Erica Review — A Vision Softly Creeping
PS4 exclusive FMV game Erica has turned out to be one of the most worthwhile surprises from Gamescom 2019.
Frankly, the odds were stacked against Erica coming into its release. It was a live action FMV game that has not only radically changed since its reveal two years ago, but is also a part of Sony’s PlayLink initiative that failed to catch fire. Still, all of those unorthodox risks– and the fact that PS4 exclusives have consistently delivered on story over the past few years– drew me in to trying out Erica when it was surprisingly released yesterday after Gamescom’s Opening Night Live Presentation.
Fortunately, all of those aforementioned risks paid off, leaving me pleasantly surprised with Erica. Its live action presentation is not completely spotless and many of its choices aren’t as consequential as the game is advertising, but it is by far is one of the best shot, written, and acted FMV games available on consoles. Thanks to a strong performance by Holly Earl, Erica has cemented itself as one of Sony’s best PlayLink titles and it may be one of the PS4’s biggest sleeper hits yet.
While not every cast member shines, the few great ones do elevate Erica as an experience. Since the 90s, the goal of FMV games has been to merge video games and film into a new type of experience. While commendable, they usually fail to connect with audiences due to horrible acting. Thankfully, a great performance by Holly Earl as the titular role holds up the game as a whole. She is able to masterfully switch between portraying Erica as doe-eye, disturbed, and inquisitive woman no matter what route a player chooses to take. In an FMV game with multiple branching paths, it can be really hard for actors to stay consistent from scene to scene, but Holly Earl manages to do so almost perfectly.
That’s not to say Holly Earl is the only good actor in Erica. Terence Maynard, Nakeba Buchanan, and Elaine Fellows deliver good performances as Lucian Flowers, Mia Green, and Kristie, respectively. While the actors of Sgt. Blake and Erica’s father fail to impress as much, the strong presence and performances of the other actors do help keep the game afloat. Erica also thrives in three other areas FMV games tend to struggle in as well: cinematography, writing, and music.
The cinematography of Erica is not mindblowing when looking at it as a film, but it is certainly quite impressive as an FMV game. It supplements its supernatural thriller aesthetic by taking excellent cues from filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick, so tension is never broken due to a scene being poorly shot or lit. The sets, while simple, have also been crafted quite well, grounding what is otherwise a paranormal story about the occult.
Erica’s writing is pretty great when compared to many games, though it still does fall back onto some horror and drama tropes many will be able to recognize. That being said, it is able to execute those cliches in a way that is well-acted and believable so they never feel repetitive. Ultimately, the only real failure with Erica’s writing exposes itself on repeat playthroughs. That flaw is that the game is still pretty linear despite the illusion of choice throughout the entire game. Yes, there are alternative lines of dialogue, and even entire scenes, that can be slotted in or out depending on the player’s choices, but the story does follow the same beats for the most part no matter what players make Erica do or say.
In reality, a few binary choices in the last third of the game are what will influence the ending of Erica that you receive. The plentiful choices throughout the adventure just serve to give players more context when things finally come to a head. Even though Erica succumbs to the illusion of choice problem like so many other choose-your-own-adventure games, its main scenario is still enticing enough to ensure that Erica is the best FMV game since Her Story. It’s also worth noting that Erica’s subtitles do contain some noticeable grammatical and spacing errors, though these should hopefully be patched out in time.
Austin Wintory, the composer behind great ambient soundtracks for games like Flow and Journey, helms Erica’s soundtrack and consistently delivers. While the sound design is eerie, ambient, and foreboding for the entirety of Erica’s two to three hour run time, Austin’s soundtrack and great main theme serve as the backbone that holds the game up from an audio standpoint.
If you do find yourself enticed to try out Erica, keep its unusual control scheme in mind. While it is not multiplayer focused like other PlayLink titles, there is a mobile app that players can download for all of the game’s major interactions. Erica will have players turning, pulling, or moving multiple objects. All interactions can still be done with the DualShock 4’s touch pad though, if you aren’t a fan of breaking Erica’s atmosphere by looking down at your phone. It’s how I played though two of my runs of Erica, and I never ran into control problems despite the quirkiness of the control scheme. If you are used to how Quantic Dream’s titles or Until Dawn controls, you should be fine playing Erica.
Though Erica’s illusion of choice may sully the experience on repeat playthroughs, the game still stands as the best FMV game available on consoles. Its high-end TV show production values and acting allow it to stand out in a genre muddied by low-budget attempts by game developers turned amateur filmmakers. Erica is a risky but successful title in an unusual year for PS4 exclusives, making it a short, cheap, and sweet title that any fan of experimental games should try out.