Have you seen this boy?
Virginia, from developers Variable State and publishers 505 Games, is a first person game about the disappearance of a young boy as viewed through the eyes of graduate FBI agent Anne Tarver. Now without giving the game away or adding spoilers I’ll say it’s not really about this disappearance at all. It’s more to do with the relationship between Anne and her experienced FBI partner, Maria Halperin.
The gameplay in Virginia is very much in keeping with most “walking sim” games, but is stripped down to a base level. There are no puzzles to solve, no dialogue or voice acting, and no lengthy audio logs to listen to. It’s all a case of progressing the story along in a very direct way, which even continues with the transitions and movement from A to B. Whereas other games in this genre might have you slowly walking from one end of a village to the other just to get to the local pub, Virginia cuts out this protraction, opting instead for jumpcuts. This works perfectly and helps to keep the focus on the narrative. An early example of this is when you first meet your partner. You are given her file and you look down at it to read up on her; when you look up you are in the elevator on your way to her office.
The developers have used these jumpcuts and minimalistic approach to gaming with great effect, and although the game is quite linear it really does feel open. You are free to look at everything, but a certain interaction will trigger the progression of the story. They also use clever manipulation tricks to direct you to where they want you to look and go. Some of these are so subtle you might not even pick up on the cues. Sure I knew it was safe to assume that when the buzzer on the front door sounded I was meant to go to the door, but I didn’t realise until the second time around that I’d successfully navigated my way through the FBI building corridors because there was the odd sheet of A4 paper on the floor leading the way like breadcrumbs.
The controls in Virginia have that familiar tried and tested feel. You move Anne with the left thumbstick and use the right thumbstick to aim the onscreen pointer, which alters to indicate when you are looking at an interactable item, and when you are close to said item you press X to interact with it.
While not looking as visually stunning as big budget games like Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, Virginia still looks impressive. There’s enough detail in the characters to portray their emotions, the landscapes look amazing and there are some nice touches with the lighting such as dust particles being visible when sunlight hits them. The musical score in Virginia is one of the defining features of the game. It’s a truly wonderful production from Lyndon Holland and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. I don’t recall ever hearing a soundtrack in a game before that has conveyed so much intensity and emotion.
Virginia has eighteen trophies including a platinum to pop. Since I’ve stayed spoiler free throughout my review it would be rude of me to tell you about the specifics of the trophy list. However I will say that you will need to play the game twice to obtain one of the trophies. My advice is to enjoy Virginia and maybe even play it twice at least before you go looking for guides
Virginia is a thought-provoking first-person adventure game unlike any other. True it’s not a long game, lasting only a few hours, and some might argue that it’s not really a game, but as an experience it’s second to none. It’s full of mystery, intrigue and jumpcuts and you’ll want to complete a second, third and maybe even a fourth playthrough just to try and understand what is actually going on, and chances are you’ll find something new in each playthrough.
NelMaNo Rating – 8/10
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