Off the Beaten Path: Virginia

Welcome to Off The Beaten Path, where we present reviews of non-AAA gaming titles and discuss issues pertinent to women in gaming.

I’ve been waiting for the release of Virginia for a while now, ever since Variable State released the first screenshots promising an interactive Twin Peaks. What I ended up getting was not quite what I expected — fitting, given the game’s spiritual parentage. Still, I can safely say that I enjoyed my time with it.

Virginia is set in Kingdom, VA in the 90s over the course of a single week. The game follows two FBI agents – both women of color – as they conduct an investigation into the disappearance of a boy. Except this isn’t the only thing that’s going on, or even possibly not what actually is going on. Befitting its Lynchian origins, the game has a surreal, oneiric atmosphere, and the satisfaction it provides is more emotional and aesthetic one, rather than intellectual.

I’m not deliberately trying to be vague about the plot, but any detail I provide risks providing unwanted spoilers. Especially since it’s a short game that can be finished within 3 to 4 hours. It’s an interactive film in more ways than one: each scene is available from the start, mimicking a DVD of a movie. And it’s structure is much closer to cinematic, similarly to a different game from 2012, Thirty Flights of Loving by Brendon Chung.

Chung is probably a pioneer of using cinematic cutaways, creating the closest a game can come to being a movie. Usually in a game the player has to traverse every location from start to finish, but Thirty Flights of Loving does away with it by making its scenes long enough to convey its point (a chase sequence, for instance) and cutting away to the next one. Virginia is similar, except instead of creating an interactive version of an Adult Swim cartoon, it creates an actual movie. The cuts also actually emphasize the oddness of its atmosphere, as this isn’t something games generally do, moving to a different location without the player’s conscious choice.

But the cinematic experience comes with its flaws. Aside from movement, the game only allowed mode of interaction is clicking a mouse button (or tapping a controller button), when prompted. This leads to a recurring issue of not quite knowing when the game lets you do something, and when it takes control from you. There are also many occasions when it locks your point of view, allowing very limited camera movements. Sometimes you can turn it in 360 degrees; other times it locks you to 180; and on other occasions you can’t look up.

Still, even with those imperfections it’s a game I enjoyed my time with. It’s definitely not a title for everyone, more so than usual. But even if you don’t enjoy it, it’s still an amazing, unforgettable experience.

Virginia was created by Variable State, and published by 505 Games. It’s available on Steam. There’s a free demo to see if you're interested in purchase.

Dominik Zine is a nerdy demisexual lad from northeastern Poland and is generally found in a comfy chair with a book in hand.