Just to get it out of the way from the jump, Virginia is most likely going to end up being a game you either love or you hate. It’s that kind of game. Plenty of games are divisive, but I think what developer Variable State was going for when they set out to create this game couldn’t have avoided it. So basically, something that sparks my interest.
In Virginia, you play as Anne who’s just graduated from the FBI Academy. The game takes place in 1992, and it encompasses her first week on the job. Now, most people wouldn’t expect their job to be exciting for the first week, but for Anne, that’s not the case, almost literally, because not only is her first case an involved one, but she also has a secondary objective she needs to juggle at the same time.
Part of the game is helping Anne and her partner find a missing teen in the small town of Kingdom, VA. The other part is seeing and helping Anne cope with her new position, both on and off the job. The game takes cues from TV shows like Twin Peaks and definitely has an overall TV-esque manner to it.
Virginia is another in the long line of First Person Experience games, or walking simulators if you will, and as I just said, you’ll likely love it or hate it based simply on that fact. You’ll move slowly (with no run button), you have very little to do other than go from A to B and interact with things the game deems OK to do so with, and as is often the case, you won’t be in this world for very long. You can get from start to finish in about 2-3 hours depending on how much you choose to explore.
How the story plays out takes you through Anne’s first week in the FBI and with that every night she returns home to rest before work the next day. Since everything is contained to this one week, we’re also treated to witnessing some of Anne’s dreams. Keeping in the tradition of the mystery genre, things can be all over the shop, but grounded enough that it doesn’t feel out of place.
One of the first things you may notice about the game is that the visual style isn’t state of the art for today’s market. Clearly, that’s done on purpose and I think it does pretty well here. The low poly art gives the game a distinct feeling and look about it that I feel gels really well with the time period and psychological thriller aspect, while at the same time painted the town (no pun intended) in such a way that I couldn’t be sure as to what it was going to give me.
That style isn’t the only thing that shapes Virginia into what it is. The musical score is a highlight here for sure. The devs obviously spent the right amount of time and money on this aspect of the game, because what is in this game is a symphony for the ears. Moments hit with the right tension, scenes transition smoothly, and best of all, the story plays out in a way that you can understand what’s going on in conjunction with the art style.
If that sounds odd, I’ll explain. Not a single line of dialogue is uttered in the game. Not written, not voiced. Everything is told via the action on screen, the way the scenes shift between each other (which may be jarring at first for some), and the music. Everything works in conjunction with each other almost perfectly to allow you to at the bare minimum, understand what’s going on but leaves enough on the table that you’re able to use your mind to interpret other things about what you just witnessed. Not everything is so introspective or interpretive, but when it is, you get enough to handle it from both angles. For the most part…
As I said, the game is created so that you can take much of it and understand what’s going on, but still have that room to interpret it in the way you see fit. This concept works out for about 3/4 of the game, but that last 1/4… Man, does the game seem to go off the rails into “this only makes sense if you want it to” territory. This could be great for some, but I’m willing to bet the majority will find fault in this practice. Just when I felt like I was really on board with what was happening and I was grasping the situation nicely, a curve ball was tossed at me and seemingly all hell broke loose. I guess worse things could have happened, but truth be told I was settling into the groove rather well when this hits. From there, all bets are off (or so it seemed to me) and what I figured to be the end may be completely different than what you might. Or maybe I’m just crazy and the game was super simple to figure out and I had a moment of psychosis. There’s only one way to find out and that’s for you to let me know what you thought.
There’s no instant death scenarios (as far as I could tell), no clues you could “miss” that might have you scrambling to figure out what to do next, and no crazy mini-games or QTEs to fail. You’re essentially playing a TV show, though you can alter a few bits and bobs on your way to the end. I found nothing with the way the game played to be a critical nut job on. There was pretty consistent frame rate. No graphical hitches I could find save for some potential shadow stuff, though I couldn’t be 100% sure it wasn’t just because that’s the style of art they created. Overall, I ran into nothing that caused concern mechanically. And that’s great for this genre.
And one of the biggest ways you can have some sort of choice is in the Achievements/Trophies. The game has 17 of them (with a Platinum for PS4 players), and most of these will be done on subsequent play throughs. I say this because many of them you wouldn’t necessarily know to do what’s required when you play through the game initially. I would suggest playing the game blind the first time and if you want to experiment you can the next time(s). The experience is short enough that you could play through it many times and it wouldn’t have been too hard on your day. Of course, you could look up how to acquire these on your favorite site, too. I still recommend playing the game at least once without any help or hints. You owe it to yourself.
Virginia was a wild ride, that’s for sure. At first, I was really skeptical once I realized no words would ever be uttered throughout the entire game. Once I got past the opening moments, I grew to enjoy this outside the box approach to storytelling. This could have resulted in a disaster, but thankfully the devs and all involved pulled together and made it all work wonderfully. If it weren’t for the hiccup towards the end I spoke of, the game would have been even higher in my eyes. If you’re a fan of the genre you’d probably be angry with yourself for missing out on this game. If you’re just looking for an offbeat, kind of wacky mystery, you’ll find something here, too. Maybe this won’t promote conversations like INSIDE, Asemblance, or Firewatch did, which might end up being a shame, but it’s certainly something that will sit with you once you finish it, for better or for worse.