I honestly did not want to write this particular review. Why? Because Datura is a game that I simply pity. I feel sorry for the designers whose ambition was squandered. I feel sorry for the gamers who, like myself, were looking forward to a provocative, immersive sojourn into the more artistic realm of gaming. People expected something like Journey, with its seamless, organic world and its flawless presentation. Instead, they were treated to something more akin to a rickety, run-down carnival ride. Datura stands out stylistically, but I’m afraid that is the only pseudo-compliment I can levy at it. Everything else is either hackneyed or broken.
As far as I can gather, Datura is a hallucinogenic excursion through the psyche of an escaped convict, after severely injuring himself in a car accident. As he wavers on the precipice of life and death, he finds himself wandering through an eerie forest, recollecting on previous incidents in his life. This sounds like a thought-provoking, powerful concept for a game, at least on the surface. Some of the flashbacks present interesting concepts, not often seen in video games. The art style itself is reminiscent of numerous “point and click” games from the 90s. For better or worse, Datura tries to maintain a similar atmosphere.
So, you may be wondering where this game goes horribly wrong, to the point where it shatters the entire experience. Think, for a moment, of what is the most important aspect of a visionary game of this sort. It is, obviously, the competency of the presentation. If a game is seeking to woo the player, solely with its visual storytelling, atmosphere, and gripping visuals, than it needs a certain level of polish to back it up. Games such as this should, at the very least, be able to craft their own seamless universe in which the player can immerse themself. Journey is a paragon of this genre, and it is sets the high watermark for “experience” games. Datura, sadly, falls on the other side of the spectrum. Within the first 30 seconds of playing Datura, I knew something was awry.
The game opens with your character waking up in the back of a moving ambulance. Immediately my character’s disembodied hand begins to glitch its way through objects and his own chest. Instantly, the realism and immersion of the scene is sucked away. I was already well aware of the “disembodied hand” element in the game, and I still strongly assert that it is entirely unnecessary and detracts from the overall tone. To make matters worse in this opening, you quickly notice that the character animations (in this case, the female paramedic) are extremely off kilter and even cartoony. This is a constant burden on the subsequent flashbacks, and it eviscerates the realism of Datura’s world.
On top of that, the music seems “off” though most of the game. The forest is set in the peak of fall, with leaves and desolate trees filling the landscape. This suggests the coming winter, which I suspect symbolizes the inevitable death of our protagonist. Such an environment would greatly benefit from a minimalistic, ambient soundtrack, but instead we are given an extremely out of place, booming score. The music itself isn’t terribly made. It is just placed poorly.
The game is set up in 3 gated sections of a forest. The player is allowed to freely explore it. There are various places of interaction that you will come across, such as a fountain, a shooting gallery, or a door. You are expected to perform various motions with the move or SIAXIS controller, in order to fulfill what can loosely be called “puzzles.” These usually result in some sort of flash back to a prior event in the protagonist’s life, leading up to his accident. This sounds like a game that would at least keep your curiosity piqued and keep the visuals and gameplay fresh. Unfortunately, there are numerous reasons why the execution of the premise does not work.
The controls are mostly what you would expect from a motion control game, but it is odd that your movement is limited to one analog stick. This means that, unlike other first person games, you cannot aim your vision and walk at the same time. This fatal flaw sets the game’s mechanics back 20 years and seriously detracts from the whole experience.
As I said before, the game contains puzzles, but they seriously lack any logic whatsoever. They are not coherent enough to be engaging. For example, I came across a fountain that spurted a benign green gelatin. I figured that I needed something to transport it with (for what, I had no idea). So, I happened upon a statue of a woman holding a bowl and a vase, both of which appeared to be loosely attached. I tried grabbing each of them repeatedly, to no avail. After much wandering around, I happened upon an empty milk carton, which I proceeded to fill with the fluid. I returned to the statue and dumped the fluid into the vase, which, in turn, caused the bowl to lower, revealing a key inside of it. Do you see how none of this offers an intellectually engaging experience? It’s rather insulting really, that my character was inexplicably unable to reach up and feel around in the bowl in the first place, which he could easily reach.
The puzzle I just described to you is just scratching the surface as to how utterly nonsensical this game is. At one point, you are given a type of mini boss. Are you prepared to hear about this? It is none other than a tennis ball launcher. Yes, I am sure you are all quivering in sheer terror. Your character slowly approaches it, donning a garbage can lid for defense (I am not making this up). First of all, I don’t see why he was incapable of moving out of the launcher’s stationary line of fire. To give this insipid moment some sort of challenge, your character is seemingly incapable of raising the lid/shield and walking at the same time. This means that you have to take 3 steps, stop in your tracks, raise the shield to defend yourself, take 3 more steps, and then repeat this process in unison. I may have to do a bit of research into this area, but I am relatively certain that it is, in fact, possible to hold a garbage can lid and walk at the same time, in real life. This is one of the most audacious, player-insulting moments I have ever seen in a game, and it is immediately followed by another frustratingly incoherent mini game in which you are manning a Gatling gun, fending off literal cardboard soldiers in a WW1-esque environment. Setting aside the lackluster aiming controls, this part leaves the player frustrated and confused as to why they are in a shooting gallery, when this time could be devoted to a legitimate, engaging war-time flashback. That could actually give the protagonist some depth or backstory, but instead we are whisked away to yet another side game that does nothing to advance the story or entertain the player. A few mini games later, you are brought to the game’s dénouement, one of the most abrupt, unsatisfying, insulting endings I have ever seen in a game.
It is baffling to me why this game has such a heavy emphasis on motion control mini games, when all they do is erode the experience. Each one is more feckless and listless than the last. On top of that, there is an artificial, fabricated feel to them, as if they have all been laid out in advance. There isn’t a true sense of discovery or exploration. The only organic things in the Datura are the leaves. On top of all that, there are numerous technical hiccups. Despite being in a near solid 60 FPS, there is a lot of texture and environment pop-in. Of course, at this point in the review, this complaint seems trifling compared to the rest of the Datura’s problems.
I’m not the kind of man who takes pleasure in lambasting something that presents a genuine sense of artistic ambition, but Datura is a textbook specimen of how this sort of game can be done wrong. There is nothing inherently wrong with games that capitalize on style and artistic proficiency, rather than challenge and gameplay diversity. I always work under the notion that video games are a diverse art form, and that they are many roads to attaining success. Datura awkwardly stumbles down the lofty path of games like Journey and Heavy Rain, bumping into every railing and, somewhere along the way, plummeting to its demise.
It is a wonder to me that this game was even released in this condition, whether it was due to under-budgeting or time constraints. Whatever the reason, the final product is simply not acceptable. Perhaps the greatest insult to those who bought the game is its pitiful length, clocking in at around an hour and a half. The size of the game’s world is not even as large as single standard FPS multiplayer map. The game’s nonsensical puzzles and the character’s slow walk-cycle are what pad the run-time out. On a second playthrough, it is perfectly feasible to beat the game in 45 minutes, not that I can see any rational reason to do such a thing. Journey overcame its short length and certainly benefited from multiple playthroughs. Datura does not. It is certainly not a wise purchase. It is a clumsy, short, clunky, listless, baffling, generally unpleasant experience. It is a definite “skip.”