Almost everything about Variable States' Virginia screams 'David Lynch.' But it'd be a disservice to the creators were I to say that it fails to go beyond simple emulation.
Virginia is a complete original. It's a captivating demonstration of the power of video games, it's a compelling experience and, in more colloquial terms, a must play. Even if you're not a David Lynch fan, there's something about this indie title that will command your attention and respect. Here's why you need to play it, immediately.
Virginia & Why It's One of the Best Games of 2016
In a year filled with the likes of id Software's DOOM, Blizzard's Overwatch, Naughty Dog's Uncharted 4, and Firaxis' XCOM 2, it can be hard to focus our attention on the smaller things. But, as Firewatch demonstrated in February, devoting ourselves to more intimate projects can be immensely rewarding. No game this year is more emblematic of this notion than Virginia.
With a running time of a little under two hours, this bite-sized narrative experience takes you on a Lynchian journey in the true sense of the verb. I don't wish to spoil anything about this game—the act of uncovering stuff is an essential aspect of its design—but you play as a woman by the name of Anne, who was been welcomed into the FBI and assigned her first case alongside her new partner, Maria. You're tasked with investigating the disappearance of a young boy, but you've also been told to keep a watchful eye on Maria. The FBI is suspicious of her activities, but why?
The rural setting, the quirky characters, the music and the 90s-equipped FBI set the scene for a nostalgic adventure that'll mess with your head, as the world of Anne's torturous dreams begins to melt with that of our own.
This isn't a standard video game experience. In fact, I don't think I've ever played anything like it.
In terms of gameplay, Virginia feels like a more restricted version of Gone Home. While there are some areas that you're free to walk around in, there aren't any cupboards to pour through, books to read or clues to find, even though it's a detective story.
Virginia places you in small spaces and makes it very clear where you have to go and what is required of you in order to advance the story, even though the game doesn't feature any dialogue. Not a word.
This is a narrative experience that often requires little input from the player, making it feel a little like the TV show it's attempting to channel. But the most impressive aspect of Virginia's execution is its use of jump cuts.
Imagine yourself seated at a desk typing on your computer when suddenly you're thrust into the passenger seat of a driving car. The game frequently uses jump cuts like this to move the player from one locale or scene to another in an instant. It's jarring at the beginning. We're not used to a game pulling us out of what we're doing so abruptly. But, like a TV show, you adjust to how Virginia opts to tell its story. These cuts help instil a tremendous sense of pace, something which creators usually have to forgo to grant gamers an abundance of freedom. But the lack of choice doesn't impact on the experience of Vriginia. In fact, it's what makes the game so compelling. It feels like a TV show; a very familiar one, in fact.
For Fans of Twin Peaks, Virginia Feels Like Home
The comparison between this game and Twin Peaks are essentially unavoidable. Even the developers themselves name-dropped Lynch's 90s classic to convey the mood of the game to publishers.
"We certainly perhaps over-relied on referencing Twin Peaks and nostalgic references," said Jonathan Burroughs, the narrative designer on Virginia. "We used it as a bit of a crutch since it's such a convenient shorthand." - Polygon
Making something that relies on people's memories of the past can be dangerous. Too often we see revivals that pander to past glories as opposed to creating something new and engaging. We don't want to be simply reminded of how great Twin Peaks was, we want more of it. And of course, saying your game is like one of Lynch's masterpieces will naturally draw comparisons between the two. How can you live up to that?
But despite the odds, Virginia finds the perfect balance.
Though you can see Twin Peaks on the walls of this town's cafes, in the dreams of its protagonist and the very mood every scene evokes, this is a very unique game.
Virginia is laced with nostalgia, but it feels fresh in how it breaks video game conventions. I feel like I've been to its location before, but the narrative shocked and surprised me throughout its running time. I was captivated by its perfect blend of familiarity and innovation. Virginia is a must play, people, especially for those who can't handle the arduous wait of the return of Twin Peaks. Do yourself a favor and give the creators your time. It's some journey.