What’s nice about videogames is that you slowly wander through levels or areas, delving deeper into the characters’ lives as you go. Whether that’s finding out their past, learning about their personality or understanding how far you’d go for a princess who bakes you cakes you never seem to receive. The point is that you learn something about why the hell you’re in the situation you’re in. But Datura, released on the PSN, has found a clever way to present a middle finger to lesson number one of videogame making, in that it’s not a game. It’s an interactive experience.
Now normally, this would cause you to expect something along the lines of Heavy Rain, where you watch an engaging film, pressing buttons to either help your character along or laugh as they electrocute themselves multiple times. Instead, you get given a completely nonsensical story that switches between creeping through a forest or watching a flashback that looks as though it’s written by a mental patient at the monkey house. At no point during this game do you get told what’s going on and so judging by the developer Plastic’s previous titles such as Linger in the Shadows, you’re best to just assume you’re high and carry on. The story is supposed to be different for each person, so as you play, you can search through the jumble of scenes for your own meaning, but we’re just saying, it’s probably drugs.
In order to see the next scene of the game, you have to make your way through the woods, solving puzzles and unlocking gates in order to move on and do exactly the same thing. Exploration is obviously a large part of the game and it’s a great concept – you’re in a desolate area, trying to find out more about yourself and the trees can act as a blanket of calm or (later on) a great place for people to hide as they follow you. Normally, it’d be nice to spend hours looking at everything you come across, but the Move controls are so awful that you’d probably rather gnaw through your own wrists. You have to hold a button to move forwards, while directing which way to go by slowly moving the controller from left to right. And we mean slowly. However, we can’t really blame the game for this fault as it’s the best they could do to appeal to the mass of fans who never bothered to buy the add-on. What isn’t acceptable though is the necessity of reversing out of the corner you just walked into, almost as if you’re driving a car through the tightest of spots. A car that’s very quickly running out of fuel.
If you don’t own a PlayStation Move, then don’t fret for you too can experience the feeling of stumbling drunkenly through the woods, only with slightly better controls. To say it was developed mostly around the motion control, it’s a lot nicer to play if you just stick to the traditional way of playing. And on the plus side, there’s no reverse button for you, you just have to wait for near five minutes as you turn 180 degrees to carry on your merry way.
Only it won’t be merry for long as you have to bear with the shuffling movements long enough to find the next piece to the puzzle, which in itself can be quite the task. It’s nice for games to present a challenge and searching for hidden items is one that gamers have stuck to like they’d stick to a girlfriend or boyfriend, if only one would come around. However, some of that fun is taken away when you search around for close to an hour before finding that the thing you’re looking for is hidden away in a discreet pile of bricks. If you’re at all clever, you’ll use and update your map as much as possible, which you access by holding the Move controller up to your face, blocking the TV screen as you do so. Once you manage to lean around the mound of plastic in your hand, you’ll see that the map, although cleverly designed, doesn’t offer any idea of where you’ve been or how far away the next turning is. In fact, taking a few baby steps forward translates into a sprint right across your notepad and so definitely takes a while to get used to.
Once you find the puzzles however, the control system really comes into its own. Puzzles such as picking up and throwing balls or stones offers a nice challenge in how far to pull back, how fast to flick the controller and when to let go, it’s one of the few games that really sets Move apart from the strong contender of the Wii as much more precision is required, making it far more realistic than twisting your wrist and bringing down a raging beast. The variety of puzzles means that you’ll stay entertained, and even when the same puzzle crops up for a second time, it’s switched around enough that it seems like a fresh take, a new challenge and quite possibly a louder aggravated cry.
Once you’ve completed the puzzle, you unlock the next one, creating a rinse and repeat element that is perfectly acceptable in Datura because “it’s not a game, it’s an interactive experience so we can do whatever the hell we want to” [followed by a series of jeers]. However, once you’ve come to the end of your cluster of tasks, you’re greeted with a flashback or a dream or something that includes you that isn’t in the woods. These are interactive, often in quite innovative ways, and give the players a choice between good and evil, though it’s not always obvious that it’s a bad choice until that poor innocent person dies while you cradle your trophy. Whoops. Although the flashbacks themselves are incredibly messed up and contain all sorts of “what the fuuuu-dge” moments, the choices themselves are the important part, changing the ending you receive depending on which part of your body you moved first, or something like that.
By the ending, you’re probably expecting to understand who you are, why you’re hugging some trees and why your past is so unfortunate. Instead, you end up with an equally as confusing room full of some people and a mirror that shows you images from… well we don’t know what from really, but you’ll see an image that signifies which ending you received. That’s it. The game ends there and invites you to start again. No doubt by the end of the game, you’ll be left speechless and wondering what you just did for the past few hours of your life. What did this accomplish? You didn’t save the world or marry the princess. You didn’t even find out your name. So the puzzlement you’re feeling may not be as satisfying, but it looks like it’s exactly what the developers aimed for. They’re like some sort of night creatures, feeding off your speculation and perplexed tears. Oh Plastic! It’s dinner time!
What holds this game together, besides the accomplishment of baffling the world, is how pretty it looks while it does so. The leaves strewn on the ground stink of autumn and the colours are reminiscent of your own adventures on a boring day. The calm trees create a false sense of vastness and everything looks so natural, as though the world has created itself just so you can walk around. Animations of the hand are so soft and smooth that you can imagine the character’s own sense of adventure as they wander around, feeling the world around them, enjoying the simplicity of it all. Ignoring the water, which looks like a beta version of LittleBigPlanet’s, the art really shines through, which is helpful as Datura itself can’t seem decide whether it’s a piece of art or something the developers did on their day off. Although we didn’t get to experience the 3D part of the game, you take one glance at everything, the scenery, the idea of using Move and the camera angles and you know that this is one of the few games that was born for the third dimension.
To add to the sense of immersion and emotions shared between you and the character (which strangely enough, isn’t just that of confusion), the music plays softly in the background, picking up speed and volume when you find something you’re supposed to use. Other than those moments, the soundtrack tries its hardest not to be laid on top of the game, or separated at all, but rather be a part of the experience as a whole, being so simple that it just leaks into your passive mind as you play, making itself comfortable at the control panel of your thoughts. Sound effects are nearly nonexistent and for the most part, add a nice final touch onto the game when they’re used. However, if you’re intent on running across as much of the levels as possible the heavy breathing into your ears may just get a tad annoying. Just a little bit.
In a nutshell, Datura is the kind of interactive experience that you’ll keep hearing and coming back to, if only to see if it makes any more sense later on. That’s where we can help, saving precious time with a hint: it won’t. Now go do something that makes a lot more sense like posting all your deepest secrets over the internet or saving the world from dead people who enjoy the taste of flesh. See? Much more sense.
We wanted to give this game a WTF/10, but we couldn’t so it earns a 4.5.