FMV or Full Motion Video games have had a really rocky reputation throughout gaming’s history. Most have been these gaudy attempts at making a movie interactable and most never moved past sleazy Z-movie production and just terrible execution. It’s tough to seamlessly meld two genres together like that and even though they have tried since the 90s, FMV games just never really took off.
Erica then shows up, completely out of nowhere I will add, and tries to show us that no, FMV games are not dead. All they really needed was a budget, solid premise and interesting interactability. The game sends us careening down complex branching paths with its focus on choice and with every playthrough of the game, you unlock more of its bounty of secrets. But how does it all stack up and can we confidently say that FMV games still have a place within modern gaming? Let’s find that out, shall we?
Erica puts you in the shoes of, surprise, Erica. Erica Mason is her full name and she’s a great big bundle of mystery. The game starts us off with a flashback into her past and you can already tell that there’s a lot beneath the surface here. When Erica was a little girl, her father tells her that she’s magic and that she has some kind of destiny right before he gets murdered and has a symbol carved into his chest. It’s quite the opening, but it sets us up incredibly well for the mystery that needs to be unravelled throughout Erica’s adventure.
The story is difficult to talk about for a variety of reason. Firstly, you can’t really talk about it without spoiling it instantly and secondly, there’s no way of knowing how the story goes since you’ll be making a lot of Erica’s decisions that will drastically affect the world around her. Choice is definitely not an illusion in this game and you will find yourselves tumbling down so many rabbit holes as you make your decisions.
Erica can be accurately compared to some of Quantic Dream’s offerings where you’re allowed to make choices that will influence your fellow characters and ultimately the ending you get when all is said and done. You can play the game with a DualShock controller or your phone which allows you to pick options and interact with objects using touch controls. It’s not as explosive as Quantic Dream’s games and you won’t find much in the way of button-mashing combat or cumbersome quick time events. You do get limited time to make your choices, but the timers are relatively merciful and the options succinct enough for you to know what you’re choosing.
Red pill or blue pill?
The little interactions you do with the environment are pretty novel. You do simple things such as opening cabinets and doors, flipping open your lighter or unwrapping presents using intuitive touch controls. These little sequences blend seamlessly with the FMV visuals you see as well and it’s quite the impressive feat when you see it all in motion. But ultimately any “gameplay” you might find is pretty shallow and simple, but that’s not really what the game went for.
The shots are beautifully done with some really impressive filmmaking.
Instead, the focus is put squarely on your choices. A lot of these choices have a huge influence on where the story is going and everything can change at specific intervals. It’s pretty impressive how expansive the game is once you zoom out and see all the different outcomes you can possibly come to and how that one little choice you made early in the game had drastic ramifications.
This made the game extremely compelling since it really felt like you’re crafting your own unique story from the start. Will you stick to morals or let everything go to chaos? Will you confront your demons or run away from them? It’s all weaved into this liquid narrative that can change its form instantly based on what path you choose to go down and it keeps you hooked since you want to see the outcome of what you chose as well as trying to unravel this grand conspiracy that Erica stumbled into.
Erica is essentially a two-hour long movie with choices thrown in, so a lot of attention is placed on cinematography. How the shots are constructed, the pacing of particular moments and character interactions are all really important in a game that is entirely FMV. Thankfully, everything is sublime. The shots are beautifully done with some really impressive filmmaking, gorgeous sets filled with colour and personality and fascinating characters that all perform to their fullest potential.
Erica’s actress, Holly Earl, did an excellent job with the character, giving her some real personality and her role is extremely divergent because of the nature of the game. In just one scene, Erica can be a scared and confused girl, a cold-blooded murder or a badass action star depending on your choices and Holly manages to nail it no matter what.
Going through the game again can wield a wildly different outcome and even tone, so the replayability factor is extremely strong.
The other characters you’ll run into are rather diverse and interesting, but a lot of them only appear for short intervals and before you can really get a feel for them, they’re out of the picture. That’s the nature of the game with the plethora of choices you’re given, but during my first playthrough I found it rather difficult to remember who these characters are since a lot of them don’t really get the set up and payoff they require to become memorable. The only way to really get to know these characters is to play through the game multiple times, but in an isolated playthrough, you’ll find a lot lacking with the character development.
Erica is a relatively short experience, taking about two hours for a full run of the game, but this is how it was constructed. The game is meant to be played multiple times and you can involve other people in the experience if you have friends or family members around. Your first run can almost be seen as an appetiser since a lot of mysteries will be left unsolved because of the choices you have to make. Going through the game again can wield a wildly different outcome and even tone, so the replayability factor is extremely strong.
It looks like real life!
As an overall experience, Erica was rather compelling, but each playthrough felt lacking in one way or the other. Because of the labyrinth of potential paths, each playthrough will have its own strengths and weaknesses holding it back. The FMV style is wonderfully done and I’d even dare to say it’s one of the best FMV games we’ve ever received and it’s certainly the most beautifully shot. It’s on par with some of the best TV shows out there and for a game that’s accessible to damn near anyone, Erica can be a very worthy game to fire up and enjoy an evening of entertainment with some friends or family.
Erica is extremely unique in its presentation and shows us that FMV games don’t have to be gaudy B-tier messes. With some intuitive design, accessible touch controls and true player choice, it’s one compelling little experiment that combines two wildly different mediums into something that isn’t a monstrosity. For its price, it’s definitely something to consider if you’re looking for some frictionless narrative entertainment.