I haven’t played a point and click game since my high school days playing flash games on Miniclip.com. They always felt a bit cheap, a bit easy to make since those ones were just a bit of dialogue interlaid with a couple interactables. For that reason, I stayed away from them. But, VirtuaVerse caught my eye, and I felt obliged to check this one out. I’m really glad I didn’t skip it either because it has probably one of the best stories and worlds that I’ve experienced in a game. And oh my god the music and art style, it’s fantastic. Plus, it’s a dystopian cyberpunk, which is a fantastic genre in and of itself.
I’ll try to explain the story without spoiling it. You play as Nathan, who wakes up to find his girlfriend, Jay, has left a note written in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. She says she’s had to leave quickly but doesn’t explain why. Struck with curiosity, Nathan knows he has to find out why she’s left all of a sudden. After weaving through the city’s back alleys, digging up information about who Jay really is, and learning about the digital realm of the city and its tech-obsessed citizens, Nathan soon realizes that his once peaceful existence is not all as it seems. I can’t go much further than that without spoiling it, but that’s it in essence. There’s plenty of opportunities to learn about the VirtuaVerse world, and it’s worth doing so. It’s hard to make a pixel-art point and click title feel like the world it’s set in is alive and kicking, but the developer, Theta Division, absolutely accomplished that. The story and the detailed world are probably the best parts of this title, and I couldn’t do them justice if I tried to hype them up. This was easily the thing that kept me hooked since every level leaves you with more questions, and the desire to learn more about the world. Honestly, the best follow up to this game would be to have its own novel.
You’re probably thinking that the gameplay is dull, that for a point and click game that’s all I’ll be doing. Except, you’d be wrong. The devs interlace the gameplay with a high level of analytical thinking. You won’t be simply pointing and clicking, and it’s not as simple as always combining two objects together to make something. Most of the time, you’ll be acquiring items and then utilising them in certain ways to complete your task, or switching between your normal reality or your Augmented Virtual Reality glasses (AVR) to see how differently the world looks and how it can be interacted with. (Minor spoilers ahead) Take when you’ll have to find a way to repair your AVR glasses. A bouncer stands guard in your way. After interacting with him you’ll learn he’s hungry, so you deliver him a pizza (which will get him fired, sorry buddy). The tech dealer inside will tell you what you need to repair it, so you’ll head to the AVR dealer (he sells alternate reality cartridges that give the user lucid dreamscapes). He’ll tell you he needs boosters (AKA drugs), and the only one who sells them is the drug dealer. You’ll then talk to him, and he’ll mention he’s a devoted husband. Of course, he definitely isn’t, so you’ll then interact with a smart display on the street, pretend to be a female, message him, acquire blackmail, print it, and then show him the transcript of your dealings. He’ll say he’ll sell you the boosters, so you purchase them and give them to the AVR dealer. The AVR dealer will then sell you a high-end AVR cartridge. Then, after entering the level’s restaurant and spiking a customer’s food with spice (after interacting with him you’ll learn he hates spice), his food will be thrown in the dumpster behind the building. A homeless man will dive into the dumpster, you drop the cartridge on his stack, he’ll return to his AVR dreamscapes, and once he’s out you can acquire one part needed to repair your AVR glasses. I know, all of that just for a single part. And trust me these moments happen a LOT. I won’t lie, I did have to rely on a guide for more than a couple times.
Alongside its high challenge level, it also provides you with a ton of content. And I really mean that. There’s so much dialogue, so many characters to interact with, and so many levels. There are no waypoints, just a small, wrist-mounted digital journal to keep track of what you’ve completed. Of course, with so much information provided to the player, you’ll need to sift through it all until you find what’s necessary. That’s not necessarily a bad thing unless you don’t have the patience to read a lot. Plus, if it’s not important to the task, it’s either for world-building or character development. That’s a really good thing since you’ll feel quickly immersed in the VirtuaVerse world. Really, I can’t emphasise enough how fantastic and fleshed out the writing is. When the urge to skipping dialogue hit me, I immediately felt compelled to sit and read everything. I felt like I would miss out on the bigger picture, and that feeling is no small feat to achieve.
The art style is a treat for the eyes. I’m not always for pixel art, but this one struck me. It’s beautiful, especially the levels set in the main city. The detailed use of neon lighting, Japanese characters, and using a blue-purple color scheme enhances the cyberpunk look. Of course, that’s the look that a lot of cyberpunk games use, but in this one, it’s more vivid and beautiful than it is a recycled look of the genre. Each level has a specific style, be it a digital city in the jungle, or electronic dump in the desert, and it always enhanced the level’s tone that was set out to be achieved. The jungle level, Nuwaka, felt freeing, whereas the desert level, Jakharrak, felt harsh, and the main city felt grungy and dirty. Never did the style feel out of place. I probably took more screenshots during this one than I did during playthroughs of Uncharted and Tomb Raider combined.
Normally I wouldn’t include a paragraph on a game’s OST. But, I will make an exception for this one, solely because of how beautiful it sounds, especially in its 8-bit retro style. The producers of the soundtrack, Master Boot Record, easily made the perfect soundtrack that could have been designed for the game. Every track works wonderfully in conjunction with its respective levels. Take the Nuwaka level, where its synthy beats and jungle-inspired sounds melded perfectly to fit with the cybercity-in-a-jungle tone. Plus, the OST is perfect on its own, and I without a doubt will be listening to those tracks in my daily life. The reality of it is if the idea of a well-crafted story and a detailed world doesn’t hook you, then I implore you to listen to Mag Police or AVR Graffiti Writers, and you might change your mind.
There’s only one real issue I have with an otherwise polished title like VirtuaVerse. Like I’ve stated in this review before, using a guide felt like a necessity in some parts. Of course, it’s a really subjective issue, and it comes down to preference. While I do love the level of critical thinking that’s necessary, I also think that the title could use a revamped journal system. The current one keeps track of what you’ve completed in a couple of sentences that are written through the mind of the player character, but I felt that it only served as a way of remembering what you did last in case you quit the game and came back to it at some point.
VirtuaVerse is a masterful point and click adventure, and uses elements of the cyberpunk genre perfectly. It can be done in a single sitting, but for the cost of $15, you can have a well-crafted, polished title with an amazing soundtrack, beautiful visuals, and fantastic story. It’s on the hard side though since the journal system doesn’t assist with helping the player go forward in their adventure; rather, it helps if you were to revisit the title after some time and needed a quick reminder. Otherwise, it’s worth every penny.