For the second game in my introduction to walking
simulators, I chose
Variable State’s Virginia.
It’s easy to talk about gameplay. As a walking simulator, Virginia limits
your interaction significantly. You move through environments and press a
button to interact with people and objects. This design won’t satisfy players
looking for a challenge, but it’s not intended to. On the other hand (and in
concert with the distinctive editing direction, described below), it’s great
for casual players who’d like to share the experience.
The soundtrack is beautiful. It’s distinctive and, thanks to the participation
of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, authentic. It’s also subtly integrated
with the gameplay: ambient pieces loop while you explore, and new movements
dramatically erupt in response to your actions. You can purchase the music as a
standalone product on some platforms, but while it’s made writing this review
more enjoyable, I don’t expect to be queuing it up again any time soon. On the
other hand, if soundtracks are your thing, then this might be worth the asking
price (around $1 USD).
Visually, the game’s cell-shaded aesthetic is crisp and vibrant. In the absence
of texture, color is used to great effect, particularly in lighting. There’s
dramatic daylight, dim service tunnels, spooky nighttime skies, and a
florescent gas stop. What the graphics lack in detail, they make up for in
That said, cell-shading stopped feeling innovative twenty years ago. A far more
unique aspect of Virginia’s visual presentation is its use of jump cuts. It
suits the walking simulator format very well: as a player, you never feel
interrupted because your input is so simple. As a viewer, you always feel
engaged because you’re not subjected to unimportant travel sequences. Immersive
it is not, but it is slick. I can’t think of a more cinematic use of
first-person perspective–neither in gaming nor in film.
There is no speech in all of Virginia. From the very start, it’s clear that
you have to pay careful attention to understand what’s going on. The game’s
cartoon aesthetic helps and hinders this decision. On the one hand, it makes
for an impressionistic atmosphere where characters’ silence feels appropriate.
In a live-action version of Virginia, a complete dearth of dialog would
inevitably feel uncanny. On the other hand, lack of dialog constrains each
character’s ability to express themselves, and their simplified visual
appearance limits it still further. The animators do impressive work within
this canvas, but it’s just not enough for some of the most emotionally-charged
On the surface, Virginia is a simple detective story, but it has some
compelling subtext about gender equality, trust, and professional ambition.
There are also a bunch of subplots concerning the minor characters, though they
are far less obvious. This is no doubt deliberate; many people appreciate a
certain degree of ambiguity in storytelling because it gives them an
opportunity to bring their own interpretations. But whether the writers started
with a complete puzzle and excised essential pieces, or they never developed
some themes in the first place: they didn’t give us enough. After playing the
game twice, my co-pilot and I still couldn’t form a coherent story around a
handful of the set pieces. Faced with the prospect of a third play-through, we
gave up, searched for other takes online, and came away empty-handed.
For all the game’s strengths, I was ultimately disappointed by its unresolvable
clues. In situations like this, I suspect perfectionism may play a part, and I
hope that other players would be more tolerant of the loose ends. There’s a lot
to like in Virginia, after all, enough that I’ll be recommending it to a few
friends, with a caveat. Meanwhile, my personal search for a great walking