After reading a few comments about Virginia and getting an understanding of the premise, I quickly grabbed it off the Microsoft store for $10. All the comparisons to Twin Peaks and X-files that started popping up on Twitter pushed my excitement for this game even higher. Two days after playing it, I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I feel about this experience.
Visually, the game is really beautiful. The colors and spaces are done in a way that support the mood and tones of the various settings. Basements feel like basements, the wilderness feels wonderful and wild. One thing that stood out to me was how the lighting and shadows changed as you moved through the environments. I wouldn’t call it realistic but added to the sense of motion in a way that made it feel like you were more involved with your environment. I did run into a couple of odd clipping issues, but nothing that impacted my experience – other than making me chuckle when my feet were moving through the toilet.
The sound is the star of this game. Specifically the musical score (done by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra). Throughout the entire game it sets the mood and tone of each scene. With no dialogue – yes, there are zero words spoken in this game – the music is left to build tension and let the player know when something important is going on. Almost exactly like a theatrical score.
The story, and the way it is sometimes presented, is where I have the most difficulty with my experience in Virginia. For most of the game I wasn’t sure what it was even about – outside of the fact that it was two FBI Agents were conducting an investigation. I’m still afraid I missed something(s) huge which may have caused the story never to grab me. Between the lack of dialogue and the sporadic jump cuts, I had a hard time keeping up with what exactly was going on. For the first third of the game, I thought I’d come across a game play error because there were so many jump cuts, most of which were really jarring. It was kind of like watching one of the fight scenes from The Bourne Supremacy, without the fighting. I did eventually get used to them – sort of – but it completely distracted me from the story at the beginning.
Going into this game I made the assumption that the way I played the game would have an outcome on the story. Whether it was by my actions or dialogue choices, I figured I’d have some say in how the story unfolded. As it turns out there is almost no meaningful interaction by the player in the story – other than steering the camera through the halls and worlds of this game. And yet, I still find myself coming back to various moments throughout the story, thinking back through them, and trying to make sense of it all.
The story is abstract, choppy, and hard to follow. The environments can be explored, to an extent. It is a very cinematic presentation, done in a very beautiful way. I’m not sure I enjoyed playing the game but the experience has definitely stuck with me. Like I said, it’s two days later and I’m still thinking about this game, and how I really feel about it. Part of me thinks I would’ve been happier watching this, taking it in as a film, versus steering my character through the environments as the story tells itself.
This game is not for everyone. In fact, I would bet more than half of people who play it won’t like it. But, as far as a story telling game goes, I think it’s an important one to experience. The way it walks the line between video games and film make it a game worth playing.