What with all the huge releases at Paris Games Week – with The Last of Us 2 being a highlight – you’d be forgiven for not noticing Flavourworks’ upcoming live-action mystery/thriller title, Erica.
Very little has been divulged about the plot so far, but players will assume the role of the titular Erica. A sparse amount is known about her as a person, but the gist is that she’s suffered a childhood trauma, which has now returned in the form of an estranged family member giving her a call. Apparently, Erica’s memories hold the key to finding a killer who is currently on the loose, and she’s effectively stuck helping voices down the end of the phone.
Things get messy, however, when the killer starts contacting Erica. Lines become blurred, and soon you’ll be making choices that hugely impact the direction of the narrative.
Of course, games with a strong narrative focus aren’t new; particularly not in the modern age of Telltale and David Cage. What makes Erica different is that the entire experience plays out in live-action, akin to a Hollywood film. Sure, the likes of 1992’s Night Trap used full-motion video to convey their story, but Erica brings with it the production values and cinematography that could rival the even the best blockbuster movies.
It manages to showcase these cinematography tricks in the short demo shown by manipulating things like depth of field; in one scene, a phone box sits at the far end of a long street, with Erica herself stood in the foreground. By moving the game’s minimalist cursor down the road, the focus of the shot naturally changes as much as the player wants it to. You really feel a part of the world.
We got the chance to sit down with the game’s creative director, Jack Attridge, and he pushed the idea that Erica was all about accessibility. While the game can be played conventionally via a Dualshock 4, it seemed only right to play it with PS4’s new ‘Playlink’ technology; the tech used by the recent That’s You, which turns your phone into a controller.
By using this method of play, you can precisely control the action and have a much deeper connection to the events on-screen. The demo began, for example, with a lighter being flicked open. This was accomplished by flicking across a phone screen, but you could also gently slide your finger to open the lighter manually. It was even possible to let go and see the lighter’s cover fall realistically back into place. Many of the game’s key items have physics that allow for way more immersion than has been previously possible, and while all this talk of a lighter might seem gratuitous, it’s these small details which help build a world in which the player feels intrinsic. This isn’t a cardboard backdrop, lacking any kind of depth; Erica’s universe feels like one of purpose and consequence.
There’s currently no release date tied to the game, but I’d definitely say it’s one to look out for. It’s the first instance of a game I’ve seen that seamlessly blends the worlds of gaming and movies in a perfectly natural way, and feels like a true evolution of what it means to tell stories through the medium. Couple this with the intuitive and original manner of control, and you’ve got yourself a real sleeper hit on your hands. The only point of contention may be the price tag; this is also unknown, but Jack alluded to the idea that the length of the whole experience would be similar to that of a feature film. The replayability acquired through branching choices, though, could mean that Erica would be well worth multiple playthroughs.
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