|This is your boss who is about to congratulate you at your FBI graduation ceremony|
- Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
- Developer: Variable State
- Publisher: 505 Games
- Release Date: 22 Sep 2016
- Time played: 2.2 hours
What is itVariable State is an indie development studio formed by Jonathon Burroughs and Terry Kenny back in January 2014 after leaving a British AI company called DeepMind Technologies. Collaborating with composer Lyndon Holland, they developed the adventure game Virginia which was released in 2016. The game received 3 BAFTA nominations, 4 IGF nominations and was awarded the 2017 Writers' Guild award for Best Writing in a Video Game. The reception amongst critics and the general gaming public however, was mixed: the game has a Metascore of 74 (critic score) and a 4.9 out of 10 User Score. On Steam, 67% of the 1,560 user reviews are positive giving it a "Mixed" rating.
Virginia is a first-person walking simulator where you play the role of an FBI agent called Anne Tarver. The game is set in the 1990s and focuses on a missing person case in the small town of Kingdom, Virginia.
How I got itI bought the game along with a whole bunch of other games towards the end of June last year – I'm guessing there was a Steam sale on and I'm always up for playing new adventure games, especially ones that are BAFTA nominees.
|The game is filled with symbolism and imagery. This red bird crops up quite often.|
What I like:
1990sThe game is set in the early 1990s and they've done pretty well in terms of capturing the feel of the era such as CRTs, the boxy cars of the late 80s, cassette tapes, floppy disks and an absence of mobile phones. I couldn't find any anachronisms during my playthrough so they must've done a decent enough job.
Themes and imageryThe game has a lot of themes that it deals with such as the conflict between doing what is right and doing what is "right" (at least according to whoever the authority is); it also deals with corruption, betrayal, guilt, and especially, racism (although I never realised how pervasive a theme this one actually was until completing the game and reading comments from other players).
The game is jam-packed with imagery too such as animals turning up in unexpected places along with weird dream sequences which make you question what is real and what isn't. It's one of those games you have to find your own meaning and the developers are tight-lipped about what it's really all about.
No voiceThere is no voice acting in the game. Sure, from a technical standpoint it makes the game less complex to develop as well as cheaper (you don't need to hire voice actors or audio engineers) but I think it made the game special like watching Raymond Briggs's "The Snowman" at Christmas. It also means it can appeal to a wider audience as some things transcend language.
Beautiful soundtrackI mentioned before that Virginia was nominated for three BAFTAs; what I didn't mention was that it actually won a BAFTA for its beautiful soundtrack by Lyndon Holland. Seriously, the soundtrack is film score quality and it syncs perfectly with all the action in the game and when I say that it "syncs perfectly" I actually mean it literally, such as the crescendo you can hear from the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra as you search a microfilm for evidence, only for it to climax as you come across records you were never meant to see. Exquisite.
Collecting of itemsIt might seem out of place and fetch quests are not usually something to recommend but collecting various items like flowers, feathers and tokens as you progress through the story surprisingly helps with the immersion as you'll find these items hanging around in later scenes. There are also achievements tied to collecting them too, I believe, which would encourage replays.
Steam Achievements and Trading CardsThe Steam version of the game has 17 Steam Achievements to earn as well as 15 Trading Cards to collect.
|It's sometimes hard to tell what is real and what isn't|
What I dislike:
PerplexingTrying to figure out what's actually going on in the game can be perplexing at times, especially the game's ending. Consequently, if you're a player that likes to have closure when finishing a game or having a decent idea of what generally happened, that's probably not going to happen here as it's one of those games where you'll have to find your own meaning (as mentioned earlier). I had to read a few threads after completing the game to make sense of it all (or at least to confirm a couple of things I already thought about the game). If Virginia was a movie, it'd fit squarely in arthouse territory.
ClaustrophobicDespite a lot of walking simulators feeling claustrophobic or linear, this one feels even more so considering there are many parts of the game where you're boxed in. It's not like Dear Esther or TIMEframe where you have a whole outdoor area to explore, or a whole house like in Gone Home or What Remains of Edith Finch; the places you explore are much smaller in comparison.
ShortWalking Simulators don't tend to be very long games and Virginia is no exception since it only takes a couple of hours to complete. However, it seemed long enough to convey what it had to convey, just be warned that if you're one of those people that thinks short games aren't worth your time and money, Virginia just happens to be a pretty short one.
Score – 7/10 (Not Bad)Walking simulators have certainly come along way since the likes of Dear Esther was released 6 years ago and I'm starting to genuinely enjoy some of them. Virginia definitely has its moments thanks to its 1990s setting, a beautiful orchestral score and so many underlying themes and imagery, you'll be going around in circles for days figuring out what actually happened during the two hours you played the game. However, the fact the game is so perplexing and open to interpretation, along with the fact it's quite short, will no doubt infuriate others.
Is the game worth $9.99 USD?: Yes, that's about $14 AUD for a high quality walking simulator, despite it being a tad confusing. If you're unsure if the game is right for you, there is a demo available which you can try out for free or wait until it goes on sale as I managed to get it for only a couple of bucks.
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[ LINK: Official Virginia Website ]