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Two years ago, Virginia was announced - a detective procedural video game embalming nostalgic qualities of David Lynch's Twin Peaks and splashed in a pastel colored' FireWatch' environment of soft polygons. Set on a glorious sunny day in 1992, Anne Tarver- a recently appointed FBI agent is tasked with a case about the disappearance of a kid named Lucas Fairfax in a rural town of Kingdom, Virginia. That's the blurb. After a long development cycle, now we've a Steam demo and a trailer.
Virginia is a first-person neo-noir drama set in a small town in the said state that obviously has some supernatural vibe. A missing person drama at one side and an incomprehensible set of weird happenings on the other side - the story may seem like it's about the missing kid but it's got more to do with the nature of the town. There's a vagueness in air. You've no clue about the ethereal phenomena looming around.
The 15 minute demo ambitiously touts a game that will take a sinister turn and will also affect the lives of the two characters. In case, it all seems too hazy - You play Anne Tarver and Maria Halperin is your co-worker. The deeper the investigation gets, the lengthier the list of suspects and the farther you travel into the secluded parts of Kingdom & Burgess County. It'll be a choice driven drama but such mechanics are yet to be seen.
A few elements of the game are new for a straight up mystery detective game. Characters aren't voiced, it's just eerie silence except for the ambience and the sound of your clothes rustling in air. Such unsettling immersion calls for a VR experience. No cut scenes, no voice-overs, no gimmicks like mini-puzzles - nothing messes with your detective work. Without uttering a single word, you and your partner carry forward the narrative through actions, facial emotions, triggers & a multitude of film editing techniques.
Nothing is without purpose. It's very clear from the beginning that it's your job to work the environment. You're pushed into ever-changing scenarios. Constricted exploration takes the player forward towards the next clue without any moment for clarity or wondrous thinking. Thinking leads to spewing weird sentences like Rust Cohle. The developer doesn't want that. They want the player to be placed at situations not under control and let them watch it unfold without any power to stop or intervene. Simply said, just continue your detective procedural as editing magically transitions your body from one scene to another.
The developer Variable State has so much to say about the game's development. They classify that X-Files and True Detective served as a nice inspiration for the supernatural aesthetics. Fargo and also The Outer Limits played a major role in the game building. The treatment of the characters in the game is a respectful pastiche of Silence of the Lambs. The odd man in the list of endless inspirations cited by the developer was Dario Argento, he who introduced me to Giallo. But I overlooked the art direction part of the explanation. So, everything cool now!
It may be troubling for some folks to play a game that has no dialogue or text. But this experiment makes for a compelling storytelling. I personally love small town stories. There is so much you can do with that kind of setting. Anybody besotted with supernatural treatment of mystery detective fiction will find the idea of the game wholesome and in a few days, we'll get to experience its final rendition. Virginia releases at a time when people of 2016 seem to share a renewed mass enthusiasm towards 90s fiction. It has got the attention. Now, it's showtime. Virginia will be playable on PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
Release Date: Sept. 22, 2016