Does former PlayStation exclusive Erica take its place in the PC FMV pantheon? The Finger Guns review.
One of my favourite developments in games over the last decade has been the renaissance of the full motion video – or FMV – game. Whereas the limitations of the hardware available during the genre’s heyday in the 1990s meant that the games were either overly simple or lacking in production values (or, in most cases, both), the 2010s and early 2020s have generally seen delivery of a much higher quality product overall – stories are better, acting is much less cheesy and production values in some cases are rivalling those you see on television.
As such, we’ve seen titles such as Contradiction: Spot The Liar gain cult status and studios such as Wales Interactive gain no small amount of success through titles like Five Dates, The Complex and The Shapeshifting Detective. August 2019 saw developers Flavourworks enter the fray, releasing the PlayStation 4 exclusive Erica, a FMV interactive thriller about a young woman grappling with demons from her past. Now, some 21 months later, it arrives on PC. Has it missed the boat or is it a worthy addition to your PC library?
In Erica, you play as the titular character who has spent the years since her childhood trying to rebuild her life, following the tragic and mysterious deaths of her parents. We join her as she is thrust back into the middle of that nightmare, and she is forced to seek temporary residence at Delphi House – a facility founded by her father and his business partner to look after troubled young girls, but which is quickly revealed to be hiding a sinister past and, possibly, present.
How you proceed through the story is largely determined through a series of timed dialogue and action choices. These choices are presented on screen as ghostly text, which slowly fades away to show how much time you have to make a decision. It’s a very effective visual cue, in fitting with the overall motif of the game, and ensures that things keep moving at a nice pace (a single run-through clocking in at around 90 minutes).
The first thing you’ll notice – as with many of the titles I’ve previously mentioned – is how good it looks. I talked about production values earlier, but it really is almost ridiculous just how big a gap there is in the video quality of games released in the days of Night Trap and Mad Dog McCree and those released now, and Erica is one of the best examples to date. The composition of almost every shot in the game is terrific. Locations correctly evoke the feelings the game wants to convey – Erica’s apartment building is drab and dingy, for example, while Delphi House gives off a natural vibe on just not being quite right.
This atmosphere is bolstered considerably by the wonderfully creepy soundtrack, provided by Austin Wintory. If the name seems familiar, that’s because he’s the man behind iconic game soundtracks such as Flow and Journey and, while this one is unlikely to stick in the memory in the same way, it fulfils its role here perfectly.
If I have one complaint about the gameplay, it’s that some of the game’s more interactive moments – opening doors and drawers, igniting a lighter, examining bodies etc – feel a bit more clunky with a mouse than they do with either the PS4’s trackpad or your phone’s touchscreen (as was an option through Sony’s PlayLink app). Some of that interactivity also feels pretty unnecessary and has this weird uncanny look to it – almost like stop-motion animation – which broke the immersion from time to time.
Ultimately, though, any good FMV game worth its salt these days is going to be judged on its story and the performances of those who star in it. Here, again, Erica is largely a success. The story itself is an intriguing one – it’s a thriller that touches upon occult and otherworldly themes, but does so in a relatively grounded way that means it rarely feels completely outwith the realms of reality (which, in some ways, makes it even creepier). If I have one complaint, it’s that I wish they’d filled in a few more of the backstory blanks – the game never goes properly in-depth on a lot of its story beats or the motivations of some of the characters you encounter along the way. This, in turn, means that each of the game’s multiple endings feels more abrupt than I expected, putting a slight dampener on affairs.
However, the quality of the acting helps to overcome a lot of those small flaws. An excellent cast – headlined by great performances from lead actress Holly Earl, Chelsea Edge and veteran British character actor Terence Maynard – deliver believable performances that kept me interested and invested for the majority of Erica’s runtime. Ultimately, that’s what makes it such an intriguing proposition and, therefore, one of the best FMV titles that money can buy.
An effective story, some excellent performances from its cast, and very good production values do much to cover up its minor flaws and, as such, help Erica stand out from the crowd, when it comes to full motion video games. With a nice tight runtime, it’s also a game that doesn’t outstay its welcome. More of this kind of thing, please.
Erica is available on PC through Steam (review platform), iOS and Playstation 4.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this preview, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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