Interactive movie games are a niche genre which combine live action footage and light gameplay mechanics. With these two elements united, you are put in the director’s seat where you have the opportunity to decide how the story unfolds.
Released in August 2019, Erica is an interactive movie game starring Beowulf actress Holly Earl. It was originally released on PS4 where it deviated from most games by making use of the DualShock 4’s touchpad as its main input method. By interacting with objects in Erica’s environment, selecting dialog options and making crucial choices under time constraints, you determine who lives and who dies in this thriller.
On the 25th of May 2021, Erica was ported to PC by Flavourworks. In this review of the game, we take a look at the PC port of this enigmatic title to see how it holds up almost three years later.
Erica is available on Steam. You can also pick it up on the PS Store.
Story – A Beautiful Horror
Erica begins with the eponymous protagonist sitting beside the fireplace with her father. She is just a little girl, and her father is sharing stories of her dear mother who is no longer with them. Her time with her father is cut short when he is killed by a mysterious woman who carves a strange symbol in his chest.
Years later, Erica is a young adult living alone. She is still haunted by her father’s grizzly death. Her nightmares are far from over, however. On a seemingly ordinary day, she receives a package in the mail and opens it to discover a bloody severed hand holding a chain that bears the very same symbol that had been carved into her father’s chest.
It is now obvious that Erica has a mystery on her hands, and police relocate her to a mental institution named Delphi House for her own safety. However, in that place, she only unfurls more mysteries that reveal secrets about her mother and the dark forces at play in the hospital.
The story is a gripping thriller with plenty of unexpected twists and moments to make you hold your breath. Lasting roughly two hours depending on what choices you make, Erica is about as long as your average movie. This is about the perfect length for the game, as it keeps you gripped without overstaying its welcome. However, I can imagine some will wish it went on for longer.
The short length of the game also allows for multiple playthroughs, which you will want to do if you wish to get a full picture of the story and see things from all perspectives. Playthroughs can be significantly different depending on what choices you make, leading to vastly varying experiences of the game each time you start it up. I had played Erica about four times on PS4 prior, but had absolutely no problem playing it on PC once again because of how replay-friendly it is.
Erica‘s story is also strengthened by its cast of characters. Delphi House contains an assortment of interesting individuals that will have you questioning who is trustworthy and who is worth avoiding. This includes Kirstie, one of the patients at Delphi House. She can be histrionic at times, and is a bit of a neat freak, but she seems to have a good heart.
There is also Sargent Duncan Blake who is investigating Erica’s case. Although he seems to have Erica’s best interests at heart, he is also a bit of an enigma. How you react to these characters and whose advice you take is up to you. You should proceed with caution though, because many lives hang in the balance.
For anyone who is a fan of campy horror stories filled with mystery and a hint of the supernatural, Erica will not fail to entertain. Throughout its playtime it will throw strange hints and symbols at you that will have you questioning what it all means, and have you revving for a second playthrough to see things from different angles.
Gameplay – The Best of Both Worlds
Erica‘s gameplay, like most interactive movie games, is minimal. However, it is implemented exceptionally well, and increases immersion while allowing you to feel like you have some agency with regards to how the narrative plays out. Throughout the story, you will be given the opportunity to interact with objects in the environment including lighters, pianos, bells, and telephones. This can be done using your mouse, or using a controller, which Erica supports.
For those who turn to their DualShock or their DualSense as their controller of choice, it is worth noting that the touchpad can be used to control the on-screen cursor. However, if you find the touchpad to be too small, the right analog stick can be used instead.
Gameplay also involves making dialog choices for Erica which influence how characters respond to her. Choosing to be nice or nasty to the girls at Delphi House will determine how many friends and foes you have.
Some of the choices presented will have to be made under the pressure of limited time. These are perhaps some of the most thrilling moments of the game. You will have to decide who you trust, what clues you choose to follow and whether you are willing to kill or not.
The consequences of your actions really become apparent on subsequent playthroughs when you make different choices and witness alternative outcomes. By simply going along paths you previously had not selected or choosing to trust different characters, you get to discover more of Delphi House’s secrets.
Although you will not be button mashing like it’s your favorite Mortal Kombat game, Erica implements light interactivity in a way which is suitable for its genre. Rather than feel like a stripped down video game, it feels more like an enhanced movie that gives you a welcomed sense of control of the outcome.
Graphics and Audio – As Good As A Movie
One of the biggest standout features of Erica is the stunning visuals. The live action footage is of the best quality, and is composed of an assortment of interesting shots that make use of an eclectic combination of light and color. Furthermore, the thriller feeling of the game is sustained by the settings that effectively creeps you out. Delphi House, for instance, with its pastel colors and quaint decor, is a little too perfect and makes you feel uneasy.
The game is peppered with interesting symbolism that will require multiple playthroughs before you understand how it all pieces together. From the beautiful pink petals that appear in Erica’s dreams to the cute fox she begins seeing in strange places, there is always something to draw your eyes.
Audio is also favorable, with nicely placed BOOM moments when the action requires it. The stringy soundtrack by Austin Wintory also helps to build a tense atmosphere as more of Delphi House’s secrets are uncovered.
With a game that looks and sounds as good as Erica, it is the perfect title to play with a bunch of friends, and makes for a great viewing experience even if you are not the one with the controller in your hands.
Erica was reviewed on PC, with a review key provided by Flavourworks.