If you’re looking for the perfect example of a fantastic, artistically charged idea marred by a less than reliable execution, here it is. Linger in Shadows developer Plastic has given us a surreal, mystical downloadable adventure that excels in the areas of creativity, imagination, and originality. You’ll often scratch your head and go, “ooookay, now what?” It’s an intriguing feeling, but it’s interrupted by periods of frustration due to wonky control.
The game really looks great for a digital offering. There’s a lot of subtle detail that adorns your mysterious environments, and you’ll appreciate the variety in the landscape. Although the adventure can be completed in under two hours, you do set eyes on a goodly number of interesting settings, and this keeps things fresh. Plus, the immersion level is always high, and this is due in no small part to the mystifying presentation. The graphics won’t bowl you over with extraordinarily sharp clarity and lifelike visuals, but the highly creative design should be appreciated.
This is mostly a quiet, almost soul-searching experience, so there isn’t a lot in the way of audio effects. Again, we’re looking at subtlety rather than epic, sweeping sound that rattles the speakers. You almost never hear your character (save a few cries and brief yells here and there), and your movement and puzzle-solving is often hushed and muted. The soundtrack is excellent, though, and doesn't try to hide behind the gameplay. At the same time, the music knows exactly when to swell and when to recede, so it’s very well done. It just isn’t overwhelmingly special.
At the start of Datura, you’re in an ambulance, but you don’t know why. With the EMT’s back turned, you remove the sheet that covers you, and the little nodes that might be keeping you alive. But you don’t know why. Then you wake up in a beautiful forest, filled with dead leaves, butterflies, and bizarre objects like a random pig, a statue, and a fountain that oozes green stuff. …but you don’t know why. If you haven’t guessed yet, you’ll spend most of your time in the dark, although this really is a big part of the game’s appeal.
You move about in a first-person view but the emphasis is always on exploring your surroundings and solving obscure puzzles. The game can be played with either the Dual Shock controller or the PlayStation Move, but here’s where things get iffy: The control just isn’t solid enough with either option; some things are better with Move, while others are easier with the standard gamepad. This is by far Datura’s biggest failing, and it doesn’t help that the simple task of walking and turning feels slow, arduous, and clunky.
Furthermore, there are various tasks that are just so obscure that you’re left wondering “why” rather than “how.” Butterflies may point you in the right direction and you’ll never be stumped for long, but the game is almost too abstract and mystical to be fully embraced. When you couple this with plenty of difficult controls – using a crowbar with the motion-sensing element of the Dual Shock is immensely frustrating – you get a somewhat disappointing technical layout. However, all this being said, the focus is clearly on the creative and the artistic.
If you can appreciate this, you’ll likely make an exception for those troublesome controls. Your progress can be captivating simply because you don’t really know what’s going on, and you’re consistently intrigued by what you face. The puzzles, albeit somewhat obscure and decidedly strange, are usually nicely implemented and when solved give you a significant feeling of satisfaction. True, the adventure is brief, but because your decisions really do have an impact, there’s plenty of incentive to go through it again. Hit the pig with the car…or not? Yeah, that type of weirdness.
Seeing only a disembodied hand when attempting actions can be disconcerting, but you get used to it. I also like the pacing, which – as I mentioned in the graphics breakdown – keeps everything feeling fresh, and you’re always interested in your tantalizing surroundings. “Where am I?” “What do I do now?” “What’s going on?” You won’t ask these questions in an annoyed tone; they will be uttered – perhaps silently – with a tone of awe and wonder. That’s the primary attraction, and it’s this reason that makes the game worth playing.
In this case, for the right person, the setting, style, and general sensation/immersion can override borderline poor mechanics. There’s no avoiding the fact that neither control option performs consistently well throughout, and that is a shame. But when you are enveloped in such a singular atmosphere, and you always feel compelled to soldier forth and learn more about your environment, you tend to ignore or at least overlook the inherent failings. After familiarizing myself with the game’s unfortunate eccentricities, I felt more fulfilled with every step I took.
Datura suffers from some obvious mechanical issues but remains a very interesting and even unique title. It’s short, a little too abstract in some ways, and a tad slow at times, but the quest itself, while not exactly memorable, is always intriguing and even oddly relaxing. For $9.99 ($7.99 for Plus members), it’s probably worth a look, provided you are drawn in by the compelling atmosphere.
The Good: Quite pretty for a digital title. Great music. Inventive, captivating adventure. Nice pacing. Well-implemented and accessible puzzles. Reason to play through again.
The Bad: Can be too obscure at times. Mechanical problems; neither Move or the Dual Shock works 100% correctly. Short, and it ends abruptly.
The Ugly: “I’m doing what the little icon is telling me…I think…what the hell…?
5/10/2012 Ben Dutka