Flavourworks unveiled PlayStation-exclusive PlayLink game Erica back in 2017, and we were intrigued by the concept. It mixed live-action with a strong emphasis on narrative, and considering PlayLink was very new at the time, we couldn't wait to get our hands on it. The small team at Flavourworks has kept Erica close to their collective chest since then though, and at Gamescom Opening Night Live this week they had some big news - it had actually launched.
What's more, it looks very different as well. The main actor of the first trailer is gone in favour of Holly Earl, but there's a certain style that's similar about this new-look Erica as well. It's still a PlayLink title, and it's still using live-action footage, although it's more than just another FMV game the likes of which we've seen a ton of in the past.
The key difference here is that you can interact with the world in more meaningful ways. Using your smartphone you can move, rotate, and manipulate items, and Flavourworks has done a really good job in cleverly manipulating angles and cuts to make sure that you're never left feeling like the 'footage' has stopped until you do something. From turning keys to sifting through records, it's much more than just pressing a button and watching an interactive film play out in front of you.
Saying that, you do have various choices, and much like something along the lines of Until Dawn, this branches the narrative in dramatic ways. The butterfly effect means that there are many ways your decisions can unfold to have unseen and sometimes unintended consequences, including multiple endings depending on what paths you take. This also makes it incredibly replayable, especially with friends, so you can see what they do differently when faced with particular dilemmas.
Considering the game is around two hours long, it's hard to talk about much of the story without giving key points away, but you play as Erica who is haunted by memories of her past, and when a suspicious package turns up on her doorstep one day, she gets involved in a police investigation that uncovers these painful memories once more. It's got plenty of twists and turns, and it's not until the very end that you realise it's packed full of details that you can use to unravel the mysteries within.
The standout thing about Erica is the outstanding performance from Holly Early in the leading role, who gives subtlety and emotion to the character who's constantly dealing with troubling situations. It's a quiet performance, but impactful where needed, which is important considering the emotional rollercoaster you go on by the end, and the various directions you can take her character in.
Since this is the length of a film it's worth comparing it to films a little bit, and it's shot professionally and with careful attention to detail. As you can see from some of the images dotted around this review alone, the lighting is particularly poignant, and we particularly enjoyed the contrast between the bright, normal moments and the darker, more intense scenes.
This is more than just an interactive film though, as it's got a lot more agency as mentioned, allowing you to do more than just observe with the occasional button press. It's a great example of mixing FMV into games in more meaningful ways, and it provides an adventure that's worth exploring multiple times for the full picture. It's dense, gripping, and very much worth the wait - we can't wait to see what Flavourworks does next.