Published on March 11th, 2012 | by Cameron Woolsey
GDC: Datura Hands-on Preview
Developer: Plastic Studios
Platform: PlayStation 3 (PlayStation Network)
Release Date: TBA
Adventure games are a pretty rare commodity these days. The genre that infatuated gamers in the ’90s has been all but forgotten in this modern age which consists more of shooting things than exploration and mystery. Polish developer Plastic Studios garnished a cult following when it released the demoscene project Linger in Shadows on the PlayStation Network. This summer, the company will release another PSN game which just might capture the attention of those who remember the games that offered worlds which took thought, and not a trigger finger, to conquer.
Linger in Shadows was a game designed to fully demonstrate the potential of Sony’s Sixaxis controller, by allowing players to change the perspective they had on the environment. Datura is the company’s next outing, which showcases the PlayStation Move controller by allowing players to touch and manipulate the game world.
Datura begins with the player riding in the back of an ambulance. Holding up the Move controller produces a disembodied hand which moves and twists according to how the controller is held. Holding the trigger allows you to move objects in the game, which, in this case, means the white sheets draped over the player’s body. Removing the heart rate monitor causes the jumpy nurse to panic, sending jolts through the player’s body using the defibrillator. As she slams a hypodermic needle–probably adrenaline–into the player’s chest, the screen flashes and the player is transported to a dream-like forest.
It should be noted that Datura can be played using a Sixaxis controller, but the producer standing by my side said the game is far better using the Move. It didn’t take long for me to realize why. The hand is more than just a novelty. The hand moves on a 1-to-1 basis and lets players reach into the game to manipulate objects instead of simply “clicking” at them. Only the Move Motion controller is needed, as all movements, such as turning, walking and running, are all assigned to the buttons.
White trees are scattered throughout the forest and reaching out and touching them opens up the map, which is drawn on a notepad that can be brought up by pressing a button. Like other objects, the map can viewed by holding it up. To get a closer look, players have to bring the Move controller closer to their faces much like anyone would with an actual map. A closer inspection reveals finer details such as the pencil markings and the texture of the paper. Moving the hand takes some getting used to. The first white tree I approached I got a little over eager and slammed the hand directly into it, violently bending the poor digits in painful looking directions. After my “Duh, tree. Ow!” experiment, I took a step back to feel it up more proper like. The fingers realistically moved to the tree’s bumps and crevasses, which gave an odd feeling of detachment.
Older players can quickly draw parallels to adventure games like Myst, where the player is encouraged to interact with the world in order to understand it. A quick look around in Datura‘s forest reveals object sticking out of the mist that are designed to draw the player’s attention. These are not simple items like rocks or whatnot, but items that, at first, seem to have no business even being there. One puzzle I ran across was an old carnival game complete with a BB gun to fire at cutouts of swimming ducks and a stack of cans that you can throw a ball at. Successfully doing both–and I mean successfully and not missing the cans over a dozen times like I did–will open the the door on the carnival game, which the players can now enter.
After completing that challenge I found myself whisked back to the “real world,” but this time something was off. I was in the back of a paddy wagon and a quick look to my left revealed that I was handcuffed to a police officer sitting next to me. This is usually the sign of a bad night or a really, really good one. Either way, I felt that it might be important to get away from the fuzz and continue on my mystical journey, or whatever the hell it is.
This wasn’t my only trip back from the forest, another puzzle solved put me in the seat of a car speeding down a road.
During the game the player will be presented with choices that will directly impact the game’s environment. I asked the producer if these were something akin to the morality choices which are featured in some games, and he told me no. The decisions players make are not good or bad choices, he told me, they are just choices. It didn’t take me long to realize what he meant. Certain moments in the game call for a quick decision, though the game does not make allusions to a moral choice. The scenarios appear quickly, and the choice is more likely made based on the player’s own personality, more than simply choosing the blue or red option.
In the few moments I witnessed, I had very little time to mull over which choice suited me the most. However, that doesn’t mean that there are no negative implications to these split-second choices. Choices will instantly impact the forest both aesthetically and musically. A more favorable outcome will, over time, cause the fog to lift, allowing more light to shine through. A negative outcome causes the forest to darken. Also changing to the player’s decisions is the music, which will change depending on the physical and emotional state of the world.
Datura is a beautiful game to behold, which is no surprise coming from the fine folks at Plastic who have already proven their artistic merit with Linger in Shadows. The forest feels mysterious and alive with leaves that seem to float in flutter in the air. Birds and other animals populate the forest as well as insects which fly about en masse.
The butterflies in the game’s logo have a reason for being there. At the start, both butterflies and larger black bugs are seen flying in the forest. However, the more favorable decisions the player makes, the more butterflies are seen instead of the darker beetles. In one scenario that involved a freestanding door, after a favorable decision was made hundreds of butterflies poured from the keyhole. I imaged that a different outcome would cause the other bugs to take flight instead.
When I first approached the Datura demo station I felt that a Move-only game would only be able to keep my attention for so long. After all, I’m not one of the proponents of motion controls, as most games tend to only use the controllers as gimmicky options. I spent around 20 minutes playing Datura, having to tear myself away while telling the producer that I couldn’t play anymore. Not because I wanted to stop, but because I didn’t want to spoil the experience further. From what I’ve played so far, Datura may be worth the wait.