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Virginia video game review: Thriller quietly keeps you guessing

In the first-person mystery thriller Virginia, FBI agent

In the first-person mystery thriller Virginia, FBI agent Anne Tarver has to find a missing boy -- and maybe herself, too. Credit: Variable State

PLOT An FBI agent searches for a missing boy.


DETAILS Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Mac; $9.99

BOTTOM LINE Moody and introspective.

Virginia taps into our love of the weird, the bizarre and the nostalgic — the video game world’s answer to “Stranger Things” — and does so by distorting our idea of a traditional narrative, which, among other unusual things, is silent. There’s no pesky talking here.

FBI agent Anne Tarver has been given the case of a missing boy as well as a role in Internal Affairs. She is asked to rat out her co-workers, often other women or minorities. Case files flash on the screen but then disappear before we can see any details beyond a face and a name. We see Tarver piece together clues, but Virginia is less about the missing boy and more about the pressures placed on Tarver by her career. Alcoholism, loyalty and prejudice are hinted at.

Virginia mashes-up the surreal with the mundane. A woman’s morning routine soon gets upended. We cut from applying lipstick in front of the mirror to a graduation ceremony to a darkroom to a basement hallway. Later, there’s an animal sacrifice, a supernatural occurrence and a missing boy. A car driving along the countryside clashes with a hospital scene or the sudden appearance of a bison in the middle of the street. It’s influenced as much by David Lynch as by many recent independent video games.

Unlike most video games, Virginia seems more interested in atmosphere than choice, choice being a relative term in gaming where too many developers provide a choose-your-own-adventure gimmick with multiple story strands that inevitably land you back at the same place. Here, the user triggers the next scene in the game. Look, walk and point. There are no tasks to solve and no sudden A or B options to make. The story is fixed, but it’s dismantled and rearranged in a way that keeps you ever on guard.


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