Virginia is a Rubik’s cube for your senses. The game masterfully provides you with a constant desire to explore and investigate, but can make you feel claustrophobic with its imposing soundtrack and jarring jump cuts. This is a game that takes its potentially biggest weakness and turns it into its greatest strength.
Set in a small town called Kingdom, this first-person adventure is a tense ride from start to finish. You begin as a newly appointed FBI Agent who is assigned to a missing person’s case and assigned to investigate your partner at the same time. From here, you are basically sent tumbling down a narrative mountain. A simple missing person’s case becomes stranger and stranger, as does your understanding of your partner and the world around you.
Traditional gameplay elements are one of the few areas in which Virginia really lacks; there are no challenging or competitive elements. However, what the game does give you is a simple set of controls that allow you to investigate the ever-changing world around you, albeit at a somewhat slow pace, which is in keeping with the game itself. The game does a great job of using a combination of gameplay and the world itself as you explore area after area, despite the knowledge that whenever you stray too far there’s an impending jump cut waiting for you. This interesting mechanic, along with your inability to affect the ongoing narrative and many of the similar rooms you visit, serves the story well as it leaves you feeling powerless.
Debunking what is really going on in the narrative of Virginia is going to be a task that I suspect many will undertake, and a litany of theories will emerge. This is where the real beauty of Virginia lies. The game starts of relatively slow as we begin our journey as Anne Tarver. Early on we see Tarver looking at herself in the mirror and this becomes a running theme; as the highly charged emotional case unfolds, she appears to struggle with this task knowing that she must continue to deceive her partner and friend.
After this opening, Tarver is assigned to a case and given a file of Maria Halperin. Tarver’s relationship with Halperin is the most prominent and powerful in the game. You are taken on a journey of friendship, secrets and deception. Meeting Halperin is the introduction of the case that is to follow, that of a missing young boy named Lucas Fairfax. This really where the wild ride that is Virginia begins.
The journey through Kingdom involves encounters with a wide range of characters and settings, all more suspicious than the last. However, Virginia isn’t a traditional detective game; every time you feel like you are being lead from clue to clue, there is a curveball. These curveballs come in many forms, but primarily via hallucinations. These range from the appearance of a bison in your bedroom, a furnace in the middle of a road and a mind-bending flash forward towards the conclusion of the game. It’s these elements what keep you on your toes in Virginia. Yes, it may have felt somewhat more satisfying had the Lucas Fairfax case been more clear cut but that would’ve robbed the player of the real Virginia experience. The fact is there is no defined Virginia experience. In a Shakespearean way, this game is full of intriguing details with many possible interpretations that could and should be studied for hours on end. Therefore, giving the player definite answers would inhibit this experience.
There are many tense moments throughout, often accompanied with heart-pounding music. However, no part is more edge-of-your-seat than the conclusion. As we close in on answers in the Fairfax case, the pace radically quickens. The jump cuts become even more frequent, and the music blisters along. We are repeatedly taken from vivid hallucinations back to real life, and so on. We are hit over the head with everything from the occultism to the presence of extra-terrestrials. At this point, the narrative is extremely hard to follow. There are some revelations, but there are mainly further questions rather than answers.
Most of the ending is hard to fathom. The idea of several interpretations once again rears its head. However, the consequential feelings are likely to be constant. Having been sent through a washing machine of emotions in the climax, the ending feels like a weight has been lifted. With feelings of calm, peace and being able to move on at the forefront.
Sound plays a significant part in Virginia; it does a great job of filling the gap left by a lack of dialogue. Faster paced music accurately designates moments of thrill and intrigue, whereas the more sombre music creates an eerie atmosphere when you are exploring places you know you shouldn’t be. This becomes ingrained in you as you play through the game, leading you to anticipate what’s to come and adding another layer of suspense. There is real variety in the sounds throughout but one thing that remains constant is the use of crescendos to denote importance, with it often being used as a replacement for the conclusion to what would appear to be a stern conversation between the characters.
The visual art style of this game is very simplistic and it is a perfect fit. The detail of Virginia is in the things you see and hear, not the finer detail of how they appear. Despite its simplicity, the graphics are still aesthetically pleasing and do a great job of enticing you to explore your surroundings.
Virginia is a game that really needs to be played to fully grasp its mountain of nuances. Even then, whatever experience is crafted by your imagination there is still no real finite understanding of this game. Virginia focuses on making you feel. It gives you relationships to navigate, mysteries to uncover and thrills to get your pulse racing.
Virginia was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the developer.
Developer: Variable State | Publisher: 505 Games | Genre: Exploration, Adventure, Thriller, Indie | Platform: PC | PEGI/ESRB: 12 | Release Date: September 22, 2016