What if Han was arrested for shooting Greedo? What would have happened if Frodo left the One Ring to Treebeard? Will there ever be a sequel to the Matrix?* These are all questions I’ve asked myself during, or shortly after a film. Once the credits have rolled, there’s always a little voice in my head asking, “What if this happened instead…”, and I’m certain I’m not alone with this line of questioning. In fact, I know I’m not alone in thinking like this because filmmakers have been using tools for decades allowing them to explore alternative versions of films.
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Well acted and high quality production|
|+ The plot twists and turns|
|+ Multiple endings to explore|
|Negatives||– Middle part drags a little|
|– Some scenes don’t always match up|
|– A few pointless options that don’t add to the story|
After being tried in movie theaters in the 60s, the art of an interactive video didn’t really have an impact until the 1980s, when technology gave the medium a little boost. Full Motion Videos (FMVs) were created in arcades in which a scene could play out in different ways depending on which button was pressed. In the 90s, as home consoles could hold more data, developers experimented with creating interactive films. The notorious Night Trap catapulted this new genre into the limelight when it was dragged through the US senate in one of the many nonsensical “video game causes violence” hearings. And despite the game being a blurry mess of cheese and campy horror, it did give budding film and game designers ideas.
Fast forward to 2019 and things had changed a little. We were living in a time where the film industry had developed higher quality film equipment and video game compression is a lot better than it used to be. We’re able to explore the interactive movie experience like never before; created by London based Flavourworks and published by Sony, Erica is a videogame-movie in every sense of the word.
In Erica you play as the titular Erica Mason, a young woman pulled into a world of cultist obsession and murder. We quickly find out that when Erica was a child, her father was brutally murdered in front of her. As a young adult, murders relating to her father start occuring and she is brought back into a world she had desperately wanted to forget. The set up is beautifully gory and there is enough injury detail to impress horror aficionados. We’re not going to spoil any of the details, but from here on out the game gradually ramps up the tension and violence through a well thought out plot.
Having a well planned story is all well and good but you need a well versed cast to bring it to life. Luckily Flavourworks have somehow done just that. Holly Earl who has starred in Cuckoo and Skins heads up the acting talent and holds her own through multiple different scenarios. Terence Maynard (Edge of Tomorrow, The Dark Tower) and Chelsea Edge (I Hate Suzie) offer great supporting characters, offering real depth throughout the 90-minute playthrough.
The outcome of Erica is determined by your choices made throughout, and the beauty of how this is pulled off is extraordinary, with Flavourworks not limiting the outcome to one or two key decisions. Granted, there are a few redundant actions, but most have their own consequences and these gradually change the direction of the story.
And when it comes to actually selecting your options, Erica implements some clever techniques. Speech actions are as you’d expect, options float around the corners of the screen, waiting to be clicked. Physical actions such as locking a door, opening a box or interacting with objects relies on stop motion and practical effects. The sensitivity of these interactions are based on how fast you swipe the controller, which was a really interesting visual and was nigh on flawless. I did however spot a single rogue fishing wire when opening the doll’s house – I guess we can expect to see that on an upcoming Buzzfeed article titled “You won’t BELIEVE these 25 movie mistakes!”.
The control scheme for Erica certainly isn’t what you’d expect. The first option is to use the Dualshock 4’s touchpad as a cursor, but swiping or hovering over the on-screen options feels awkward due to the location of the pad and the gestures required. It feels like an odd choice, particularly as there are two perfectly suitable analogue sticks, each offering a much wider range of motion. The other, frankly bewildering, choice is using your phone as a controller. Downloading the Erica For PS4 phone app turns your phone into the touchpad and since your mobile is engineered to be used one handed, it’s much more comfortable to use. Surprisingly, there’s no delays to your inputs, so if you have your phone to hand it’s certainly the preferred method we’d recommend. Just plug it in to charge because that link drains the battery.
It’s safe to say, with the deep story and brutal injury detail, Erica is more comparable with a horror film than a videogame. Unfortunately, the similarities also stretch to one of the more common issues with movies of this type, and men over 50 – a sagging middle section. Between an intriguing set up and the exhilarating finale, the middle portion is sadly forgettable. In fact, during the multiple playthroughs, I had trouble even remembering which options I had already explored. In reality this equates to around 15 minutes of the 90 minute run time so it’s hardly a dealbreaker, but it is something to be aware of.
The biggest challenge developers had with Erica is knitting a game with multiple pathways into one coherent story but for the most part, each action you’ll take throughout the game leads seamlessly into the next part of the plot. There’s the occasional scene that doesn’t quite flow, most memorably when Erica randomly wakes up in a garden. How you get there depends on your actions, but only one outcome really connected with the scene. Whilst few and far between, these moments can be jarring when you come across them and leave you scratching your head..
At 90 minutes long, Erica is a great interactive movie experience. Save for the few scenes that don’t gel together and the middle portion of the film, Erica is a fantastic experience that will have you gripped across multiple playthroughs. The cast, in particular Holly Earl as our lead Erica Mason, deliver top end performances throughout and the game doesn’t impose too many pointless decisions in order to constantly drive the story forward. All of this is even more impressive when you consider how many different twists and turns you can take with each playthrough. Erica gave me the satisfied movie-goer experience without the overpriced popcorn-beverage combo or the background chatter of other humans. What’s not to like?
* VGamingNews refuses to acknowledge the existence of redacted or redacted on account of them only working to diminish one of the greatest movies of all time