Erica is an interactive thriller for PS4, presented almost entirely in live-action. It’s an ambitious debut effort by Flavourworks, who wished to “merge the worlds of film and video games”.
Full motion videos (FMVs) aren’t an entirely new concept. Outside of gimmicky attempts in the 80s and 90s, notable recent FMVs include Telling Lies on PC, as well as Netflix’s Bandersnatch interactive movie. Even Bear Grylls has ventured into the format, with You Vs. Wild (best enjoyed on a wild Saturday with a drink in hand and friends shouting at you to pick the goddamn grapple hook option).
While not flawless, Erica is one FMV outing that transcends the fad and deserves at least a few hours of your time.
Thrills, chills and multiple endings
The titular Erica is one unlucky gal, haunted with nightmares after witnessing violent murders in her youth. Over Erica’s 90 minute runtime, you’ll guide her while she uncovers the mystery of her dark past as it spills over into her present. Cults, severed hands and suspicious characters abound.
You make choices as Erica via dialogue options, choosing which clues to inspect or rooms to enter. Would you like to pick up that mysterious phone call or follow the masked figures down the hall? Your choice, sir.
When you’re not making decisions for Erica, the game also requires you to actively undertake any and all interactions she has with physical objects. Opening drawers, lighting candles, turning book pages; Erica needs your help to do it all.
While the more banal activities quickly grow tiresome, generally the ongoing physical movements do lead to deeper emotional engagement. It’s one thing to watch a film heroine open a suspicious door in live-action, and quite another to slowly and deliberately open the door yourself.
Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch me
The player interacts with the world of Erica through the sensation of touch, using either the dualshock controller touchpad or the Erica “companion app” on Android or iOS.
I found the companion app to be superior, as it highlighted the parts of the screen that I could interact with. However, both the controller and app were clunky at times, so I often switched between them on the fly.
Due to a lack of quick-time events or button-mashing, Erica does lead to a certain laziness of movement. My warning to you, therefore, is to beware the careless finger sweep! Erica does not, I repeat, does not have a saved game function. Once you’ve made your choice, you’ll have to replay the entire game to change it.
A spooky slow burn
As a “film”, Erica boasts high production values, standing toe to toe with Hollywood thrillers. If it weren’t for having to manually input every 20 seconds, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a bona fide feature film. This includes the acting, with Holly Earl (from Skins fame) putting on a convincing show as Erica. Which is a relief, as the game spends 95% of the time staring at her wide-eyed reactions.
I’m not ashamed to say I consider jump-scares a cheap trick. Luckily for me, Erica contains zero jump scares. This might be a minus for those expecting the taut-wire panic of Heavy Rain or the horror of Until Dawn, but personally I enjoyed Erica’s slow burning creepiness.
Erica does suffer somewhat from hitting the same atmospheric chord throughout its runtime however (G minor, if I had to pick), with the pacing remaining very slow and the music sombre and until the very last few scenes. A minor gripe, but it did make the prospect of multiple playthroughs a less thrilling prospect.
We make our choices, then our choices make us
One of the main drawcards for Erica – heck, for most interactive storytelling – is the opportunity to affect the outcome of the game.
Many of the choices in Erica are but an illusion. As an example, many of the dialogue options are a variable on “Who are you” and “Why are you doing this,”, answers to which no one ever seems to give a straight answer to.
While the overarching story is relatively linear, your choices in Erica can lead to new scenes, building different relationships, and even whether certain characters live or die. And of course, the highly sought after multiple endings.
Did I genuinely want to play Erica more than once? No, mainly due to my spooky atmosphere fatigue as stated above. But I’m glad I did, because later playthroughs provided a fuller picture of the mystery.
Erica’s story triumphantly succeeds on a show-don’t-tell level, leaving the viewer to draw what conclusions they may about Erica as a reliable narrator. Players who want a “true ending” may be left frustrated however, as none of the endings appear to be the “correct” one, although some are certainly more preferable than others.
The future of interactive stories?
While no one will be singing of Erica from the hilltops, they will be complimenting it over the watercooler. The story is intriguing, its controls are innovative, and is on the whole a jolly good way to spend a few hours on a Friday night.
If you can’t decide whether you’re in the mood for a video game or a night at the movies, Erica provides an intriguing compromise.