Today 505 Games announced Virginia, a first-person interactive thriller coming to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC in September. We've played an exclusive demo of this intriguing game that combines influences like Twin Peaks and Fargo. Read on for full impressions!
Strange things afoot in Virginia
Virginia comes from developer Variable State, a new indie studio out of London and Dublin, and is published by 505 Games ( Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Abzû, Hawken). You wouldn't know Virginia was the team's first game, though - this is one intriguing title.
The game takes place in 1992 in the quiet town of Kingdom, Virginia. A boy named Lucas Fairfax has gone missing, leaving little in the way of clues. The FBI sends in a pair of agents, Anne and agent Maria Halperin, to investigate.
There they will find Lucas's trail, an ever-growing list of suspects, and increasingly surreal occurrences that defy explanation. Twin Peaks, Fargo, and True Detective are some of the influences on this interactive mystery/thriller.
Virginia takes entirely in the first-person through Anne's (and perhaps occasionally Halperin's) perspective. The game tells a complex mystery with no dialog, allowing the situations (and readable documents) to tell the story. It features a distinctive and colorful "painterly" art style and a truly gorgeous soundtrack from composer Lyndon Holland and recorded live by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.
Hands on with Virginia
As the demo begins, our two protagonists knock on the door of the Lucas household. Anne takes a quick look at a flyer for the missing boy. The door is answered by a priest, who turns out to be Lucas's father. Both agents show their FBI badges (after the player presses the "interact" button) and enter the house.
The scene cuts to inside the house. Virginia features TV-style editing in which scenes shift abruptly from one place to another. At this point in the demo, the shift is natural. At other times, it can be a little confusing – some sort of transition effect would help keep players oriented.
Inside the Fairfax home, Agent Halperin remains in the living room, consoling the missing boy's parents. As Anne, we take this opportunity to explore the house. She enters a room with a nameplate bearing Lucas's name on the door. Looking through his closet, Anne discovers a large hidden panel.
Behind the panel is a tiny extension to the closet, lit by red light. We enter and discover that Lucas uses it as a dark room. Developed photos hand on a string, some of which hint at Lucas's recent actions. Anne also discovers Lucas's journal. After she picks it up, the scene changes.
Now our heroes are driving back from the Fairfax house. In a rather surreal sequence, the car stops suddenly to allow a bison to cross the road. The large, horned creature stares quietly at the car as it silently walks away.
The agents stop at a gas station, but not for fuel. Agent Halperin enters the station with a flyer, presumably to question the attendant. Anne stays inside, where she can interact with the car's visors and glove compartment. Inside the latter, she finds a couple of envelopes. One is addressed to Maria Halperin, the other to Maria Ortega. It seems that agent Halperin recently married or divorced.
A car drives up besides the protagonist's, music blaring. Its teenage occupants are out for a joyride. One of them gives Anne the finger before they drive off – just one of Virginia's quirky little touches.
For me, it was Tuesday
The scene changes again, this time helpfully displaying a "Tuesday" title card. Anne sits on a bed, her legs stretched out. She looks through Lucas's journal and finds a pamphlet for the local observatory. Turning the page, we also see a drawing Lucas has made of the area outside of the Old Mine. Is it a clue?
Suddenly the perspective changes so that we're now standing across the room from Anne, who has dozed off. Here the change is deliberately confusing, but presumably we now play as Halperin. Or is Anne dreaming?
We leave the room in which Anne dozes, emerging in the Fairfax home. A group of State Troopers sit at the table in the dining room, a waitress inexplicably taking their order. In the living room, a group of friends and family members wait anxiously. One stands by the window smoking, which would totally stink up the house. 1992, it was a different time.
Walking past Lucas's crying mother in the kitchen, our agent discovers her husband nailing boards over Lucas's room. Why would he do that? That mystery will have to wait, because we notice a previously locked door down the hall now sits slightly open. Beyond it, we see only a strange red light.
Stepping into the red light, the scene changes and we're suddenly in the passenger seat of a fast-moving car. A white-haired gentleman is driving while smoking. The characters in this game do not have good lung health. The driver looks toward us for a moment, and then turns back to the road suddenly. The car is about to hit a woman who looks just like Agent Halperin!
At the moment of impact, the view shifts back to the room inside of Lucas's house. We're sitting on the bed once more. Turning to the right, we see the bison from earlier, just standing there watching us. Lights start to come in from a window off to the left. Turning in their direction, we see a red light and the scene shifts once again.
After a scene change, the two agents' car pulls up at the Old Mine from Lucas's drawing. The verdant area in front of the cave is known as the Quail Trail, although the trail has been overgrown by grasses. Behind the nearby fence lies an Air Force base. Foreboding signs adorn the fence, threatening the use of deadly force against trespassers.
Inside the cave, we find a habitable area with cups, chairs, and other signs of life. The area is lit by strung-up Christmas lights which are powered by a car battery. We hear a nearby bird. Following the sound, Anne discovers a part of the cave has been boarded up (not unlike Lucas's room). She pulls the boards off and finds a caged red cardinal.
Anne takes the bird out and hands it to Halperin. Suddenly, we hear a rumble. A beam falls from overhead and knocks us both down. From the ground, Anne turns to see the beam lying across Halperin's motionless body. The demo ends.
Prepare to visit Virginia
We'll have to wait until September 22nd to discover the fate of Agent Halperin, the red cardinal, and poor Lucas Fairfax. Virginia will launch on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam at the price of $9.99. 505 Games doesn't describe this as an episodic game, either. You'll get the whole mystery in one game for a very reasonable price.
Knowing nothing about Virginia before I played the demo, I was really impressed by its narrative, surrealism, art style, and score. I hope to see a few improvements in the final version, though. The demo has an annoying camera bob when standing still that can't be turned off. That carries a real risk of inducing motion sickness if not corrected. Also, the main character walks a bit slowly and has no option to run.
Hopefully those issues will be fixed by the time Virginia launches in September. For gamers who enjoy Twin Peaks or mysteries in general, Virginia will definitely be worth investigating.