car, all within the blink of an eye.
Although considerate and beneficial to the player, some won’t see it this way. Clocking in at around four hours, there will be those waiting to the point the finger without realising how much inane filler Variable State could easily have pumped into Virginia.
Something we can all agree on, however, is just how amazing the game looks. There’s a charmingly vibrant aesthetic at play with an artistic use of lighting. This same low-poly look, coupled with a bold colour palette, works its way into the characters designs too, but they manage to convey a surprising amount of emotion despite this.
The soundtrack is equally as impacting, composed by Lyndon Holland andfeaturing the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. It helps to galvanise every moment of tension, sorrow, and melancholy just so.
Virginia’s tale of intrigue and mystery quickly comes full circle. In that time, it will take you to some pretty surprising, extraordinary places, and easily warrants a second playthrough. The closing moments may not be to everyone’s taste, though the journey to get there is certainly worthwhile.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4