Erica Review – Interactive movies come into their own
FMV (Full Motion Video) games. Interactive movies. Whatever you want to call them, these cinematic branching narrative experiences continue to sit in their own niche. With their heavy live-action component, and typically ultra-lite gameplay requirements, you can’t really compare them to other more mainstream games, or score them according to the same criteria.
You can still tell a good interactive film from a poor one, though, and mystery-thriller Erica belongs unquestionably in the former category as one of the most all-round polished FMV games ever made. This previous PS4 exclusive is a pioneering first effort from UK-based developers Flavourworks, and now it’s coming to PC for fans of narrative-driven adventures.
In Erica, the title character (played by Cuckoo and Casualty’s Holly Earl) is a young woman still struggling with the childhood trauma of finding her father brutally murdered, complete with a mysterious symbol carved into his chest. Years later, the killer is back, driving Erica to Delphi House, a treatment facility for emotionally troubled girls that her parents helped set up. Except, the supposed safe haven is full of deadly secrets.
The foundation of Erica’s success is, in fact, its narrative. A dark, gory thriller that leans hard into mystery and the occult, Erica comes across like Broadchurch meets the Wicker Man. A handful of plot holes aside, it benefits from a genuinely compelling story that encourages you to replay it at least a couple of times. Because, as the game states on its opening screen, “No single path holds all the answers.” There are several different endings to unlock, each waiting at the end of 90 to 120 minutes of unskippable playtime.
It helps that Erica isn’t toothless. It may fall under the banner of Casual Game, but that doesn’t mean it’s geared for all audiences. Erica is definitely for mature players only. It’s very bloody, without being HBO gratuitous.
The debut title from Flavourworks is out now on Playstation 4!
Speaking of HBO or, more accurately, BBC One, Erica looks and feels like a prestige British crime series set in a hard-to-place past. Unlike many FMV games hamstrung by tiny budgets, this interactive thriller is unusually premium. No cheap sets, shoddy camerawork or amateurish acting here to pull players out of the experience. Most of Erica’s cast has been seasoned for the screen by years spent in UK soaps and dramas (Terence Maynard is probably the most familiar face), and it shows.
There’s a welcome nuance to performances, especially noticeable in Earl’s work, which helps to convincingly advance the story regardless of player decisions. The character of Erica may comply or resist, for example, but both responses fall in the same emotional intensity band, instead of extremes that would jar with the supporting character reactions that follow.
What further sets Erica apart from other interactive movies is that its gameplay goes beyond dialogue and action choices. You interact with the world on screen, unlocking doors and opening drawers, turning journal pages, fidgeting with a Zippo lighter, rubbing down dusty surfaces and even playing the piano.
Unfortunately, the focus on tactile interactivity means that the PC edition of Erica is a rigid single-player experience. With no traditional controller support, it’s not a game you can play while lounging on the couch or one that is comfortably shared with others in your household. Much like the PS4 version of the game, which was only playable with a touchpad or companion app, Flavourworks demands that PC gamers use a mouse or laptop touchpad. It’s pioneering, and there’s a definite creative logic to the mechanic, but it also introduces a noticeable stiffness to the engagement element, which, in turn, is a continual distraction.
Regardless of Erica’s unusual choice of player controls, this FMV game is still the best of its class, and opens the door to future intriguing innovation in the genre.
Erica launched on Steam on 25 May. The game is also playable on PS4, and iOS 13 upwards.
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