Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release date: 05/08/2012
You probably won’t get Datura the first time you play it. It segues from one surreal scene to the next with little context. Your contact with the Myst-like environment is a rubbery disembodied hand. It ostensibly feels like controlling an interactive experimental film made by a European team with a taste for symbolic imagery seemingly inspired by filmmaker David Lynch. I guess the approach isn’t that surprising—the plant the game is named for has been known to cause trips that often end in arrest or hospitalization when taken for recreation. Whether the concept works as a game is questionable.
If you’re expecting Datura to play like you’re actually on drugs, stop reading. Anything related to actual drug use is completely open to artistic interpretation and yeah, it’s weird, but not the wacked-out Fear and Loathing way you’re imagining. Instead, Datura tries its best to be a strange sensory experience (particularly if you’re directing that hand with a Move controller) as you wander through a secluded forrest, that, if you take quote from Dante’s Inferno used in the opening at face value, is probably the protagonist’s limbo.
Such as it is, the forest is populated with various objects of interest: fountains, statues, piles of trash and doors to nowhere are all useful in one way or another, making up the bulk of the largely exploratory game play. It’s pretty obvious that the objects all represent various moments in the user’s jumbled timeline, as solving any of the game’s simple puzzles results in an abrupt change to a playable vignette where you have to make a moral choice.
Yet this system presents a big problem: a lot of these choices aren’t readily apparent. I applaud Plastic for (in some ways) not beating you over the head with what to do at any given time, but Datura’s dreamlike direction is so vague that at times you’re unsure of what exactly your options are.
A good example is a flashback that takes back in the back of a police van. At first you can barely shift the camera and your only interaction is to keep pestering the cop sitting next to you. Only when the van crashes do you realize you’re handcuffed to him; a nearby hacksaw lets you saw your way to freedom, but if you’re not using a Move you may entirely miss the option to cut right through the guy’s arm.
I get the point, it’s supposed to measure your own scruples. But some of the “bad” choices you can make force you to stick to Datura’s inscrutable style while totally throwing logic out the window. If Plastic is trying to tell a morality fable using drugs as a scapegoat, making things a little less muddled would go a long way towards not feeling like art for art’s sake. Sadly that feeling is everywhere.
You can breeze through entire game in less than two hours, and despite the choices you can make there’s really no reason to play through it twice. I appreciate that Sony approved its existence, since abstract designs like this one show how video games are slowly developing into a rich and diverse medium.
Regardless, there’s just not enough of anything to really latch onto, and the alleged narrative elements present make about as much sense as the second half of Lynch's movie, Mulholland Drive. So the question remains, can you bottle the kind of experience Datura seems to be reaching for into a game? It’s probably possible, but when even forum users don’t recommend taking such a dangerous and unpleasant drug, do you really want to try?