There’s something inscrutable yet beautiful about Virginia, the recently released point-and-click adventure game from 505 Games and Variable State. The fascinating mystery, which was released on September 22, is an engrossing journey into a small Virginian town where nothing is as it seems. Though startlingly original in its presentation, Virginia pulls from a library of imagery that draws its inspiration from the likes of The X-Files and Twin Peaks.
Though the Xbox One and PC game features no actual dialogue (and very little reading on top of that), Virginia tells its complex story effortlessly, using a visual and tonal vocabulary established by some of the generation’s most influential science fiction and fantasy, and the experience is all the richer for it. Masterminded by writer Jonathan Burroughs, animator Terry Kenny, and composer Lyndon Holland, Virginia is a testament to innovation based on the shoulders of giants.
If Dale Cooper and Fox Mulder had the opportunity to swap conspiracy theories, they might have had such a chat in a small coffee shop in Kingdom, Virginia.
Meet Anne Tarver, a Woman Just Trying to Get Ahead
In Virginia, players take on the role of rookie Agent Anne Tarver, a young woman who’s been assigned to investigate the disappearance of a young boy in the rural town of Fairfax, Virginia. Together with seasoned Agent Maria Halperin, Tarver descends into an adventure that tests her personal identity, sense of reality, and commitment to duty.
You see, Tarver has some secrets. She’s also fiercely ambitious, to the point where her superiors will gladly exploit her eagerness. In fact, that’s exactly what’s happened in Virginia; the fledgling agent has been recruited to not only hunt for a missing boy, but spy on her partner, a second-generation agent stirring up trouble by looking into her mother’s career.
Virginia’s most impressive feat is in conveying all of this exposition — in addition to the burgeoning friendship between Halperin and Tarver — without uttering a single syllable. In order to accomplish this lofty feat, the creatives behind Virginia have fallen back on some of the most beloved fiction of the 20th century.
The Lynch (and Mulder) Pin
From the moment that Virginia begins, with soon-to-be agent Anne Tarver addressing herself in a dingy bathroom mirror before commencement ceremonies, the player is pulled through a story that, ultimately, raises as many questions as it answers. Jonathan Burrough’s story cues are conveyed with surprising creativity as Tarver walks through a world that’s dressed with shadow and filled with full cups of steaming coffee.
Though Lyndon Holland’s excellent score tends toward the orchestral as opposed to David Lynch’s zydeco jazz approach to musical accompaniment in Twin Peaks, the sensations evoked by Virginia’s are similar. Quirk is at a premium; mystery at the foundation of every note. A constant sense of intrigue is imbued into the music playing in the corners of the story, a crucial element for a game that’s not relying on dialogue to spur players onward.
Though you’d be hard-pressed to call Virginia’s graphics cutting edge, the blocky style works very well for a game that’s set in 1992 (as though we were playing a game transported from that era) and Terry Kenny’s play of light and shadow draws from Fox Mulder’s noir-inspired adventures on The X-Files as freely as it does from David Lynch’s supernatural soap opera. Repeated visual cues, like the bison and reanimated cardinal, add an otherworldly nature to Virginia while the stark environment and looming shadows further embrace that noir-like aspect.
In lesser hands, the resulting game environment might feel stale, but, under Kenny’s capable guidance, Virginia uses the work that came before it to establish new narrative ground.
Of course, that doesnt mean the folks at 505 Games and Variable State aren’t paying proper tribute. Anyone who’s watched an episode of Twin Peaks will recognize the weirdest damn bar on the planet.
No, Seriously, Pay the Money and Play ‘Virginia’
Okay, so, maybe I lost you at “no dialogue.” I get it. You know what else? Virginia has pretty much zero player input. Oh, sure, you get the option to move forward and occasionally click on stuff, but don’t go into this adventure expecting any action or puzzle-solving. This isn’t that. Virginia is an interactive story that’s meant to entice your brain, not your thumb. Along the way, it relies on visual tropes established by some filmmaking greats, but it uses these familiar cues to inform and enhance its story.
But it’s 10 bucks, getting solid reviews, and it’s absolutely worth three hours of your time.