App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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Flavourworks's Erica is not a very good video game. It's messy, poorly paced, and sprinkles trivial moments of interactivity across its bizarre grab-bag of boilerplate thriller tropes. There is no argument anyone can make that absolves or excuses all of the missteps Erica makes in both design and execution. Despite all of this, I actually enjoyed it. Experiencing a creation that seems to have gotten away from its creators makes for its own kind of fun, even if that's not exactly its intended purpose.
Full motion mystery
Erica is an FMV game, meaning it's a game designed around video clips of performers acting out the events of the game, which you have limited control over influencing across the experience. The story here starts with our eponymous protagonist and her mysterious upbringing, but quickly evolves into a full-blown thriller of murder, conspiracy, and otherworldly intrigue.
At various points in the game, you have to make decisions for Erica, whether that's how she responds to a question, or what to do next in a moment of action. There are also a ton of sequences where Erica is turning a doorknob, brushing aside a curtain, or some other straightforward action where the game halts everything just to make you swipe or tap appropriately to keep things moving forward.
As with most games in this genre, the details of the story and uncovering them for yourself is the bulk of the fun. Without giving too much away, though, the narrative ends up centering on Delphi House, a mental institution for young girls that Erica's father helped build, and this setting leads to pretty unsurprisingly problematic territory.
It's hard to expect Flavourworks to portray issues of mental health appropriately though considering how it seems that every moment of playing Erica is surprisingly poorly handled. The video clips themselves play just fine, but the jumps between many scenes feels rushed and confusing. Add to this the fact that the game never remembers the settings you've applied, has zero checkpoint indicators, and sometimes full-on stops the action to download additional data, and there's almost no moment where Erica feels like its considering the user experience when playing it.
A fascinating experiment
To be clear, Erica isn't like other FMV games that can be enjoyable thanks to laughably bad acting or enough campy storytelling. If anything, it's shocking how committed the actors are to bringing the game's story to life. It's just... what they do, their motivations, and how it's all justified is done so haphazardly and relies so much on unearned implications that you always feel like you've missed something or that the game simply doesn't care about you as a player.
It is precisely this harsh treatment that I found so oddly compelling about Erica. The combination of problems here doesn't just feel like poor execution, or that the game is fighting you. It's just apathetic to your experience. You have to keep up and fill in gaps yourself. You have to turn subtitles every time you want them. And, of course, you have to figure out what all of the nonsensical storytelling actually means.
The bottom line
Don't pick up Erica if you're looking for a fun romp of an FMV game. Both tonally and in overall design, it is pretty dark and inscrutable. If you're looking for something different--or more specifically a game that is unwilling to pander to the player in the slightest--though, Erica truly does fit that bill.