Sony’s Santa Monica Studio have developed a lot of games in their time, both on their own and in collaboration with others. Best known for their work on the brilliantly brutal God of War series, they also don’t shy away from more fringe projects, for example working as incubators for Thatgamecompany on titles like flOw and Journey.
Here they’ve collaborated with Plastic to make a game totally different from the hack-n-slash exploits of Kratos. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying that Datura is the oddest yet most unique game I’ve ever played.
It’s hard to describe in words just what type of game Datura really is, as there have not been any games before it that resemble its style of gameplay. Journey is probably the closest, mainly because that game also had a mysterious start and the player was forced to wander out into the open looking for a way out.
There’s no real plot to Datura, and nor are there any characters. The first thing you’ll see is that you’re lying on your back in an ambulance - you try and take off the electrodes off your body, resulting in your ‘death’, and are then transported into a dream-like forest. Yeah, this game is pretty random – and it doesn’t stop there.
After you arrive in the eerily autumnal forest, you’re tasked with finding out how to get out of this mess while walking around checking out any interesting sights you come across. As I mentioned before, people who have played Journey may have a little bit of an advantage here as there’s no obvious narrative, so it’s up to the player to try and interpret the meaning behind the game.
Presented in first-person, the game is played out via a series of button prompts. You can control the game via a choice of ‘SixAxis’ or PlayStation Move controllers - I tried playing the game many times using a combination of both set ups, but some areas remained very fiddly and highly unresponsive.
One of the most frustrating moments I encountered in the game was trying to do the simple task of picking up and using a crowbar. I was using the SixAxis controller and struggled for several minutes trying to pry a door open. I quit the game and had another go using the PlayStation Move controller instead, but that proved to be a challenge as well. I eventually got the door open by angrily waving the Move controller aimlessly in the air. In short, unresponsive controls are something that will annoy many people who choose to play Datura.
Although this is a first-person game, there is a lack of action to be found here. There’s no sense of real danger because there’s no traditional enemies hunting you down or anything like that. The game is just you walking aimlessly in a forest trying to find some activities to do so you can initiate a cutscene. Once you’ve unlocked enough cutscenes, you are then able to progress into a new area of the forest.
The problem is that the cutscenes aren’t really tied into a story of any kind; they are all just random events that often end in death. One of two scenes that spring to my mind is a hunter coming up and shooting me in the face, and a time where I was driving and then I crashed into another vehicle. Although you end up dying, it does not matter as you always end up waking up in the mysterious forest again.
Once gamers have finished Datura, I doubt they’ll ever play the game ever again. Although some of the scenarios have alternate options, they don’t actually affect the overall conclusion of the game. It would have been better if this game was like Heavy Rain where every action you take has some sort of consequence. Considering Datura can be completed in less than 2 hours, it’s a short and unsatisfying experience as a whole.
Graphically, the game isn’t as visually appealing as Journey or other PSN-exclusive games out there. The visuals themselves aren’t bad, but they’re not revolutionary either. The game doesn’t fare any better in stereoscopic 3D either, with the images still looking rather blurry and lacking the same allure as others in 3D such as Uncharted 3.
It’s great to see that some game developers are trying to come up with new ideas for their games. Journey is a great example of this, but Datura falls short of the mark. It might have been better if this game had a little more action and if the story made any sense. Datura plants are known for their hallucinogenic effects, and I feel a lot of gamers might feel like they’re on drugs while playing Datura as events are so unpredictable. Indeed, that may even be how Datura is best experienced.