As games grow as a medium, more niche genres gradually become mainstream. FMV titles, bolstered by the nostalgic resurgence of games like Night Trap and indie successes like Her Story, become more prominent and titles like Hidden Agenda are marketed as a way to get people who might not normally play engaged in an interactive story packed with quick time events. Erica, Sony’s latest adventure from Flavourworks, taps into both of these as a surprise gamescom 2019 drop, taking people on a brief thriller that looks at a few harrowing days in the life of a woman who has experienced multiple tragedies.
You Shouldn’t Go Home Again
Erica has had a rough life. The game begins with her father and her playing a rather suspicious game. He seems to suggest she has some sort of extraordinary abilities she inherited from her deceased mother, then has her “prove” it by playing a game involving photos of her mother while an eerie pink lamp glows nearby. Shortly after this test, the results of which can vary depending on your decisions, tragedy strikes. Erica walks into a room and finds her father murdered, with a strange symbol carved into his chest. When she turns, she sees the person who killed him in the doorway, aiming a gun at her.
Flash forward to the future, and Erica is a woman of an indiscriminate age that is haunted. She draws things she remembers about her time in Delphi House, her mother, and her father’s murder. Her apartment is in a bad neighborhood, with a suspicious neighbor across the hall. Naturally, this is the perfect time for her to receive a human hand in the mail with an odd medallion and the same marking carved into it. When police arrive, the officer in charge of the case immediately decrees that the safest place for her is Delphi House, the institute her father helped found, the place where her mother worked and died, and where Erica went through what, until the events of this game, was likely the worst day of her life.
While Sergeant Blake might be convinced this is a safe place for Erica, it is putting her exactly where all sorts of forces want her to be. Given everything that has happened, she has no idea about the truth about herself, her family, her father’s murder, and everything around her. It is up to players to keep her alive and hopefully discover some of the things going on.
Can You Really Trust Anyone?
Erica is a brief adventure which, frankly, is more than suitable. It never wears out its welcome, letting you quickly spend about two hours or so on a run. Which is perfect, because there are so many options that take people down many, many possible paths. It all comes down to how much you share with people, the mindset you decide Erica will have, who she will trust, and how many risks you might decide to take. My first run was probably an “ideal” sort of ending, as I saw revelations about Erica and her family, learned about some of the young women at the institute, and had a general idea of what was going on. However, a second run involved trusting people I was skeptical of before, getting a different take on the situation in the process.
The fact that it is well-acted helps. Holly Earl is great as the perpetually wide-eyed Erica. (Even before she received the horrible package, I wanted to just give her some cookies, hand her a soft blanket, and tell her to take a day for herself.) Terence Maynard is also good as Lucien Flowers, perpetuating an aura that leaves you constantly wondering if you can or can’t trust him. Also, Chelsea Edge, Sasha Frost, and Elaine Fellows, who play the other young women at Delphi House, do a wonderful job portraying people in what is an increasingly uncomfortable situation.
Erica is great at setting up ambiance. The use of azaleas, butterflies, and certain colors is very evocative. If you get Erica into a situation where she’s under some sort of influence, the way it is reflected in the cinematography is perfect at making things more and more unsettling. Transitions between things that are normal and those that could be otherworldly or suspicious are handled well too. It sets the stage well, so even a segment that is especially stark and has a chance to pull you out of the immersion, such as an encounter with a certain animal, isn’t too distracting.
Don’t Forget to Grab Your Phone
Given this is an FMV adventure, there is almost an overzealous need for interactivity. Any possible action that could prompt the player to drag, pull, swipe, or tap on the controller of choice is taken. While this is fine for dialogue choices, exploration, and some movement segments, we don’t need to be tapping on piano keys or unwrapping everything. It breaks the immersion.
Fortunately, none of these actions are overly intricate and, in my two playthroughs, I only had about four situations where I felt like I needed to hurry up and move quickly to accomplish goals in the heat of the moment. Also, none are overly complicated. I only had one instance where it didn’t register my action properly. (I made the motion to leave on a DualShock 4 touchpad, but Erica decided I had chosen to try and turn a key in a lock instead.)
However, Erica is a game where one control scheme is optimal, and it isn’t the default one most PlayStation 4 owners would turn to. You either have to only use the DualShock 4 touchpad or download the Erica Android or Apple iOS app to play the game. The former doesn’t even feel like an option, given the space you need for actions like pulling open fabric or turning keys. If you don’t have a mobile device capable of using the free complementary app, you aren’t going to have as enjoyable a time.
Try and Make Time to Meet Erica
Erica isn’t exactly ambitious when it comes to FMV or adventure games. But it doesn’t have to be. It is a succinct experience with lots of different choices that change the story and lead to different sorts of outcomes. It is well performed has good transitions, and there are no overly-complicated inputs. That it basically requires you to get an outside app and use your phone and goes a little overboard with quick time events is a bit of an annoyance. But, it has an interesting story to tell about a woman who has been through terrible things and finally has a chance at answers and, if you are smart, a happy ending.
Erica review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4 console. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.