I actually found out about this game entirely because of weird GamerGate-oid fanboys screaming about 'the SJW agenda' because they couldn't cope with the idea of a game with a black woman as the protagonist, so thank you, guys, for your contribution in a week when I was struggling to find things to review. It is appreciated.
Set in Kingdom, Virginia in 1992, Virginia puts you in the shoes of Anne Tarver, a graduate FBI agent who is partnered with Maria Halperin, a seasoned investigator with a strained history with the FBI. As the two investigate the disappearance of young boy Lucas Fox, Tarver is also ordered to investigate her partner for Internal Affairs. As Tarver's investigation becomes more and more sinister, she begins suffering from strange dreams and hallucinations.
We'll get the good stuff out of the way first: This game is beautiful, kind of fascinating, and does a superb job of establishing atmosphere.
The graphical style is pretty simple (and can be a little jarringly so when focusing on characters' faces -- it does much better with landscapes) but also colourful, gorgeous to look at, and surprisingly versatile, able to pretty easily create a range of different environments, moods, and tones.
|The totally not suspicious gang.|
That's pretty key, since so much of this game runs off atmosphere. There's an enduring atmosphere of dread and foreboding throughout the entire thing, enhanced by how surreal and dreamlike the story is, consisting mostly of short sections in one place, with abrupt transitions to other times or scenes to create one smooth, fluid narrative. There's no dialogue to speak of, so instead all of the atmosphere is created with visuals, music (played by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, who do a great job), and environmental sound, and that actually works out pretty well.
The story can get confusing at times, but a lot of the time, that's intentional, the result of a knowing overlap between dreams and reality that muddies what is real and what isn't. By the end of the game, while you'll understand the story better, a lot of it will still be up for interpretation (when Anne and Maria pass Lucas on the road at the end, is that really him, or a hallucination? Is the cult/conspiracy real or not? Is the future where Anne sells out more and more of her co-workers and eventually becomes director real or imagined?), and much of it is intentionally left mysterious -- for example, we never find out exactly what was in the box Anne's father gave her: Rather, the fact that Anne burned it rather than look inside is a smaller version of the issues that hover over the entire story.
(There are, however, times when it isn't intentionally confusing, and those present something of a problem. In a way, it might have worked better in that regard if it had had some dialogue, although I recognise that that might have detracted from the atmosphere.)
|The letterboxing is just part of the game, by the way.|
One other problem is that Anne feels a bit like a non-entity as a character. She's meant to be at least somewhat an everyman, but the hallucinations and extraordinary situation kind of push her away from being an everyman and towards 'just not being a very well-developed character.'
This game was a fun, interesting, and very engaging thing to watch. Which is rather where its main problem is.
Because this is a game -- and, in fact, it's a game that markets itself on having a choice element, so there's a certain expectation already there -- but you yourself never actually do anything of importance. You'll walk down corridors, and occasionally interact with objects (and there is only ever one object you can interact with at a time), and that's basically it. It's not a game, so much as it is a film with very brief, perfunctory moments of audience interaction.
You don't have any influence on anything, let alone any choices (and remember 'your choices will affect the outcome of this game' was part of its marketing spiel, and seemingly an out-and-out lie). While other so-called 'walking simulators' attempt to have some element of exploration involved, some measure of 'finding your own way through the story,' Virginia has nothing like that, and in fact pretty forcefully eschews any attempt to explore. One particularly on-point Steam review described it as interactive in the same way that turning the pages of a book is interactive.
Ultimately, while this is certainly one of the more interesting games I've seen in a while, it takes the idea of an un-interactive game to entirely new and, in all honesty, kind of unacceptable levels, and that ruins the experience somewhat. It looks like this is the developer's, Variable State, first game (or 'game,' as the case may be) so I do hope they make something else that has, perhaps, a little more interactivity, and something more in the way of, you know, gameplay.
Or they could just make a film, that would also be okay. A kind of animated David Lynch type affair. It's just about long enough, too.