Damn Good Coffee! - Virginia Review

Written by Jon Sutton on Thu, Sep 22, 2016 8:00 AM
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I knew from playing the brief demo of Virginia that I was going to adore it. Virginia is a masterful take on video game storytelling. The game is played without any speech whatsoever. Instead, it's told entirely through visual narrative. Whether it’s the police consoling a mother. Stepping onto the stage at the FBI academy as a successful graduate. The suspicious glance as you drop your notes on the floor. Or checking through your partner’s mail and noticing her surname change. Each is a miniature story which does more in an instant than any dry monologue could ever hope to. It’s magnificently told, more effectively so than just about any other example I can think of.

 

 

This method works perfect for Virginia’s Twin Peaks styling though. There’s a level of ambiguity which can only come from restricting the flow of information. It’s down to you to decipher what’s been going on. What’s real and not real.

 

The premise, however, is simple. You, as a new FBI graduate, are given a job in Internal Affairs. You’re spying on your colleagues; going along with an experienced agent to both keep an eye on her and investigate the disappearance of a young boy. To tell you any more than this would take away a great deal from what this experience is and how it unfolds, but suffice to say it twists and turns and raises plenty of questions.

 

I guess the best thing I can say is it made me think once the credits finally rolled, and not many games do that. Virginia isn’t a long game though, probably just shy of two hours, which I think works in its favour in terms of delivering a focused experience which is ideally polished off in a single sitting.

 

 

My immediate reaction was to head online and see what other people had made of the events, only at the time it wasn’t even out yet, so that was a no no. Variable Games instead point players to Blendo Games’ Thirty Flights of Loving for those who want to trace its lineage. Which I duly did, thirsting for a little more understanding. It's here where Variable Games clearly drew a lot of inspiration for Virginia's directorial style, with jump cuts, scenic views and gentle hand holding when it comes to camera work.

 

What further helps lend Virginia its ethereal quality is the painterly visuals. It’s all low polygon models but it’s shaded in a pastel fashion. Everything is quite bare and simple, although this serves to highlight the actual points of interest. You’re never stuck for where to go or what to do as it’s always immediately obvious.

 

As for the presentation, it’s similarly slickly pared down. There’s no inventory management to speak of. All you have to is walk around a click of things. Objects of interest will highlight when your cursor is over it. That’s it. There’s no dialogue choices. Heck, there’s not even any dialogue. There are no mechanics or gameplay hooks. Every player will essentially have exactly the same experience.

 

But it doesn't seem to matter. This is storytelling in a game like seldom we’ve seen before. It’s presented as a feature length movie like few other games are. There’s an intro credit crawl. A DVD menu-style chapter selection screen so you can hop in at any point. Jump cuts galore.

 

 

And where would a review of Virginia be without mentioning the astounding soundtrack. I have no idea how Jonathan Burroughs and Terry Kenny managed to rope in the talents of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra but it’s paid off in spectacular fashion. There’s precious few game soundtracks out there that really stand out. Most that do stand out, stand out in all the wrong ways. Virginia’s had me constantly thinking of it though, with orchestral scores, 80’s synth throwbacks and a certain tune in a bar sounds like a remix of Angelo Badalamenti’s Falling, the theme song to Twin Peaks.

 

Virginia is a sharp thinking, plot driven single-player adventure like few out there. It borrows heavily from other games of its ilk, yet twists it into its own strange beast. Unlike plenty of others, such as Firewatch, Virginia also manages to actually live up to its premise and deliver a satisfying, thought provoking conclusion. I'd love to go deeper on this because Virginia is a game all about its story and it's delivered, but a mystery such as this best served piping hot with a cup of joe on the side.

Pros

  • Unbelievable soundtrack
  • Next level visual story telling
  • Looks gorgeous

Cons

  • Lack of player agency
Score

9

Exceptional

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20:59 Sep-22-2016

That top image... Joyce and the diner from Life is Strange, anyone? :D

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01:01 Sep-23-2016

Damn man, the feels... I cried in that game. The best game I've ever played.

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10:59 Sep-22-2016

The lack of any speech in the game was the thing that I couldn't deal with. When I played the demo I just couldn't deal with just the visual narrative. Im not saying the game is bad, but It just doesn't fit my taste!

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11:28 Sep-22-2016

Yeah that's totally understandable, I'm sure that's a make or break point for a lot of people.

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13:46 Sep-22-2016

Yes, well said. Everything else though is spot on. Really liked the bright colored world and the simple UI, I can see that the game wanted to be in some ways more simplistic and original. And to note- Love your reviews, great job!

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