Linger In Shadows (the first PlayStation 3 title by demoscene stalwarts, Plastic) refused to sit comfortably within any particular genre. Was it a game, an interactive video, a tech demo? The answer to these questions is still open to debate, but what is certain is that it served up a series of remarkably striking and imaginative visuals. From flying beagles, cloud-faced babies, floating plants, smirking cats, swarms of cubes and a swirling black cloud of nothingness (all surrounded by a grimly realised cityscape), Linger In Shadows was imaginative and astonishingly good looking, even if it did leave you floundering to grasp what on earth was going on. For the follow up – enigmatically titled Datura – the developers at Plastic have retained the head scratching weirdness, but also aim to demonstrate a new found love for traditionally more gamey mechanics.
Though it may be more game-like, Datura retains Plastic’s love of the experimental, and induces just as much head-scratching as its predecessor. Played entirely from the first-person perspective, it opts to utilise the PlayStation Move (though the DualShock 3 is also supported) to give you direct control over a disembodied, floating hand through which you can interact with the world and solve rudimentary puzzles within an eclectic and unpredictable series of locales.
Datura’s opening does an excellent job of grabbing your attention, immediately differentiating itself from standard fare. Staring down at your prostrate body, slumped on a stretcher in the back of a speeding ambulance, you gingerly remove a bed sheet and heart-monitors with a flick and a pinch of the PS Move before flat lining and witnessing a panicked nurse plunging a syringe into you chest. The screen fades to black and you awaken in a leaf-strewn forest….and are given a few moments to catch your breath.
This striking opening gets Datura off to a great start and bodes well for the experience to follow. It’s a shame then that ambition promptly gives way to a rather typical example of ‘Bog Standard Game Tutorial School of Game Design’. Press the Move button to walk forwards, you are told. Press Circle to walk backwards….pump the trigger to run. It’s as uninspiring as the opening is inspired and does much to break the sense of immersion that’s so important in an experiential-focused title such as this.
Thankfully, once this is out of the way and you’re free to concentrate on the world around you, Datura manages to create a wonderful sense of atmosphere through gorgeous, painterly visuals and ambient sound effects. The wind blows countless leaves through the mysterious wood that surrounds you and the crunch of your feet as you stroll helps to instil a real sense of solitude. Though the plodding pace of movement might be a touch slow for some, it definitely adds to the feeling of tension and encourages you to soak up the visual and aural feast that the game delivers.
We won’t delve too deeply into the other locations featured as to do so would ruin the surprises that lie in store, but that last paragraph should hopefully have given you some inkling that Datura’s presentation lives up to its demoscene heritage and evidences Plastic’s visual flair. Throughout its hour or so play time, your eyes are constantly treated to images that are at once technically impressive and thematically disorientating (in a good way!); there might not be any flying beagles this time around…but there’s plenty of other oddities jostling for your attention, and this makes – on a visual level at least – Datura one of the most unique gaming experiences you may have had for some time.
Sadly, although Datura’s visual and audio production shines, its gameplay is a mixed bag, rife with issues belying Plastic’s lack of experience in game-design proper. The biggest problem stems from its attempts to do so many different things with the PlayStation Move controller. One minute you’ll be rubbing trees with your disembodied hand, then grabbing at door handles, throwing balls, smashing glass, aiming guns or pulling ropes. When it works well, the illusion that your own hand is inside the game’s world is mightily impressive, but when things go wrong they often do so in spectacular fashion. The toss of a ball can be woefully unpredictable, the fingers of you virtual hand bend, contort and clip through scenery, movements aren’t recognised and simple puzzles can be rendered hugely frustrating. Though the Move controls work more often than not, the lack of consistency is a definite issue.
This very much makes Datura a game of two halves; on the one hand it’s imaginative, beautifully rendered, and strives for a rare degree of uniqueness. On the other, it’s an experience marred by mechanical shortcomings and over-ambition, with Move implementation that frustrates as much as it inspires awe. Taken as a whole however, Datura is worthy of your attention (especially given its low price) – there are plenty of genuinely surprising set pieces and the developers get the Move implementation right enough times to nudge the game towards the technical showcase they so obviously want it to be. There’s something endearing about titles that reach for the stars but ultimately fall short, and Datura is certainly endearing…even if it is rather clunky.
Datura was reviewed on the PS3; copy of the game provided by Sony.
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