For me, the elevator pitch is important. With limited time to lend coverage, it honestly can mean the difference between being noticed and obscurity. Fortunately, it was hard to not be lured in by a game styling itself after detective series uncanny-valley Twin Peaks and low-beat gritty True Detective. So, just less than a month away from release, I dived into the demo of Virginia.
Virginia is the first game developed by Variable State. You play as fresh-faced FBI agent Anne Traver who, alongside her seasoned partner Maria Halperin, must track down a missing boy. Except it isn’t really about the mystery. It still exists, sat in the back-seat of a smokey Cadillac of a plot, but it isn’t the focus. Instead, it is about the people who inhabit the town… I think?
The reality in Virginia is absurd, in the same way as it is in Twin Peaks. I’m still not sure if the perspective was done on purpose. I felt like I was pushing my face against the glass at what was going on, being distant yet in the room. In the corner of the room was a family weeping as Halperin comforted them, and there was I soundlessly walking around them to check out their sweet record collection.
It didn’t feel like I was spoiling a mood. Instead, I felt lost. “What am I, a FBI agent, even doing on a small-town missing person case?” I could imagine Traver mumbling to herself numbly. Scenes felt as though I was playing as someone having an out-of-body experience. In an odd way, it rubbed me smoothly.
This strange-nature also extends itself to scene depiction. There are naturally scenes like walking around the missing person’s house and a possible lead location. Although, like True Detective, you’ve also got some moments like being in a car at night with Agent Halperin then stopping at a petrol station. By the end, while the mystery of a missing child is important, the people around the event somehow feel even more important; that whatever has happened (kidnapping, murder, running away, etc) has not happened in a vacuum, but rather, instead, contains actual real people with their own still-running lives.
Although, despite all that, it is the gameplay that is the tricky part of Virginia. The extent of it is walking around the location, poking items. There isn’t any dialogue (which added to the disconnection I talked of earlier), and currently no choices. I heard claims there may be some decisions you make, just I couldn’t spot any. Overall, while it technically works, it is currently so bare-bones as to make you unaware of its existence.
It is hard to conclude Virginia, as it is such a bizarre beast. Another comparison I hear, including by the developers, is Thirty Flights of Loving. Simultaneously, it underlines the potential and the concerns of Virginia. While I found Thirty Flights of Loving unique in a way that hooked me to the end, it left a raw acidic after-taste due to the lack of comprehension and interactive-powerlessness. If Virginia can deliver a story that I feel like I can contribute to and make sense of, this could be a worthwhile trek to a strange place.