Review – Virginia
What is Virginia? This is the question you ask after you watch the trailer. This is the same question you ask after you have completed the experience. It’s difficult to review Virginia because the game is very much akin to a Gone Home, or Firewatch. It isn’t so much a game as an experience, something you do, not something you play. Virginia is a first person, walking simulator that puts you in the shoes of Anne Traver, a newly graduated FBI agent, as Anne and her partner investigate a missing persons case in the small, rural town of Kingdom, Virginia.
You and your partner, Special Agent Halperlin, are sent to find Lucas Fairfax, a young boy who went missing unexpectedly. The story seems straight forward at first, but before you leave for this backwater town your superiors ask you to keep an eye on your new partner. This is one of the first twists and turns Virginia takes you on. Virginia has a few different sub plots you explore. You find out while you spend time in Anne’s shoes that there is more to learn, and not just about Lucas, but about the FBI, Halperlin, and even yourself.
The game has an extremely stylized art direction, reminiscent of claymation films. The colors are vibrant, blue skies shining against the rolling green grass hills. Even the drab basements scenes in the FBI office look beautiful. I experienced no hiccups or frame tearing, but did have the game crash to the dashboard once. Not only is the animation beautiful, but the sound track is the corner stone to this whole experience. Composed by Lyndon Holland, this orchestral sound track hits all the right notes. The tunes really tell you a story and help you understand what is happening. I highly recommend taking 3 mintunes out of your day and listening to the track below, it will leave you speechless. Virginia is the only game I have ever went out and purchased the soundtrack for. The emotion the soundtrack invokes is really essential to the experience, you need to feel the excitement, anger, or sadness. Everything in Virginia is there to drive the story.
Virginia’s biggest claim to fame would be that the story is told without any spoken dialogue. The story folds out in front of you eyes and you must pick up on subtle clues to piece the supernatural or mental story together. Many elements of Virginia’s story if left open to interpretation, some of the plot points were lost on me until a second play through. Speaking of a second play through, Virginia does have “collectibles” that you can find to unlock achievements or trophies. 10 feathers and the same amount of flowers you can find and pickup throughout the world. Also there are specific things you must to do unlock trophies and the like, such as sipping on a cup a coffee when handed one. Most of the achievements are missable, so if trophy hunting is your thing defiantly go in with a guide. Sadly this is one of Virginia’s low points. After you clear the game and have all the collectibles there really isn’t much reason to go back and play it. Arguably I do not believe this takes away from the game very much, as I look at this piece of art for it’s compelling narrative and power to evoke emotion. I recommend to just play the game at your own pace and replay to get any collectibles and trophies you may have missed. The narrative should be the main focus the first time through.
The story has a lot of X-Files-esque vibes radiating off it. It’s supernatural, or is it? It’s a statement about mental health, or was it? Virginia will leave you with questions, it will cause discussions, it will make you want to play it again. I go back to my earlier point of Virginia being an experience, not a game. It’s a good 3-4 hours of entertainment, that will have a story unfold in front of you, it’s left up to the player to put all the pieces together. Now if you don’t want to think, or turn your brain off and just play a game, then Virginia wouldn’t be a great choice. Virginia is a game for people who want to sit down and play an Indie movie, something weird that is released in an art house cinema. Virginia is for people who want to have questions and turn to their friend and say “What did you think that means?”. Virginia Invokes feeling which is something that makes a game great, and is lacking in most modern games. I highly recommend Virginia, I think it’s one of the best narrative story games of 2016. Set a few hours a side on a Friday night, gather some friends, and have an unforgettable trip to Kingdom, Virginia.
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