Virginia - Mischievous, melancholy, marvellous.

Virginia - Mischievous, melancholy, marvellous.
GAME: Virginia
DEVELOPER: Variable State
COMPANY: 505 Games
PLATFORM: Xbox PlayStation PC / Mac

Most games are designed to be fun, to be entertaining, to give you a quick blast of excitement. Virginia is different. Not that it isn't entertaining, but it's also gripping and emotional, playing out like a wonderfully poignant movie full of your favourite actors. There are very few games that make you feel and think beyond what you're seeing on screen, and Virginia is a master class in just that.

To get the usual critiques out of the way, I guess you could call Virginia a "walking simulator" in that you are tasked with progressing the tale by meandering throughout various environments and discovering clues. In reality it feels more like a very good piece of interactive fiction, one that you control and have some limited choices over. Certain scenes and moments can play out in slightly different ways, though others force your hand.

It's linear, for sure, but never feels oppressively so and that's testament to the quality of the experience on offer and the story being told. Ostensibly a tale about a recently graduated FBI agent and her partner investigating a missing boy, it soon becomes much more than that. A secondary investigation, family problems, a hidden secret, a mysterious base, a local mayoral candidate, bizarre rituals, strange dreams - it's a tour de force of wonderful imagery and imagination.

The developers have spoken about their love of, and inspiration from, shows like the X-Files and Twin Peaks and that love clearly shines through. For a game that has no dialogue whatsoever it certainly has a lot to say, and the characters convey their emotions perfectly with a simple frown or wave of a hand. The fact no one says a word soon seems perfectly normal, and leaves you free to explore the subtext at your own leisure. Did that symbol mean anything? Does this person know more than they're letting on? Every questions feels like it could have numerous answers and, even when the game wraps up, you're still not sure you know everything.

The lack of dialogue also helps to enhance the absolutely breathtaking score at work throughout the game, and the team deserves full credit for one of the most standout soundtracks I've ever heard. As your characters motivations dip, so does the score, as a thrilling denounement builds, the music rises expectantly. It feels like the music takes on a life of its own and injects every single scene with the sense of wonder, intrigue, gravitas or sadness that it deserves.

The simplistic cartoony style also works perfectly, and helps encapsulate the moods and tone of each situation to perfection. It's hard to imagine a sleepy liitle town being captured so wonderfully in any other way. It feels laidback, it feels mysterious, it feels just right - like you could be coming home, even though you've never been there.

As the game reaches its finale, and I've done my best to steer clear of spoilers here, it flashes through a number of fascinating scenes. The game as a whole feels like a series of perfect vignettes of Middle America and the kind of serious investigation, that was soon turned on its head, that both Peaks and the X-Files made their trademark. It's very often a beautiful game, it's constantly haunting and it's always fascinating and the first thing I did open seeing the credits is play it again. There can be no higher praise needed.


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