A demo version of Variable State's upcoming game Virginia has recently been released on Steam and it has got people talking for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it is so unique. This demo isn't a short section showing off the gameplay or telling you the main story, but instead it offers seemingly very little to go on while simultaneously giving a lot of food for thought at the same time.
The format of the demo is what is most striking. It works like a movie trailer in the sense that random bits of what is presumably the central narrative of the game are given to the player without any context, all of which are spliced together to give one whole demonstration of the game. In this sense it is also like a dream in its layout, with things coming out of nowhere and some events being extremely confusing. The links between all of these sections aren't made explicit, but players can use what little information they are given, such as environmental clues, to postulate on what these links could be.
From what we can gather you play as an FBI agent with a partner who reoccurs throughout the demo and you are both investigating the disappearance on someone called Lucas D. Fairfax. This is all the solid evidence that the game gives away but, like the detective you play as, the little snippets that are given to you in each section can be examined for more clues on what's going on and why.
In a sense the demo reminded us a lot of Netflix series Stranger Things. The presence of detectives and policemen with similar head-wear to those in Stranger Things, the seemingly small-town nature of the game and the emphasis on unusual occurrences all remind us of the TV show, but there is a lot that is unique to Virginia. In fact, it isn't a copy of anything else but very confident in its individuality.
The visual style is very cartoon-like, with very little in the way of fine detail, but it isn't unrealistic or silly. In fact the game maintains a sombre note throughout despite these misshaped and colourful character models. Even though they look strange, their behaviour is what makes them feel human and the whole game is made to look like a real world filled with real people even if the style is more reminiscent of plasticine.
Atmosphere is created throughout the demo by short, impactful windows into the narrative, all of which are accompanied by very slow piano music. As you carefully tread through each part, the piano tinkles through with you until the section cuts to black, leaving you looking at a reflection of yourself before the next scene comes up. That's not to say that these cuts feel jarring. In fact, it's quite the contrary as we found ourselves taking each event in and pondering its meaning before moving on.
What is perhaps most impressive about the Virginia demo is that it gives you all of this to think about in only about 10 minutes of gameplay, depending on how long you take to look around. Each section lasts only a couple of minutes at most and gives a lot of information, environmental clues and events to take in, but you'd be a fool to think that it made no sense. The subtle lines of narrative running through it all is enough to get the brain working but just not quite enough to come to solid conclusions, and Variable State uses that to reel you back into the full game for answers. It certainly piqued our interest ahead of its full launch later in the month.
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