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Erica- A self-restrictive game if ever there was one

Content of the article: "Erica- A self-restrictive game if ever there was one"

As someone who is a fan of “choose your own adventure” interactive-adventure games, playing Erica for free on Playstation Plus felt like a natural decision for me. Going into this game I had virtually no expectations, but the one thing I had heard about it was that it’s comparable to Netflix’s Bandersnatch. I was curious about that comparison- after all, Bandersnatch truly felt like an interactive movie, whereas Erica is technically a video game and therefore could lean into a Telltale/David Cage direction. But after finishing this short (hour-and-a-half) game, that analogy to Bandersnatch feels completely appropriate for both good and ill.

If you’re unfamiliar with this little game, the idea is you swipe the touch pad to make decisions or interact with the world, all of which leads to multiple possible endings. The gimmick is that the non-gameplay segments feature real people in real scenarios, movie-style. On one hand, this made an incredible impression on me. The fact that it’s a genuine video game, not “merely” a Netflix movie, made the real-life segments (which is the majority of the game) especially cool. What works in selling this is that the gameplay segments are animated and presented extremely well, so the cutting back and forth is barely noticeable. Only those trying to study the moments of interactivity with a keen eye will be able to discern their uncanny valley nature.

On the other hand, the longer it goes on, Erica increasingly feels like a curious experiment instead of a true gaming experience. I tested out several drastically different decisions on a second playthrough, most of which somehow led to the same outcomes. Obviously there are several unique endings, but small and big decisions alike often felt like they were being forced to get back on-track by the developers. It effectively makes Erica feel like a Telltale game; the freedom of choice is simply an illusion, unlike the genre’s best such as Until Dawn and Detroit Become Human. In my view, this problem was clearly exacerbated by the implementation of the real-life footage; obviously the developers could only work with what they shot, so the story’s flexibility is limited.

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Maybe it’s a matter of expectations, but I can forgive something like Bandersnatch having poor storytelling decisions (like forcing you to restart a scene because it didn’t like you making a choice it willingly gave you) because it was clearly displaying itself as a novel oddity for casual, non-gamer audiences. Erica, on the other hand, presents the interactive freedom of a video game but doesn’t quite deliver. It makes the game feel like it over-estimated the value of the live-action scenes, using them as a crutch instead of a took to tell an awesome story. It’s especially glaring that, after two playthroughs that were as different as I could make them, there are still so many questions I have that feel more like plot holes and oversights than moments I simply haven’t explored, i.e. Erica waking up with a bruise for seemingly no reason, or whether or not Green is a split personality or merely a figment of her imagination.

To end this review on a more positive note, most of the actors are decent and the actress who plays Erica herself is particularly compelling and emotive despite a limiting role. Anyway, there’s barely any discussion of this game online (including no official subreddit and a joke of a Wikipedia page), so what did you all think of it?


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