“Virginia…Press ENTER to take a trip” greats the player when the title screen of Variable State’s 2016 Virginia is first loaded, and it could not be more appropriate. What awaits is a short by extremely cinematic experience that will likely leave you wondering what just happened.
Virginia falls into the category of a walking simulator, or a game in which the player spends the majority of the game walking through scenes, looking at characters or items to tell the story. The game is played in first person through the eyes (arguably) of new FBI agent Anne Tarver. Her first assignment is to investigate her new partner, special agent Maria Halperin, someone known for her unconventional methods that takes the shine off of the higher brass. The two are given an assignment in the town of Kingdom, Virginia, where a boy named Lucas has gone missing. What happens from there cannot, and should not, be adequately shared in a review. The twisting, turning road of the pair’s first investigation, the imagery of current and past regrets, and the impressions left behind are for each player to experience and decipher for themselves.
For a story-driven walking simulator, Virginia is surprising in that there is no dialog throughout the game. Instead, the progression of action is provided purely through the actions of the characters on the screen, the emotion in their body language. The technique is highly effective. The first twenty minutes or so were all I needed to align my brain to the way the story was being told and from there I couldn’t turn it off. The good news is that a playthrough will take around two hours (appropriate for the movie-like experience), and it is highly suggested that it be played in one sitting.
Visually, Virginia uses a light polygonal, almost cell shaded art style. This lends itself well to the story being told and some of the more almost delusional sequences. Bright, saturated colors give presence to overbearing scenes while normal tones bring surroundings back to reality. The visual presentation also uses many cinematic techniques with jump cuts and other edits one would not typically find in a first person game.
The game’s musical score is top notch. I was immediately drawn in by the sweeping orchestral movement presented at the beginning of the game, which paints a picture of the movie experience to come. The score was written by Lyndon Holland and performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. It provides a terrific depth to the game, especially given the lack of dialog. It sets the tone for each scene, whether it be with a rising presentation, gentle background, or no music at all. Certainly a great example of the use of music in a game.
Virginia is not a game that is played, but rather one that is experienced. It often goes on sale on Steam or GOG for around $1 and can also be found on Xbox One and PS4 stores. Even with a two hour run time, I highly recommend picking this one up and playing it through with friends or family. Guaranteed it will give you something to talk about.