Virginia is a good example of a game whose hype doesn’t help. I went into this game expecting an X-Files-esque, Twin Peaks-like experience. I can see where reviewers get that idea from; the game designers here definitely learned everything they know about the FBI from the X-Files and the story embraces the same ambiguity, rustic environment and devotion to bizarre dream sequences that you saw in Twin Peaks. The comparisons to those TV shows ultimately doesn’t serve the game, however; those shows had moments of excitement, deep supporting characters, and – while maintaining a lot of ambiguity – several satisfying moments providing a sense of resolution. Virginia, in contrast, is a much more meditative experience, and if you go in expecting X-Files, you’re going to be disappointed.
Virginia is another walking simulator experience (it may be better described as interactive fiction). You play as a newly appointed FBI agent who is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a young boy in a small town. You’re partnered with another agent who, like Mulder, is housed in the building’s basement and is clearly on a different career trajectory than your up-and-coming protagonist. The relationship between these two women (and your career choices) is as important in this game’s story as investigating the disappearance and watching two female minority characters bond in a heavily masculine world is a unique gaming experience. Both characters have secrets and painful histories to overcome in the course of the investigation. While there are more intricate stories out there, I’ve never encountered a story quite like Virginia’s. The game is constantly compared to X-Files and Twin Peaks, but feels to me much closer to Life is Strange and Firewatch.
The gameplay is very basic. There are items to interact with on the screen, but ultimately you just click a button to advance the story (again, very reminiscent of Firewatch). Within this structure, though, Virginia provides some neat innovations. The way the story jumps between sequences is excellent; rather than walking down a long hallway or staircase, the game will occasionally jump ahead to the next sequence of events (sometimes you’ll warp from one end of the hallway to another, sometimes you’ll jump to another location entirely). These jumps feel organic and help keep you engaged; you never have long boring sections to complete. The animation is also well done; the characters are very expressive and convey nuanced emotions without any language. The game’s best selling point, however, is the music. The soundtrack is hauntingly beautiful. It’s hard to think of a game that’s provided such an excellent score alongside an interesting story (The Witcher 3?). If you’re looking for a well performed, beautiful soundtrack, you won’t be disappointed.
However, if you’re looking for a good murder mystery that feels like X-Files and Twin Peaks, you may well be disappointed. The game tells an unusual, interesting story but ultimately the game feels too short to let you develop any real attachment to the supporting characters or underlying mystery. Ultimately, the ambiguous ending comes a little too soon to elicit an emotional reaction. I can’t help but think that Virginia could have been a must-play as an episodic adventure like Life is Strange or the current Batman series by Telltale. There’s not a lot of gameplay here and only one ambiguous ending to get to in this 90 minute experience. If you are looking for a true Twin Peaks/X-Files experience, let me humbly recommend Deadly Premonition. That game provides a much more Lynchean experience – with more action, stranger characters, and a weirder ending – than Virginia does.
The music in the game is impressive and may be the best part of the game. The story is unusual and interesting; stories are very rarely told from the perspective of female characters in any context and make this story unlike any other stories.
The game is a little too short to develop any real connection to the characters. The game is essential a walking simulator in which you watch a story play out but there’s no real game to play (which isn’t bad if that’s your thing!).
OUR VERDICT: GOOD BUT SKIPPABLE
Ultimately, this is a interesting experience but a difficult game to recommend. It’s unusual, but there’s not much to the gameplay and I’m not sure I’d play through the brief experience a second time. Still, the folks behind Virginia created a game unlike any other and I really look forward to seeing what these guys do next.