virtual silence

a review of Virtual Silence
a videogame developed by virtanen games
for windows xp
downloadable with this link
text by Eden Bradfield

4 stars

Bottom line: Virtual Silence is “perversely clinical.”

Virtual Silence is essentially sex on wheels, with Kurt Cobain playing the role of the driver and Steven Hawking spitting into the fuel tank at an exhaustive pace, but Steven Hawking is only “one man!” and he cannot spit that much. Nevertheless, it’s still sex on wheels. Apart from it’s grunge, not punk.

It’s what would happen if Moby designed a game and Moby wore plaid instead of the white minimalist Helmut Lang designed spacesuits that he probably wears.

I want this game to be a white spacesuit of a game. But it’s too lo-fi for that. It’s like a teenage minimalist — no, a 20-year-old minimalist who’s broke. He’s trying like hell to be minimalist, with all those white surfaces and an Apple computer and simple-but-elegant clothes. In reality though, he can’t afford the elegance of white minimalism- and attempts to make do with an old beige bomb of a PC and plaid shirts because the ones he wants are too expensive, and an old couch that has coffee stains (and who knows what else) on it. And his room has flower wallpaper from the 70s, and he’s too cheap to even afford paint from the Indian man down the road whose wife left him and it was her who wanted to walls of their house painted white.

When you open the game up you’ve got the black screen and very simple colours. It’s all very simple. There’s a bit of pixelation here and there. That’s where the mood of this game is established — it’s the opening key. Plaid minor.

Bob Dylan once said “my music is mathematical music”. Of course Bob was just playing with the possibly drunk/stoned/bad-smelling reporters that were positively stuffed into those anonymous rooms that are always, always black, white, and stuffy. And grainy.

Bob Dylan music is not mathematical; but Virtual Silence is a very mathematical game — in the sense that everything is perfectly calculated and the design is perfectly laid out, to an almost nauseating extent.

You go here, then here, then here. And it’s all predetermined by the designer, of course. In most games you don’t really notice it- you’re too busy jumping or punching or uh, making your people go to the toilet. You’re too distracted to notice that your path is basically set out, by some greater god. Here the wall between the designer and myself is so thin that he could be in the next room. At times the veil’s almost lifted, but not all the way. The wall between the designer and myself is paper thin, but it’s still there.

At times this annoyed me. I guess, as a player, I expect to be distracted with clever little devices and bells and whistles. Actually, it scares me. Everything about the game is revealed to me.

I don’t mean that it’s almost nauseating in a bad way — we “game critics” are always looking for “the perfect gameplay,” whatever the hell “gameplay” means; we’re always looking for the perfectly laid-out game.

Pikmin is perfectly laid out. “The Velvet Underground and Nico” is also perfectly laid out. “Blonde on Blonde” is a freakin’ masterpiece. And whilst Virtual Silence is perfectly laid out, the mechanics perfectly extrapolated and exploited, it is not a Freakin’ Masterpiece. It does not want to be. If it was it wouldn’t be Virtual Silence. It’s like if you made Tom Waits’ voice — very Coffee and Cigs and Vodka — into that of the voice of a “beautiful” choirboy.

I mean, if you look at it from a very pure “game” sense, that is, Metal Gear Solid without the cut-scenes, well, it becomes too repetitive. To actually describe the mechanics would possibly ruin the game. It’s one of those things where half the genius is to discover it yourself.

I mean, the whole game sort of feels like a white painkilling pill — something that has the slightest taste and comes out of a sealed bit of foil and plastic. There’s no feeling in the game. It’s a virtuoso pianist who can play all the notes — every single one — at a breakneck speed. But what I get is not an absence of feeling, as such. It’s more a black hole in the fabric of Video Games and Culture as a Whole.

I can see that something’s there, but I’m not sure how it makes me feel. It’s a curious mixture of interest and white corridors. Very local anaesthetic.

But here’s a storyline, and here’s presentation. And that’s why I kept playing.

The whole thing is so perversely clinical (Look at how the story is presented. How the text comes onto screen. How the characters speak), the storyline so detached. There’s no emotional swindling involved. It’s here that Virtual Silence becomes so apathetic at times that it becomes more (post?) punk than the grunge that I ascertained it was back in the first paragraph. I can hear The Sex Pistols yelling out in the background “No Future”, “No Future” from the depths of their very lips. A cigarette hangs by, and, of course there’s booze laying on the floor. Yet some ounce of Hope exists, throughout this whole game, whatever. But is it care for the character or the sheer perversity of us, the player, which drives us on?

The main question is: Who is this character we’re playing, and why is he here? (and in the back of our minds: “glad I’m not in this situation!)

It’s not a comfortable game. It’s missing something. There’s tension throughout, and this is its strength, probably. If it wasn’t “missing” something we’d be comfortable, and then it’d just be Another Game to play and forget. It’s Andy Warhol to the Pollock-like La La Land series. Both deal with reality — a twisted but believable reality, but in Virtual Silence most traces of the hand of the creator have been removed.



Anyway, go listen to “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground, and “God Save the Queen” by The Sex Pistols. Ideally in a white coat, as we at Action Button Dot Net do as we expertly review each and every game that we play with our shiny little silver gloves. And then play Virtual Silence and reflect at its perfect robo-made (imported all the way from Germany!), and wonder where the missing piece is. ‘Cause there is a missing piece — is it the music? It’s a beautiful shebang, in any case.

–Eden Bradfield


15 Responses to virtual silence

  1. Am I doing it wrong, or did it actually take me longer to read this review than to play through the entire game?
    It’s well put-together, and has an interesting idea or two, but it’s not all that groundbreaking – and certainly not “sex on wheels”, nor grunge. Or punk. In fact, any style of rock seems like a wrong fit for the game.
    And your game predicament is, I feel, fairly well explained. You do know who you are, and have at least a vague idea what you’re doing.

  2. The first time I played this game, I wasn’t aware that you could complete either of the challenges at the end of the first and second tests. I thought that you could only walk to the exit. This is what made the game for me – being asked to accomplish tasks you have no tools for, with a character who has a severely distorted perception of emotional understanding and empathy.

    I thought that there were no right buttons to press – there was no collision detection on these characters, unlike the rest of the objects within the game – you just walked through them, indifferent and unable to connect. And then, you were told you failed a task you couldn’t hope to achieve! And those messages popping up during the levels? How are you doing? Crap!

    hecking brilliant. It only figures that playing as an autistic kid should be a complete reversal of the ‘you can do this! Well done! Now, you’re a hero!’ mentality of games. Instead, you’re a mute with a complete lack of agency. I’ve never had a game make me feel so damn useless.

    This ending, the ‘bad’ ending, is equally brilliant. You’ve just run a gauntlet to save your own ass, and you come out the other end like some kind of stillborn, emotionless and uncommunicative. There is no change in your face as the doctor makes an executive decision to make you do it all again. Now that is post-punk-nu-grunge-proto-anarchic-thrashcore-whatever game design – ‘essentially sex on wheels’.

    Then, I find out there’s a ‘good’ ending too. Where if you’re really that compelled to sit and wait for a good minute for some hecking holographic kid to stop crying his fake tears, you win! It’s just like in the movies! Congratulations, you true Videogame Hero.

  3. I agree very much with KillahMate, this game is not any type of rock and roll. Right now, the only type of music I’m getting is that one song in Earthbound… the light, ambient track with the clicky noise and the bass ethereality. But that may just be because the actual music in Virtual Silence is similar.

    Which is to say, I suppose, that if Virtual Silence was music, it would be the soundtrack to Virtual Silence. Which is pretty impressive.

    On a whole, I’m not a big fan of this review. Too vague (though I appreciate that you didn’t spoil any gameplay stuff), to memsaphorical. But thank you for linking to the game, though. It r gud.

  4. This was the first game to actually scare me in a while. I think it seriously needs a big epilepsy warning when you start it up too.

    I really couldn’t “connect” with this review like I can with most ABDN fare (the rock/sex comparison is really shoehorned in–not everything is or has to be God Hand, guys), but thanks for the link!!

  5. Actually- I haven’t read the God Hand review! You’ll notice that I never called this game “rock and roll” anywhere in the review. Or even rock.
    I use “punk” and “grunge”. The whole point of which is to describe for the aesthetics of Virtual Silence. They sure aren’t etheral.

    Oh, and as for “sex on wheels”: well, it is Steven Hawking making the wheels run. It doesn’t, you know, have to be good sex. It’s still sex.

    So uh, I just wrote what I thought about this game and sent it to tim and he said he thought it was Pretty Good and he put it on here!
    Great that you have your own opinions!

    (and as someone said here, you can’t be specific with this sort of game anyway. It’d ruin it)

  6. Indeed! So what? Tim’s published stuff at Insert Credit et al and then published it elsewhere.
    (Actually, that GMG review will probably be rewritten at some point anyway. But for now, it shall stay there)

  7. what?

    this game is totally punk you guys, aesthetically and otherwise.

  8. Hmm. Yeah, the ‘bad’ ending is one of the better things about the game. And eden, you were right to keep the review vague – it just caught me by surprise. Which was the point, I guess. So anyway.

    Aaand after thinking about it some more, I can see where the punk/grunge analogies are coming from, but that wasn’t exactly my first association. I was thinking more along the lines of ZX Spectrum, or generally old BASIC games. Which is not very creative, I know, but it could be onto something. I mean, the guy went through the effort of faking a bad screen just to play up the aesthetic.

    And Spiffyness is right about the game/soundtrack thing.

  9. It’s interesting – yes – it’s punk – yes – it’s pretty (in its own little ZX way) – yes.

    But still – this is the Indie PC Game that Action Button chooses to kneel before and give the Question Mark treatment? Four stars for blowing your mind? You could have at least chosen a Cactus game.

  10. It’s a simple concept cleanly executed. I’m glad that action button dot net brought this to my attention.

  11. Absolutely agreed with the 4 stars, even if I don´t 100% agree with the review itself. Specially with the punk/grunge thing: the game feels more like Portishead to me. Bleak, but always with a shimmer of hope. Still, thanks for letting me know about this game! I´m looking forward for more Indie games reviews!

  12. Punk/grunge makes a lot of sense, really. The game feels tossed off without the giving of even the slightest heck, and yet is perfect. Stop thinking so literally about your game-to-music comparisons people!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *