Datura review

Datura review

Datura review

Director Michal Staniszewski says Datura has been designed to be played through in a single sitting, which feels rather optimistic. While those prepared to persist through multiple playthroughs can see all Datura has to offer within three quarters of an hour, your first run through Polish developer Plastic's artsy adventure will likely take you two or three times as long. You'll trudge endlessly around the forest, cursing your protagonist's languid walk speed as you wander from one already visited landmark to the next in the vague hope of triggering the next bit of scripting in a narrative which goes out of its way to confuse the player.

You awake at the outset in the back of an ambulance, prone on a gurney, the scene set for the first of many narrative non-sequiturs interspersed with aimless wandering and hopeful waves of the Move controller. Pull back the blanket and yank off the EKG wiring attached to your chest and you pass out, coming to in a forest. Moments later you'll throw a potato to wake up a pig, then follow the groggy swine through some bracken into the darkness, finding yourself at the wheel of a car, the Move controller recast as a steering wheel. Datura does this throughout, blending tired motion control staples with one illogical consequence after the next.

And if you liked throwing food at a pig, Plastic thinks you'll love throwing a ball at a stack of tin cans. It thinks you'll like holding the Move on the horizontal and miming the opening of a door so much that you'll happily do it twice, because the protagonist attached to the disembodied hand you control seems incapable of getting it right first time. And if that's not exciting enough for you, relax: later on you'll witness the pulse-racing euphoria of jamming your hand up a pipe that's leaking oil because, for some reason, it opens a door.

Early on you'll yank the Move towards you to pull a pencil out of a tree, a sensible if thoroughly needless bit of design which soon becomes the default input for the moments where either the limits of Plastic's creativity or the controller ruled out anything more interesting. That yank will lift a container out of the ground, or an obstruction from inside a door. It'll drag a fallen comrade to safety through a trench while war rages on around you, and pull you up through a manhole cover. That yank is one of Datura's few constants, one of the few things that come to make sense in a game full of abrupt left turns through time and space, a minigame collection recast as a firstperson adventure scripted by a committee of madmen.

It is, at least, slightly less of a bad trip and considerably more of a videogame than the seven minutes of madness that comprised Plastic's 2008 demoscene experiment Linger In Shadows. You have free movement around the environment, using the Move to control the camera, holding its main button to walk forward, X to spin on the spot, or circle to move backwards. A button prompt compels you to push triangle and lock on to a nearby point of interest; press it again when you're close enough and the camera zooms in tightly, your disembodied right hand appearing in front of you. Hold the controller upright in front of one of the white trees dotted around the forest, and you'll press your palm flat against its trunk, a pleasing sensation reinforced by the gentle vibration of the Move and an action that enables you to draw a new section of the world on a map you'll never really need. When it works, it works well; when it doesn't, and you touch a tree with a crooked thumb, you'll interpret the vibration in your hand as the sensation of bark ripping through flesh.

Plastic has also touted Datura's "experimental narrative", but it boils down to a handful of binary decisions – often a literal choice between black or white – which add little but the lingering sense that you'll have to play through it again to see what happens when you take the other option, an unappealing proposition when the first playthrough is such a chore. Even when you do complete a section, what follows is typically more punishment than reward – a shotgun blast to the face, a car crash, a fall down a well – and as the narrative moves forward it provides no closure, only further confusion. The foggy, haunting forest, soundtracked by the soft crunch of leaves underfoot and the warm, yet foreboding synths that recall Julee Cruise's Twin Peaks theme, makes for a genuinely atmospheric world, but everything within it seems designed to frustrate.

When it's over, and you're in the game's final area surrounded by the consequences of your decisions, you at last sense an impending twist of some kind, some explanation for what you've just been through. It doesn't come. Instead, flies swarm around a picture of a face showing confusion, frustration, and an expression like that of someone realising they're not getting the last two hours of their life back – an image that will likely stay with you for months. Staniszewski's wish for Datura to be played in a single sitting was designed to ensure that, like a film, players would discuss it after the credits had rolled. Players are meant to gather round, to compare notes on decisions and their consequences, to piece together the components of its fractured narrative and debate what it all means; a truly co-operative videogame. He may well get his wish, but you suspect few will have much to say after asking if anyone understood what on Earth just happened.