Anyone who knows me knows that I love point-and-click adventure games. I play video games for their storylines, and point-and-click games tend to have some of the best storylines to offer. Let’s think Life Is Strange or Phoenix Wright or even the Nancy Drew Mysteries; all of them have phenomenal storylines and loveable characters to boot. But sometimes, we find a new game masked in humour that continues to captivate you for reasons unknown. Virtual Morality is one of those.
Created by screenwriter Ilan Benjamin, Virtual Morality takes on our modern-day world of smartphone obsession. In the vein of 2015’s hit horror film “Unfriended”, in which the entire takes place through a Skype call with social media involvement, Virtual Morality tells the story of college student Abby Baker, who goes to a wild college party and uncovers a murder mystery as she goes. The game continues to incorporate more and more social media into its plot, using sites like Twitter and YouTube to deepen the storyline. There’s really nothing like Virtual Morality out there right now and it’s to be questioned whether a social media game could work, so it’s time to dive headfirst into The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly of Virtual Morality.
From the beginning, this game keys into your nostalgia heartstrings with choice screens that resemble the original iPhone notification screens. While getting to navigate through the game using these screens, we are treated to the same brand of outrageous over-the-top humour found in movies like Wet Hot American Summer and Eurotrip. All of your normal clichés are present: Holly, the lead sorority-type girl, Becky, the popular blonde, and Ziggy, the outcast. But this cast is part of what gives Virtual Morality its charm.
This game is also free to play! Yes, you heard me: FREE. 100% legally and truly free! Just a basic Google search will pull up this game, along with other creations by Benjamin, and you can immediately throw yourself into the fun. Virtual Morality is supported by all major browsers from Internet Explorer to Google Chrome to the shiny, new Microsoft Edge, so you won’t be forced to download any new equipment to be able to enjoy this series the way that Benjamin intended it.
I know, I know…beggars can’t be choosers. But even though Virtual Morality is free, I would have loved to see a few more chapters come out of it. There are only three chapters available in the series, and by the look of the official website and the IMDB credits, that’s all that there will be. We get a full story out of these three episodes, but all-together it goes by rather quickly. I would have loved to see things stretched out a bit more and more “story trees” added to explain a few details that were mainly glossed over, as well as to let us interact further with some of the main characters we are introduced to throughout the game.
Speaking of the characters, there’s also the matter of the game’s acting. To be fair, I should alter that to be “dialogue”. Yes, the over-the-top dialogue and “crazy party” clichés are part of what makes Virtual Morality the wonderful game that it is, but there are some lines that are just a bit…much. I like my puns, and I like my bad dialogue, but there were a few lines that just plain made me cringe. And if they made me cringe, I know they made a lot of other people cringe as well. It wasn’t a matter of poor acting–the actors all did phenomenal bringing this thing to life–, but rather of some of the dialogue going a little bit too far.
Still, these two nitpicks aren’t enough to detract from the lovability of Virtual Morality. Still, we need to touch on “the ugly” before I go back to singing any praises…
The two features I want to touch on in the “ugly” camp work hand-in-hand. The first is about the storyline itself.
A stable plot has been substituted for humour in Virtual Morality, which takes you out of the element a bit. Each chapter has four or five endings (occasionally more) depending on which of the iPhone choices you pick at different points of the chapter. However, none are clearly marked as “correct” or “canon”, and it makes it difficult to make sense of the storyline. No matter what ending you ultimately choose, you can always load up the next chapter and continue on with the canon storyline, without ever knowing that it was truly the canon storyline when making decisions in the previous chapter.
One thing that I enjoy about point-and-click adventures is the ability to influence certain parts of the game’s immediate or complete storyline based on your decisions, either altering the entire conclusion or just making reaching the conclusion easier or harder depending on your gameplay. This sort of gameplay makes it feel like I’m cheating the entire storyline, something that truly detracts from what is otherwise a wonderful game.
When trying out these multiple storylines, we are also not granted a “skip forward” button, like you are offered in other point-and-click adventure games to fast-forward through pre-seen scenes and/or text when trying out different arcs. This means to test out all of the game’s branches, you are replaying each chapter over and over again in its full length. This can be really grating, especially when you are dealing with some of the longer arcs, and when you are dealing with a chapter with no clearly-marked conclusion, you start to find yourself wondering if you have already found the correct ending or whether you should keep playing.
This isn’t something you want to have people thinking about your game. “Should I keep playing?” Replay value can make or break a game, and breaking the replay value before the end of chapter one can be a horrible deterrent for some players.
Overall Score: 7.0
At the end of the day, this is a charming little game that is perfect for one of those nights where you find yourself thinking, “I need something to play tonight, but I don’t want to start a brand new game that will eat my soul for the next month.” Virtual Morality is your solution on those nights. The entire game can be completed in about ten minutes during a speed run, and can take about 90 minutes on a full-play where you try all of the different options and just enjoy the storyline.
Although there is some vulgarity and some instances of underaged drinking and marijuana usage, there is nothing too over-the-top that will turn players off on a morality standpoint (I couldn’t resist, y’all). If you’ve watched the high-school and college party films from the late ’90s and early 2000s and you’ve fiddled with a smartphone within the past year, this game is perfect for a late-night venture into interactive comedy. As mentioned before, the replay value is not very high for this game, but there have been times since playing it when I’ll remember a certain scene and boot the game back up to replay that specific chapter. And at the end of the day, that means that Virtual Morality has left its mark on its player, which is really what matters.
Bottom Line: I’d definitely give Virtual Morality a shot. If you’re up for a more serious game with lots of action, Virtual Morality might not be the best fit for you; however, for a leisurely one-shot type of night, this is definitely the game that you should be booting up. It’s a live-action alternative to a cheesy Netflix flick, and that’s exactly what I think Ilan Benjamin had in mind.