We could not be happier in saying that Virginia was not the sort of game we expected. It wasn’t another clichéd thriller game in which you have to find clues to locate a missing person and it wasn’t another game that spoon fed you everything. Virginia is one of the best games of the year, it creates a perfect atmosphere and tells an incredible story with such grace and such originality that we cannot wait to tell people “Play this game. Now!” It’s weird, wonderful and leaves you constantly thinking what will happen next. So much of the story is open for individual interpretation and that is what makes Virginia so memorable.
From the start you are welcomed with a beautiful hand-drawn menu screen that shows a map of the small rural town of Kingdom, Virginia and are given unique options to choose from. The one that stood out immediately was rather than “Start Game” is said “Start Feature” which immediately puts forward the idea that this will not be a long game and will fit more into the box of an interactive movie, rather than a straightforward game. This is something we are seeing more of recently as it gives the player the option to complete the game in one sitting and experience a film, rather than slog through 50+ hours. The second was the “Letter from the creators”. This short message thanked the players and the people that made the game possible, bringing us back down to earth to realise that this determined group of people struggled for years to create this game and it is something they are immensely proud of. It made us smile and made us wish other companies showed this small piece of gratitude to demonstrate that this game was created by players, for players, something other companies should start doing.
Kingdom is the setting in which the mysterious disappearance of a young boy, Lucas Fairfax, spins off an investigation with the FBI. You play as the fresh FBI graduate Anne Traver and are partnered with fellow agent Maria Ortega. Multiple shady dealings and ulterior motives become more and more apparent, giving Anne the strength of mind to find out what is really going on in this small town. In a game with little exploration, you are the vehicle that moves the plot forward by searching for items of interest and pressing A. Sometimes this will just result in you inspecting said item or launching you into the next area, usually without any warning. Sometimes you are given the illusion of freedom and are allowed to roam free throughout certain rooms or areas, but for the most part the game is very tightly controlled and contained. There are numerous significant moral choices to be made but these are always in the hands of the character, while we are simply activating those choices and witnessing the effects unfold. Some people may hate this as there is a strong sense of restriction, but due to the fact that the story is so compelling and involving that didn’t seem to matter.
An element that made the feature so immersive was the music. Performed by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, Virginia’s score is perfectly paced, it created strong emotions and the tone of each scene was set just perfectly. The music was made constantly ever more important due to the fact that there is no dialogue throughout the entire three-hour game. This meant there was little context to go off of and having the beautiful score meant we could better understand the constant shifts in mood.
Virginia’s narrative is one of its most stunning aspects. It doesn’t hold your hand and walk you from point A to point B, it takes ideas from one of its key inspirations (Thirty Flights of Loving) and seamlessly skips from location to location, scene to scene, usually without any warning to the player and then effortlessly jumps from past to present. It bounces between the real and the unreal, between dream sequences, visions and real life. This can be caused by a specific object or a symbol or even just completely out of the blue. It is constantly making you think and forces you to concentrate on every single aspect of the game, forcing you to engage ever further with this weird world.
Weird is a word that describes Virginia, but it’s the best kind of weird. It clearly takes a hell of a lot of inspiration from all those kooky 90’s TV shows and it is a perfect homage to the likes of The X-Files and Twin Peaks. This is seen through the odd goings-on throughout the town of Kingdom in the form of returning symbols, animals appearing in the bedroom and even the fact that you are a police investigator. There is even a clear nod to an iconic Twin Peaks moment in which you enter a bar and there are the unmistakable, famous bright red curtains we see over and over again in the show’s dream sequences along with the slow, dreamy guitar accompaniment that was its opening theme music. It was very subtly done as only people who know the show will spot it, but considering what the game entails and the setting involved, we are sure it will attract fans of the series.
Virginia is an absolutely remarkable game, it leaves everything up to you to decipher, it doesn’t tell you what things mean and every element is open to speculation, this means each person’s interpretation can differ drastically, creating a unique experience for every player. It is one of the most engaging and enthralling games of the year and it is just incredible that a game of only three hours, with no dialogue, can create such strong emotions that don’t stop from the second you turn it on until the final credits roll.