The conversation of “Games as Art” is a topic that some people take a firm stance on. Some believe that games cannot be art and should not be treated as such, while others think that every component of the game is part of some deep, artistic creation. Like politics, I try to not to take sides outright, but like to stand in the middle and hear everyone’s point of view. I don’t lean any one way on this issue, I think there is an outlet for Art Games (Flower, Journey) and straight up video games (Gears of War, Saints Row: The Third). If I want one or the other, I can look in the appropriate spot.
Plastic, the development team behind Datura, is one of those companies that firmly believes in the art side of things. Their games are outlets for creativity and are heavy with subtext that takes a little more “reading into” than most titles. Plastic developed Linger in Shadows back in 2008 and it was mostly an interactive cutscene or a movable piece of artwork. I loved it because it was different and it was aesthetically pleasing. It is not for everybody but if you have an appreciation for art and need a break from killing hoards of creatures, it is something special.
So, now we have Plastic’s second title, Datura which is only available on PSN, just like Linger in Shadows is. For your information, Datura is a type of flower that is both poisonous and hallucinogenic. If you buy the game, just remember that little bit of information.
Plot: Datura starts you off in the back of an ambulance with no information as to why you are there. You begin your journey by pulling the wires off your chest in a moment of panic. The nurse, who is in there with you, thinks you are dying and stabs you with a syringe (of adrenaline, I assume). You pass out and awaken in a forest that has a collection of surreal things in it that are somehow connected to your subconscious. You now have to find your way out of the forest and settle the ghosts of your past.
Gameplay: Now, the big thing that sets Datura from Plastic’s last effort is that Datura is more of a “game.” By “game,” I mean that you can walk around the environment, interact with objects, and solve puzzles. Linger in Shadows featured none of this, and maybe that’s why they decided to make more of a video game this time around. Like thatgamecompany did with Journey, I assume they wanted to hit a larger audience while still keeping their own, unique style. It’s still a piece of art that you interact with, there is just more to do and accomplish.
The game is sponsored as a Move title for the PS3 but you can still use your controller to play the game. I don’t have a Move set, so I just used my DuelShock 3, which may be the least functional option of the two. In Datura, you walk and look around in the first person using the controller but when you interact with objects, you have to use motion controls. So, one part has you driving and in order to steer, you need to tilt the controller left and right to stay on the road. To open doors, you have to turn the controller all the way around to make a full rotation, stuff like that. Unfortunately, probably due to the fact that I did not use a Move controller, there were some extremely frustrating moments. There is one scene involving a crowbar that had me yelling at my T.V., but luckily those awful moments are very rare.
As you complete, from what I can tell, the game’s distorted memory sequences, your choices in them affect the game. The little choices, ones you had no idea would affect anything can completely change the outcome. This adds to the replay value and it can change the way you view the game. I had to go back and try out other options just to see how it affected the forest, and I was pretty surprised by what happened.
What I really loved about this (sort-of) mechanically broken game was the sense of living in a person’s dream-hell. Surrealism plays a role in Datura and someone like Dali would be very happy to see something like this available for the mass market. Reality is far removed for this character and whatever hell they are in, is an attempt to redeem their past “sins.” The game starts off with a quote from Dante’s Inferno (the poem, not the mediocre game), which should set the player up for a trip through the worst part of their imagination, only to have some redemption, hopefully, at the end.
Final Thoughts: It’s hard to recommend this game to everyone because like The Walking Dead video game, it will appeal to only those who prefer or like a different take on video games. It’s not about shooting or blowing stuff up; it’s about narrative and visuals. Datura costs $9.99 on PSN and you have to understand that you are, ostensibly, paying for a piece of art. If you are adventurous in your gaming and want to experience something new, Datura is for you. I didn’t really know what to say about this game because like Journey, it’s very short and there is too much that one can give away when talking about it. I just urge you to try it out if you can afford it and get back to me with what you think about the title.
Overall: 4/5 – Datura may be a bit broken with its mechanics, but an interesting artsy/surreal presentation makes this an experience that will definitely stick with you for days.