Before playing Virginia, the game had piqued my interest. It’s the type of game that compels and drives you to find out more. From the trailers, I learned that Virginia is inspired by the likes of Twin Peaks and The X-Files, has a cool art style, no dialogue, and revolves around a missing boy.
After playing Virginia, it’s clear that it’s a very well designed game. The developers, Variable State, had a vision and they have absolutely delivered on it. That said, this is by far and away the toughest game I’ve had to review, and I think the reason for that will become clear as you read on.
As soon as you take your first step into the world of Virginia, it’s hard not to be taken aback by its visuals. It’s one of the most gorgeous, visually striking games I’ve ever played, and it’s rare that a game makes such a good impression within seconds. Even the menu is nicely designed, with a hand-drawn map of the locations you’ll visit throughout the game greeting you. The hand-drawn style and small American town vibe reminds me of Life is Strange, another game inspired by the likes of Twin Peaks and The X-Files.
Not only does Virginia look amazing, but it’s presented very well as a whole. It brings film-like editing to the medium of games, resulting in a stylish, fast-moving narrative. Cutting effortlessly between scenes with no sort of loading screens, Virginia’s narrative is told in a seamless, slick way.
But how is Virginia’s narrative? A story-based game has to have an identifiably cohesive narrative to be good, right? Well I thought so too, but Virginia is a different case. From the get-go, the game is intense, intriguing and creepy from a narrative point of view. This is some achievement, considering that the game doesn’t use any dialogue, instead relying on visual symbols and character body language.
You play as Anne Tarver from a first-person perspective, and Virginia constantly paints a picture of her mind-set. Investigating a missing child surely weighs heavily on one’s conscious, and this is very clear throughout the heavily psychological story. It’s also more than worth noting that Virginia’s protagonist is a woman of colour - something we need to see in many more releases, across all media forms.
All of that said, Virginia moves at a very fast pace and is hard to follow, at least for me. The game’s narrative is surreal and confounding, to say the least. Virginia had me going ‘What?!’ on plenty of occasions, and it’s not a story that I understood - at least until I did the routine Google search of ‘[Insert game here] explained’, once I had finished. Usually, I find myself searching this to find out what observations and ideas others had come up with, but in this case, I literally needed the game explained to me.
Perhaps even stranger than the story itself, is the fact that I loved the narrative, despite not understanding it. Virginia’s story is absolutely compelling, and drives you to its credits. Variable State have delivered a game of very high quality, in my opinion. Virginia is a brilliantly fulfilling narrative experience, and an incredibly unique one at that. This isn’t something I think I’ve ever said about a game before, but whether you like it or not, Virginia undoubtedly achieves what it sets out to: take you aback and confuse you.
Virginia is unique and memorable for a number of reasons. One of those is the staggering amount of emotion portrayed without a single spoken word being present. To tell this story, no dialogue was needed. It’s a deceptively simple narrative at the start, but moves fast enough to keep you involved. I wouldn’t say it’s as engaging as other recent narrative experiences such as Firewatch, but it’s certainly enough to propel you forward.
What really makes Virginia a great experience is a combination of its music, sound effects, colour schemes and more that all work in harmony to create a unique atmosphere. Virginia thrives in its world, and it’s an utterly absorbing one to spend time in. The music really is a star of the game, having a rare limelight shined upon it in the absence of any dialogue.
Despite Virginia’s world being so well-built, it surprisingly doesn’t have all that much depth. While other narrative games such as Life is Strange have built worlds with countless layers, where you can investigate a huge amount of environmental details, Virginia’s scenes typically have a single interaction which advances the narrative. This means that environments feel limited, but all of the interactions are meaningful.
There’s not too many games that can consistently make me think ‘This is brilliant, but so weird.’ Virginia is one. Virginia is the game that defines brilliant but bizarre. This is a wonderfully designed narrative, but not in the way most similarly brilliant ones are. Instead of presenting a cohesive narrative, the game aims to take you on a journey, as the press start screen says. Take you on a journey that spirals into the unfathomable. In this, Virginia absolutely succeeds.
Virginia (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Virginia takes you on an unforgettable, incomprehensible journey.