GDC 2012 Preview: Datura Blurs the Line Between Game and Reality
I wish I could tell you more about Sony’s upcoming PlayStation Move game, Datura. I wish I could tell you what it’s about, what genre it settles into and what glorious strains of pop and classic culture its gameplay draws from. But I can’t. Because all I know about Datura comes from a twenty-minute demo that presents questions and no answers, leaving me with the bitter taste of cryptic anxiety in my mouth.
I’ll be honest — the demo stressed me out. But in a good way. Its hyper realistic design was unsettling, especially when I took the time to look down at my in-game hand — a disembodied hand that has been truncated at the wrist. Using the PlayStation Move controller, the player can touch trees, pick up objects, and push through gates, creating the illusion that you are physically participating in and influencing the game world. This is an especially powerful feeling when using the Move with a uniquely-made 3D headset with head tracking that quite literally dumps you into the middle of the game’s creepy forest setting.
The choices the player makes influence the story’s outcome. That same feeling of anxiety lays thickly over everything, and you will find yourself questioning and double-questioning the choices you have made. The title itself, Datura, is the name of a white flower that is very beautiful but extremely deadly — its fruit secrets a highly effective poison. The game is meant to stir the same feeling of anxiety and toxicity that comes from the essence of this plant. Players must follow their gut instincts without fear of outside judgement, or let that judgement guide their hand — literally, guide their hand.
In the demo I was tasked with picking up a ball and throwing it at a stack of cans. The Move is extremely sensitive to this mechanic, and after my in-game hand wrapped around the ball it took several tries to nail the cans head-on. From there I had to pick up a bee-bee gun and shoot pop-up wooden figures like you would find in a carnival game. The hyper realism was chilling; I almost couldn’t focus on the task ahead of me because the creased skin and stumpy nails on the in-game hand were almost too real to be a render.
In the second part of the demo, I found myself in a moving room — no, the back of a moving van — handcuffed to what looked like a cop. Moments later I was back in the strange, odd forest that serves as the jumping-off point if the game, filled with puzzles and small tasks for the hand to undertake. Then again I was in the back of the van, and as I picked up a nearby hand-saw the game gave me the option to either saw through the handcuffs connecting the guard and I… or saw off the guard’s hand at the wrist.
Players can draw pictures of objects the hand touches in a small notebook held in the in-game opposite hand. Drawing these pictures creates a map through the odd forest, the centerpiece of Datura‘s madness. But where is this forest? Why are there datura flowers growing everywhere?
The only bit that threw me off was give Datura a test-drive with the 3D headset on. I’m prone to motion sickness, so if you’re anything like me you should stick with the basic Move controls.
I’m not sure what’s going on here, as Datura‘s demo has left me with absolutely no understanding of the game’s core. But then again, perhaps things are better this way. Whoever has been marketing and advertising for this game is doing a bang-up job of keeping everyone in the dark — maybe we will all be able to approach it as a fresh, unspoiled experience?
Datura will be a PlayStation Network exclusive title, and is set to release later this year.