After indulging in and thoroughly enjoying both Firewatch (Campo Santo) and Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture (The Chinese Room), I considered it almost compulsory to give Variable State’s, Virginia a go once I heard it possessed a similar likeness to those fantastically memorable titles. After the hour and a half it took me to play through this short yet extremely powerful story, i’d come to the conclusion that my decision to give this title a chance was definitely one of my finer ones. Virginia tells the story of newly promoted FBI agent, Anne Tarver who is issued a missing persons case to get to the bottom of with her partner, Maria Halperin. In the short while in which the game plays out, the initially simple premise is sent spiralling as the case itself undergoes complications and numerous skeletons are set free from the closets in which they were hidden. Virginia features great a mass of symbolism which although at times can throw the story out of sorts, is incredibly effective and aids in leaving the game lingering with the player after it reaches it’s finale.
As mentioned prior, much like Firewatch and Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, Virginia is a first-person interactive drama (walking simulator) style game, requiring the player to play from a first-person perspective and to state the obvious, simulate walking whilst interacting with their surroundings. Virginia does not however, allow the same level of depth when it comes to it’s exploration as these other two stunning titles. No, instead it focuses on pushing it’s story to it’s conclusion by reducing the amount of walking required to get from A to B. This really compliments the story and subsequently it’s effect on the player as it makes Virginia substantially more immersive. However, I do believe that a little more freedom with exploration would have fared well in giving the story a lot more context and ultimately making it a bit more comprehensible for the player. This is due to the fact Virginia features a great deal of symbolism and metaphors in it’s story telling, which as a result can make the plot seem incoherent and at times almost completely random. Although this undoubtedly adds to the general unnerving feel that is fabricated as you play, at times it can have you hellbent on trying to decipher the story/ timeline of events as opposed to sitting back and enjoying it as it plays out. I believe I got about half-way through before I decided that i’d stop trying to mull over the story and just have a read up of some fan theories after if I still felt unsure of what happened.
Virginia is set in the fictional town of, Kingdom. It’s a small, rural place in which everybody knows each other’s business. Although you don’t get to tour much of this tranquil yet alluring town, what you do get glimpses of as you progress through the story is nothing short of being absolutely gorgeous. The setting is rich with a collection of striking colours and when partnered with a straightforward graphic style which works favourably, significant emphasis is put on the town’s beauty. I’m also in adoration of the contrast that’s constructed here between the serene setting and the mysterious and dark doings happening within it, again adding to that general unnerving feel I touched upon before that looms as you play.
Virginia is written by both Jonathan Burroughs and Terry Kenny and is their first developed gaming title as developer, Variable State. The team shared an interest in FBI Noir titles such as The X-Files and Silence Of The Lambs and in light of this there are several nods to such movie marvels throughout the game. It really gave them some divine inspiration to make an original story line that is gripping and abundant in emotion. The developers do a phenomenal job of generating a tense atmosphere with great support of Virginia’s lovely original soundtrack – composed by Lyndon Holland, that leads all means of emotion portrayed in the game. The primary reason Virginia is so heavily dependant on the emotion drawn from the soundtrack is because there is no dialogue throughout the game. The inability to portray a great deal of emotion through it’s rather plain, cartoony graphic style and complete lack of converse amongst characters is without question overcompensated for in the beauty of the music that accompanies the events that unfold as you playt hrough this exquisite title. In a simplistic first person interactive drama such as Virginia, keeping the player engrossed and eager to proceed is very important and Variable State by no means fall short of achieving this.
Virginia is Variable State’s first developed title and although at times can seem unpolished, is a wonderfully enjoyable play regardless. The developers do a grand job of unsettling the player and building constant tension throughout. Although considerably shorter as a game, if you have enjoyed either Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture or Firewatch, I highly recommend Virginia and even if you haven’t, i’d still recommend you to give it a go. I loved it primarily for how it kept me hooked the entirety of the time I played it and furthermore, for it’s captivating and beautifully composed soundtrack. A combination of how Virginia exceled in both of these areas left this game lingering within my mind, so much so I just had to pick up it’s relatively effortless platinum too. I think we can expect great things from Variable State in time to come and when they do make an appearance I hope they’ve learned from their inconsistencies in Virginia. If so, we are definitely in for a treat.