STAFF REVIEW of Virginia (Xbox One)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016.
by Adam Dileva

Virginia Box art Normally once I see the credits roll after finishing a game I jump right into writing the review, as it’s fresh in my mind and I start to formulate what I want to convey. Virginia was a completely different experience gaming wise, and I actually needed to take a day or two to figure out what I had experienced, and how to explain it to you in such a way that it actually made sense.

Personally, I think part of what threw me off was that Virginia is more of an interactive movie experience than a traditional game. I don’t normally like to use the term “walking simulator”, as most people scoff at those types of games save for a few of the standouts, but that’s really the best description for its ‘gameplay’. It is a mystery tale that unfolds its layers in interesting ways, some that I’ve never experienced in a video game format before, mimicking filmography with its unique editing and storytelling.

Set in a first person view, Virginia tells a tale about protagonist Anne Tarver, a recent FBI graduate taking on her first case. It has a thriller tone and attempts to tell a story about a missing young boy that you need to investigate with your partner Maria. Now I don’t want to go into much more detail about the plot for a few reasons. The first being that Virginia is only 2 hours long. Yes, it’s very short, but that’s not necessarily a detriment, as its tale gets told in that amount of time, well... kind of.

Secondly, I have to be honest here and let you know that I’m still processing Virginia and trying to understand it. "But why?" you ask. Well, there’s zero dialogue in the game. None at all, so you only have subtle body language and facial cues to read when trying to understand what’s happening and why. This may sound like another detriment, but I honestly don’t think it would have been as impactful as it was if there was spoken or subtitled dialogue. I know, odd, but it seems to work here. You simply need to interpret people’s faces and actions to understand their thoughts and what they’re trying to get across.

It’s odd for such a narrative based story to be told with no dialogue or sounds aside from a brilliant soundtrack that tells almost as much as speaking would. Because of these choices I believe many people who will see the credits roll will all interpret the ending a little differently in their own way, which is brilliant. Akin to Fargo or True Detective, Virginia is an original experience full of drama and twists that you don’t see coming at all. It’s odd, and not a traditional ‘game’, but it’s a worthwhile narrative to experience.

As I mentioned above, Virginia is more of an interactive story than a traditional game. As for its gameplay, it’s simplistic, as you control Anne through a set of linear sequences, looking for items to interact with which will take you to the next scene. There are no no moral choices to be made or guns to fire, you’re simply going from point A to B while looking for objects to interact with that will let you progress. It’s basic at its core, but again, for some reason it simply seems to work in the setting. That’s not to say that you’re always walking down a corridor, as there are some small side areas to explore like other rooms while in a house, but it’s a very guided experience.

The game is odd in such that it is a mystery game, but it doesn’t have you solving any puzzles or piecing together any clues gameplay wise, as you’re simply along for the (short) ride, allowing you to attempt to figure out what events are unfolding before you and how they all piece together. What I initially found very jarring was how the scenes are edited from one to another. For example, I was walking down a hallway and I found a piece of paper that I was looking for and inspected it, next thing I know I’m in a car driving somewhere with my partner. There was no scene transition, no fade to black, nothing. This is how Virginia moves you from scene to scene, and it can be a little disorientating at first, especially when you are trying to figure out what’s going on without any dialogue.

Normally I wouldn’t dedicate a paragraph for achievements in a review, but they deserved to be mentioned here. There’s a handful of achievements, but there’s no point looking at the titles or descriptions, as neither will give you a clue of what needs to be done to earn it. Here’s a good example of the achievement and its description: Flea - Victories in space and time.

The vast majority of Xbox games tend to stick with achievement values that are multiples of 5, but since Virginia wants to be different in everything it does, that’s not the case here. Here’s a handful of the odd achievement values for you that you can unlock: 13, 23, 31, 32, 44, 49, and 68. The secret achievements are near impossible to attain without a walkthrough, and I’m not sure how some people even figured them out. Good luck to you achievement hunters out there, I know this will drive some of you crazy.

Virginia looks as if it’s dated, taken straight from some early 90’s CG, but the visuals feel stylized and purposeful rather than low budget. Vibrant coloring adds to the visuals too. The true standout to the whole presentation though is without a doubt the stunning soundtrack. I’m not normally much of an audio guy, but wow, Virginia’s soundtrack is something that needs to be experienced. Because of the lack of dialogue the audio is how you get the feeling and mood of the scene, and this is done to perfection with music.

Composed by Lyndon Holland, and performed by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, it is easily in my top 3 gaming soundtracks. It changes and responds to your actions and feels as though it’s telling you what the characters aren’t saying with words. Music becomes tense when you’re about to come across a shocking discovery and the mood can change almost instantly with a different tonality based on your actions. I can’t say enough great things about the soundtrack, as Virginia wouldn’t be nearly as memorable without it.

While some will scoff at Virginia for its ‘walking simulator’ mechanics and extremely short gameplay, there’s not a lot of games that have me thinking about the experience and wondering about it days after it’s complete. Sure, there are those gamers that will simply feel like it’s a 2 hour interactive cutscene, having you confused the whole way, but there should be those that see it as a unique experience as it is a journey surrounded in mystery, always having you guessing to what’s real or not, akin to a great episode of The X-Files. You’re not in control of anything in Virginia, and once you come to accept that, it’s a completely different experience. It’s not going to appeal to many, but for those of you that might understand it, you will find something truly unique that sticks with you long after the credits roll.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 9.9 / 10


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