Virginia is unlike any other game I’ve previously played. And it’s probably unlike any game you’re going to play for quite a while. It doesn’t rely on vast, epic scenes of destruction or characters with more weapons than your average doomsday enthusiast. The developers, Variable State, have done things differently here, and it shows. But I’m afraid whether you like or not will be entirely down to your particular taste in games. From those of us who have tried it, it’s proved to be a divisive title. Marmite in digital form.
I happen to like Marmite, and I also like Virginia. The visuals used in-game are immediately different from any other title that I can think of, and it doesn’t resort to motivational trickery like Destiny, or the generic face-shooting and chest-thumping antics like those in Call of Duty, wrapped in a new, glossy coat. Instead, Variable State have taken a different route to what a game should truly be. And in this case it’s a means of visual storytelling, much like television, but with you in the middle instead of watching from the couch.
I know this probably sound like every other game, but it’s not. Events unfold around you in the little town of Kingdom, Virginia. You step into the shoes of graduate FBI agent Anne Tarver, under the watchful eye of your more experienced partner, Maria Halperin. You’re both investigating the disappearance of Lucas Fairfax, a young boy from Kingdom, but that’s pretty much all I can say about the plot, other than what you see isn’t what you get. Things are afoot and your typical missing person case isn’t so typical.
A lot of people have compared it to the X-Files. And I’m inclined to agree. But in a way it sort of feels like Stranger Things. Variable State have clearly wanted to approach a project from the story and expand on that, but with a twist in the way it’s delivered, both in terms of the locale and the visuals. The year you experience this is 1992, providing something different to other titles who constantly strive to advance technology in-game. But Virginia definitely demonstrates that there are still plenty of stories to be told based in the past, even if it is only twenty or so years ago.
Gameplay is fairly straightforward. This isn’t a run-and-gun title, so don’t expect to be sprinting around the environment with a pair of hand-cannons and a plethora of upgrades to collect. This is visual storytelling in one of the purest forms I’ve seen yet. And as it’s a detective story you get to do some detective work. Obviously, this isn’t the sort of detective work often carried out by the Dark Knight. You won’t be leaping from building to building, using gadgets galore to apprehend and inter unsavoury characters. This is very far from that. It’s more subtle, more focussed.
But, of course, there is a downside. It’s a Marmite game. Some won’t like the way it works and the way that it can be restrictive. Don’t expect open world exploring like in GTA V. And for a well structured and delivered game that focusses on narrative, there a little too much in the way of tell and not show. Now, I don’t mean that in your typical writing sense, but in the way that, despite the detective moments, a lot of the game it displayed for you, though the detective work itself isn’t always that obvious. Again, it’s subtle. And the twists and turns involved are surprising, and entertaining.
Most of all it’s a pleasant break from the usual and typical humdrum of videogames. It’s no Halo, or Forza, both of which are superb titles. But Virginia offers something different, which does contain its own rewards, especially in terms of storytelling. And I really do have to applaud the developers for that.
Out of 5 stars, I give Virginia…
Flugel Meister (Dave) is a longtime video gaming fan, who's love for all things pixelated began way back in 1980, when he ventured onto his brother's Grandstand console before progressing to a Dragon 32 and then a Spectrum 48K. That's right. he's old. When he's not gaming, he can be found swimming in the country's reserves of cheesecake.
Follow him on Twitter: @DavidPMcDougall