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Erica Review

FMV (Full-Motion Video) games were a much bigger deal back in the 90’s than they are today. Using live actors, as opposed to polygonal characters, were quite the rage. But as graphics got better, and people were put off by the cheesiness, they eventually died out.

For some strange reason they’re trickling back, with recent releases such as Her Story and Late Shift, now comes the FMV thriller Erica- a story about a young woman who is being tormented by a psychopath and takes refuge at a mental hospital called Delphi House.

Delphi House just happens to be the place where her parents met, and Erica has life-long ties to the hospital. But not is all as it seems, as Delphi House contains dark secrets of its own, and Erica is driven to discover them, as well as deal with the psychopath on her tail.

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Erica’s Interactivity

Being in the form of a movie, there’s very little in the way of interaction and controls. The game heavily emphasises the use of your smart phone along with the partner app when you first start playing, but you can also use the touch pad on your PS4 controller, which is what I decided to use.

It’s funny that after all these years, there’s finally a game that actually uses the touch pad feature! There may be more games out there that use it, but I don’t think I’ve played a single one. So basically the way the game is played is by swiping the phone screen or touch pad to match the prompts on screen. If there are certain spots to search, you can slide the cursor to those spots. Also whenever you’re having conversations, you again slide your finger to the response or question you want.

So this is essentially how the whole game is interacted with, as you never need to use the directional pads, face buttons, or analogue sticks. I do think this way of interacting wasn’t exactly necessary, as using normal controller buttons would have been just fine, but I suppose they REALLY wanted you to use your phone in this game.

80

Erica’s Storytelling

Now I did give a brief overview of the story earlier, so I can’t really say any more for spoiler reasons, but I most certainly can talk about this game’s storytelling. Being a game that’s essentially an interactive movie, the story and storytelling need to be the game’s main strength because it doesn’t have the gameplay to fall back on.

At the start of the game, you’re told that you cannot experience the whole story in one playthrough, as multiple are required for the different perspectives of the story. This is obviously great for replay value, as there are different scenes to watch, different characters to get to know, and of course multiple endings.

Thinking about all this, it has a lot going for it, but unfortunately it just didn’t work well. It feels like there is a 4-5 hour story happening here, but one playthrough will only take about 2 hours (usually less). So having what should have been a longer story is essentially cramed into such a short space of time. As a result, the story feels rushed. Each scene you play through just ends too quickly, and the story fails to build any kind of momentum.

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For a game that is supposed to be a thriller, and about unravelling a mystery, it’s important for the story to be paced well enough to build that suspense and intrigue. This is where Erica fails pretty bad, because whenever any kind of big twist or reveal occurred, I personally just felt nothing. I know the feeling of a good twist, but I never once really felt that here. Even the scenes that were supposed to be filled with tension didn’t have any impact because the storytelling just did a poor job of escalating it. All these criticisms stem back to the game simply being too short and the twists and tension didn’t get enough time to actually build.

I felt the story itself had potential to be great, but after playing it through 6 whole times, it never reached the highs it could have. After my very first playthrough, I felt underwhelmed, but I remembered that multiple playthroughs were needed to get the full story. The problem is, I didn’t really learn a whole lot from doing that. Making different choices gave you different scenes and outcomes, but the story still lacked a lot of detail regardless of what you chose.

The story itself just felt unoriginal and half-baked. It just didn’t make me care as much as I wanted to. Most of the endings are determined by your choices at the very end, rather than choices you make throughout the game. It made it all just feel meaningless.

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Erica’s Characters

So the story and storytelling were let downs, but what about the characters? Unfortunately it’s not much better. Most of the characters just feel wooden and cold as I just didn’t care about any of them. I think that has to do with the pacing issues I mentioned before. The game simply doesn’t give you enough time to care about them or get to know them.

There were a few characters I feel could have been real standouts, and based on your choices, you do get access with extra scenes with them. But even with these extra scenes, you still don’t get to know them any better. Again, if the game was 4-5 hours long, it could have given time for each character to shine a little brighter. 

Even the game’s titular character, Erica, is quite forgettable. I know she’s meant to play the part of a scared young woman, with all that’s going on around her, but she literally has one expression the entire game! To make things even worse, she barely speaks and doesn’t show much emotion, except fear of course, but it’s hardly convincing.

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Review Summary

So for a game where storyline, storytelling, and characters are all this genre can really focus on, Erica doesn’t do a great job in regards to any of them. The story is unoriginal, the storytelling is rushed and fails to build properly, and the characters are mostly uninteresting and wooden.

I do think if this game’s length was a couple hours longer, it would have given it time for all everything to develop properly. But when you cram it into such a short time frame, it can’t possibly be as effective as it should be.

At least the game does have replay value and there are plenty of choices to make to see where things could lead. There are multiple endings, but ultimately, all the choices and ending just feel a little hollow. There was definitely potential there and I hope future FMV games can learn from Erica’s mistakes to eventually bring the genre back to mainstream, just like in the past.

Score: 6/10

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