Review: Datura [PS3]
Datura is certainly a unique exploratory experience, but if it’s worth playing proves to be a hard question to answer. Seemingly a mash up of an art-house film, a fancy screen-saver, and a side-project from the creators of Myst where they got their hands on a Move controller, Datura constantly refuses to be easily defined, throwing the review scale back in my face as I try to fit it into the nicely carved out genres that the gaming industry has created. The phrase ‘it’s more about the journey than the destination’ couldn’t be truer if it tried, and attempting to piece together the disparate self contained narrative elements makes thatgamecompany’s Journey look like a novel in comparison.
Datura can be played with a DualShock controller, though using a Move controller adds a huge amount to the experience. Datura also offers 3D support, but I was unable to experience this for the review.
So, what is Datura’s story about? Is it about escaping from human existence, asking questions about life, death, conscience and relationships? Unfortunately it’s up to you to decide, as unlike the usual beginning, middle and end that a cohesive narrative provides, it often leaves interpretation to the player. The experience for me lasted a short 60 minutes, but it did leave an impression, and even though there’s very little choice in how you progress through the game, it’s something that may want to revisit. The phrase ‘game’ in itself really doesn’t apply here either, and Datura proves to be more of an interactive adventure.
Following on from the introduction scene where you’re in the back of an ambulance, after a rather fitting quote from Dante’s Inferno, you’ll wake up in a misty forest, and it’s here that the core experience begins. The tutorial gives you the basics, and even though it may take a little while to get fully comfortable with the control scheme, on a second play through it really does feel very natural, due in part to the direct one-to-one interaction that the Move controller provides. However strange as it may seem, you control a disembodied floating hand, and it’s through manipulation of this that you interact, engage and ‘feel’ the environment around yourself.
Since the hand is tied directly to the Move, you can twist, turn, push, pull and stroke the world around you with pinpoint accuracy and smooth motions. The only core gameplay element that can be easily identified is the hand drawn map, which is revealed to you as you stroke the birch trees in the forest, described as gaining ‘spiritual knowledge’ of your surroundings. The environment itself is very self-contained however, so you won’t find yourself checking the map often. Each object that you interact with moves the narrative forward by providing a wide range of diverse gameplay experiences as you jump through space and time. Differing mechanics are at play, some requiring direct input and movement, where as others are simply just something to watch and experience. The variety is certainly interesting, ranging from driving a car to breaking through ice with an axe, from flying town a tunnel filled with flashing lights, to walking around a swimming pool. Some are more memorable than others, but they all somehow tie together, and I’m certainly intrigued if the developer will ever reveal the deeper meaning behind the title. There are some choices in these scenarios, but there was no apparent impact from these.
The game world is what stands Datura out from other downloadable titles. The sense of atmosphere, tied to music and sound effects add an eerie feeling to the forest that is full of leaves, mist, and strange objects. Flies, butterflies, bugs and other creatures scutter around as you wander by, and it’s only when you sit, watch and listen do you get the full feeling of what Datura represents to the player. Other little touches when you let your hand idle further add to this for example when flies land on your hand.
As much as the graphics and technology impress, there is definitely a break of immersion when it comes to the human characters in the game. Their stilted animations and often jolty movement seemed to break from the atmospheric forest in which they reside.
The physical nature of the game is integral to the gameplay in most aspects, and the small amount of ‘puzzles’ within use this to their advantage. The hand to which you control generally reacts very realistically to the environment, actually letting you touch and ‘feel’ your gameplay space with convincing movement and reactions from each individual finger. It’s hard to convey feeling in a game, and even though the move controller vibrates, this is the type of game that would benefit from true tactile feedback that this generation of consoles just can’t achieve.
The world of Datura is accompanied by a beautiful musical score, sweeping and soothing, and mixes a wide variety of styles, the old with the new. There is a certain pace to the title, and even though you are able to run and run up against the countless invisible walls in the confined gameplay space, it pays off to take your time and soak in the atmosphere, moving calmly through the environment.
For all that it’s worth, Datura is an experience that I would recommend to players who have a Playstation Move controller. The game is entirely playable with a DualShock, but it’s nowhere near as an immersive experience. The atmosphere is something that you won’t experience anywhere else, but the short playtime and disparate narrative elements may turn many gamers off. If you have some spare money in your Playstation wallet and are after something completely different, I’d recommend giving it a go, but judging it as compared to other titles on offer and as a full downloadable title is what it really comes down to. Datura is a hard game to define and boil down into a single number, but unfortunately that’s the nature of the beast.
“In the middle of our life’s walk I found myself in a dark wood for the straight road was lost” Dante Alighieri