I
feel compelled to start this by telling you to ignore the score that
you see above this text. Games like Datura
are the reason that most critics hate assigning a qualitative value to
their reviews. This PSN exclusive offers a flawed experience that is
far too nuanced to be shoehorned into a rigid scoring system of
numbers, letters, thumbs, or passionate adjectives.

On a rudimentary level, Datura
can be crudely described as a Myst-like
exploration title with a heavy emphasis placed on motion controls. But
this terrible Hollywood elevator pitch can’t possibly do the game’s
successes and flaws justice — Datura is a strange, wild beast. It
often buckles under the reach of its mechanics while simultaneously
delivering immersive moments like no other game has ever done. It’s a
binary, frustrating experience, yet despite this, the game manages to
provide enough enthralling moments to keep you powering through to the
end.

datura

After a quick scene that places
you in the back of an ambulance and prompts you to remove your
restraints, you’re whisked away to a tranquil yet ominous forest. Using
the Move wand to guide a disembodied hand, a bulk of the 90 minute
experience places you under the canopy of this autumnal spread of
massive birch trees. This forested grove of Datura gives you a
well-defined playground to stretch your Move limbs and wander about
looking for the next thing to do. Like any good walkabout, importance
is placed on the journey as opposed to the destination. As you navigate
through the thicket, you’ll occasionally stumble upon an place of
interest which, when examined properly, engages a memory or flashback
in your character a la Lost. Each of these brief snippets culminates
with a moment that tasks you with making a moral and ethical decision
with consequences that remain blurred through time. This would all be
great if only the short vignettes ended with a choice that was much
less binary.

The ones and zeros of each
decision are far too often separated by having one path be distinctly
righteous, and the other obviously evil. An example of this is a quick
flashback where you find yourself sprawled atop a thin layer of ice in
the middle of a frozen lake. As you wipe the frost below you, you
notice a trophy under the ice to your left, and a drowning man under
the ice to your right. You have time to grab a pick axe and save one of
them. Now, you could easily create some narrative in your mind about
how the drowning man is evil and deserves the horrid fate that has been
bestowed upon him, but Datura gives you no context whatsoever to back
this theory. I’m a huge fan of moral ambiguity in art, but even I can’t
imagine anyone trying to save the trophy instead of rescuing the man.

There are rare cases where your
appraisal of the situation leads to a far more ambiguous decision. One
of the highlights is a moment where you’re whisked back to the trenches
of World War II where you awake standing aside a fellow soldier who’s
manning a turret. Suddenly he takes a bullet and slumps down to the
ground. Do you aid your friend in his moment of suffering, or man the
gun in an attempt to hold the line and possibly save countless more
lives? If Datura featured more decisions on par with this, the moments
of choice would carry far more weight. But as it stands, most of the
moments of truth in the game are about as clear-cut and based in pure
decency as holding a door open for the person behind you.

The folks at Team Plastic,
whose previous title was the interactive art demo Linger in Shadows,
deserve praise for attempting to push motion control to an entirely new
level. The simple act of wandering around the grove and interacting
with an ancient statue provides a tactile sensation that few games have
ever been able to pull off. When the motion controls work, watching
your digital appendage mirror your every movement and communicate with
the environment is an amazing feat. Sadly, it becomes a frustrating
game of babysitting the controller while you attempt to coax your
avatar into replicating your movements. The controls in Datura alone
highlight the ambition that Team Plastic had for the game, but it just
feels like technology hasn’t reached the point where that vision could
be properly implemented.

The ideas present in Datura
reveal themselves as a sapling that may someday grow to be a gaming
experience unlike any other. Until that moment of blossoming, we’re
left with an uneven, strange, but oftentimes mesmerizing game that
remains thought provoking even during moments of complete mechanical
failure.

By Marty Sliva