Erica Review: In its attempts to set new standards for “choose your own adventure” storytelling, Erica ends up being just standard
Played On: PS4 (Original)
Erica is the newest FMV “Choose Your Own Adventure” game/interactive film from London Studios to hit PlayStation after it was surprisingly dropped during Gamescom 2019. While it boasts some surprises of its own, Erica ends up being a relatively standard adventure game with mechanics that aren’t as innovative as the developers might have though they were.
The game centers around Erica (Holly Earl), a woman who went through a traumatic experience when she was younger and is still haunted by it. Although her father’s death has been left as a cold case, it suddenly starts to become top of mind for Erica as she receives a grotesque present. Now, with the same killer seemingly after her, Erica must return to a home that only reminds her of the past – the Delphi House. Now, a home that helps troubled girls, the house holds many more secrets, some of them even being demonic, and Erica is about to face them head on.
One of the most interesting things about Erica that differentiates itself from similar titles, like Late Shift, is actually the way that you play it. Rather than using buttons and analog sticks to make choice, players can either use the touchpad on their controller or their smartphones to make decisions and actions. When players are meant to make movement happens, there’s actually some very immersive moments. With players helping Erica drawing something, wiping dust off to reveal something, and even wiping away reality to delve in Erica’s past, there’re quite a few actions that can make players more immersed into the game. The touchpad is rarely utilized in games, in general, so it was nice to see Erica utilize it in a way that other games don’t and attempts to do something pretty unique with players using smartphones. The actions are also accompanied by some pretty cool animations. They have this Claymation look to them that I really dug and the way they maintain the live-action visuals is great.
However, where the touchpad gameplay starts to falter is when players are making decisions as the mechanics are very “touchy.” What I mean by that is that using a cursor to make choices on-screen can be very hard to control at times and the touchiness of using a touchpad could lead players to make choices and take paths they didn’t intend to. Honestly, using the touchpad controls gets kind of old after a while and it doesn’t lose it feel as a gimmick. There’s also nothing special about using your smartphone over a controller and I can’t help but feel like the overall experience could’ve gone smoother if you could just tap options on your phone rather than pointlessly use a cursor through your phone. It also would’ve been nice to see special scenes and sequence dedicated to players using their smartphone, like tying clues together and using it for inspecting items or scenery, but the experience with it isn’t special and I question why the experience is necessary.
The story and characters of Erica are solid with some solid performances; however, I question if they are strong enough for players to want to go back to get the full picture. The game focuses more on perspective rather than unique paths or game-changing choices. This isn’t to say that Erica doesn’t have multiple endings, branching stories, and unique interactions, but the weight of your choices is rarely felt. Within each playthrough, you pretty much end up in the same scenarios and situations and it makes the decisions players make have little to no impact. Especially for Erica, who I felt wasn’t maintaining the choices I would make for her personality. Really, she just keeps her timid demeanor with everyone and every situation and the growth that she’s going through is never felt. It has nothing to do with Earl’s performance as I actually think she’s one of the best parts of the experience, but I can’t help but feel as if she wasn’t given the best direction to let Erica’s personality mold with the player’s choice to give them a unique experience.
The overall story also just couldn’t put its hooks in me and its slow pace and lack of depth with it’s mystical and sadistic antagonist made it hard to connect to what’s happening. Like I said before, Erica is all about perspective and players won’t uncover everything happening in just one playthrough. So, while multiple playthroughs could lead to a richer experience, it’s legitimately questionable whether the characters and the cult story is enough to make more playthroughs worth it. The other characters have very little depth to them and the cult that the surrounds the story isn’t delved into enough to be that interesting. Even the overall mystery lacks a sense of intrigue and even after playing through different scenarios, I wouldn’t say that my experiences were all that different.
Erica can be an innovative and intriguing experience at times, however its marred by a lack of depth and mechanics that lose their luster rather quickly. The experience just doesn’t live up to the heights and expectations that it thinks it’s setting and ends up being a little underwhelming. Frankly, there’re just better interactive films out there, like Late Shift and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, that offer a lot more than Erica does.
*All photos, unless otherwise marked, were taken by the author.