I’ve always been a big fan of anything FMV, from the cinematic experiences we saw in games like The Complex and Dark Nights with Poe and Munro, to the more involved games with a little FMV such as Headspun, SIMULACRA and The 7th Guest. Jessika is the latest game I’ve been playing which plays like titles such as Her Story and the brilliant The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, a game in which you uncover hidden FMV sequences in order to build the full story and discover what happened through the means of investigation. It’s a lot more hands-on than I was expecting, but was it intuitive and fun to play?
A word of warning, as I do with all games that touch on subjects like this, the game does contain a number of sensitive subjects and themes. I won’t talk about them in-depth within the review, but in order to discover the truth behind Jessika, you’ll have to delve deep into her thoughts and emotions which include sexual and physical abuse as well as the key reason for playing the game is revolved around discovering why she killed herself. There’s nothing graphic or in-your-face in the FMV (unlike The Bunker), but the suggestion is there and you will hear about it as you progress.
So, let’s boot up our CG laptop in our local coffee shop and see if we can discover the truth behind Jessika and why she did what she did…
Jessika is an investigation-based FMV adventure which plays out like The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, Her Story and SIMULACRA combined. Instead of choosing options and progressing the story, it’s up to you to discover the FMV videos which are sored upon the virtual PC which you’re virtually gaining access too via your virtual laptop. Let me try and explain that a little better…
You are a PI, an investigator who helps discover things for people via the use of your many computer skills – you’re not like old-fashioned sleuths who walk around with magnifying glasses whilst smoking a pipe! As such, Jessika’s father has hired you to investigate why his daughter had committed suicide as he cannot fathom the reason behind why she took this approach due to her never really talking about her problems. He didn’t live with Jessika anymore, he had split from her mother at an early age and only saw her on occasions, so the secrets and life experiences she had were almost all kept hidden from him.
Your job is to search for keywords within Jessika’s PC, digging through the hundreds of video and image files which have been hidden behind various passwords in order to reconstruct the chain of events which led to this terrible event. There is no help, no hints, no pre-chosen words to search for, it’s all up to you to listen to the videos you find, take notes, act on instinct and become a true detective as you wade through the evidence to find the common words which link everything together.
If you’ve played Her Story or The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, you’ll feel right at home here. Your goal is to listen to everything which is said within the FMV sequences and read the image files you find – making notes of words which you feel could uncover more files on the PC. You’ll initially start off with guesses such as “suicide” or “hello”, as you’re given very little to go off, but once they’ve returned a number of videos for you to watch, you’ll begin to expand and reveal many more keywords by simple trial and error.
Every video is fully transcribed – which is great as the English dubbing isn’t the clearest at times due to it being a German lady speaking in English (or German, if you prefer that), and all of the images are presented in German but with an English translation. As you begin to search you’ll also come across a number of encrypted files – these were a little confusing in terms of how to actually unlock them for me. Basically, the more you search, the more words get placed into your virtual password-unlocker system. So, if you find a file you can’t access, keep searching and eventually, you’ll accidentally input a word that’s triggered the password bot to unlock it for you.
This leads to a lot of back and forth between the various words you’ve already unlocked that led to files you can’t yet view due to the password. Thankfully, all of these words which actually have files attached to them are stored as a list which you can click through very quickly to scan over all previously found files. By the end of my first playthrough, which took around four hours, I had found almost all of the words and unlocked about 95% of all of the files – I refuse to read a guide though so I’m still trying to discover the final few keywords which will give me access to the final files.
Just like SIMULACRA, you do have some external ‘help’ as you investigate the events of Jessika. There’s a chat application you can bring up and talk to your investigation team and Jessika’s father on. This section doesn’t actually let you type what you want and when you want to, unlike the search function, but you can respond with set answers when the people engage with you. Interestingly enough, you can also add new contacts which you find hidden within the images you discover whilst looking into he life, gaining access to new groups and information via this app instead.
Although this chat app doesn’t really give you too much help in terms of discovering keywords, it does allow you to expand upon the situations you uncover. For example, the father regularly asks for updates on what’s going on and what you found, expanding on the information and offering his side of the situation if you find videos of Jessika upset over certain things. This can lead to you thinking of new things to search for or even just wanting to re-watch a few older videos to see if you can read into the words a little more and uncover un-said emotions.
You’ll also regularly receive emails but I found most of these to be pointless and there simply to make it seem like you’re working on a real laptop. A lot of the messages you get are spam emails which don’t offer anything to the investigation, yet later on, there are a few which do help out and unlock new evidence and information for you to explore. I personally would have liked it if we had more interaction with both the emails and the chat, maybe having the ability to email newly uncovered contacts or ask our colleagues about things freely by typing our questions – kind of how The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker worked.
Does it work?
I personally had a fun time with Jessika, I felt like a detective as I took notes of what was being said to me, try to search for them, then discovered new video files and images which led to even more video files and avenues to pursue. I wasn’t too keen on the process of unlocking the files as I didn’t 100% understand how it worked at first, clicking on an encrypted file simply tells you that you need more data in order to obtain the password. Eventually, I realised you simply had to keep searching and finding new files in order to unlock the files you’ve found previously although I would have preferred maybe a mini-game or hands-on password decryption process.
However, despite my opinion on the mechanics, the execution of the game was done really well, allowing you to easily return to previously searched words, saving videos and files as favourites so you always had them to hand, seeing the full transcribed subtitles of a video, and further expanding on the information you find with colleagues and the father. The immersion is also top-notch as the laptop starts acting ‘funny’ later into the game, even shutting down with a ‘Blue Screen of Death’ at one point, and the spam emails simply add to the overall experience that makes you believe you’re working on an actual laptop in a cafe.
In terms of the story you uncover (without spoilers), I thought the majority of it was very interesting and the things you find out about Jessika’s life are intriguing and kept me hooked on finding the answers. However, I wasn’t too keen on the final conclusion as it left me with a few questions and I was a little confused – I even re-watched the final video about six times as I didn’t fully know what had actually happened. I think I understand the events now, after sitting back and re-watching my recording I made, but it wasn’t the ending I was expecting so it threw me a little off guard.
I can’t review an FMV game and not talk about the actual FMV segments! As stated previously, the FMV is performed by a German lady who you can have either played in German or dubbed in English with a German accent. I could understand everything being said, but for those who can’t, a full English transcript is provided for every video and image you find. Interestingly, the transcript is written as the actor reads it, so you can’t just read the whole thing until she’s acted it out – like subtitles on a live TV show. Sometimes the audio doesn’t match the written text but 99% of the time it’s the same.
The acting was good, it’s always this one woman with no other people – it’s like her own personal Vlog files with no other participants. You get to see her at various stages of her life, indicated by how she dresses, the way she reacts to certain things, and the location she’s in, all being intentional key elements to the story and narrative being presented. In terms of realism, although the laptop and the installed apps helped create this surreal environment and realistic scenario, the fragmented video files of 30-60 seconds and well-formatted cinematography pulled me out of the immersion a little. Nobody stores files like that, they’d be full-length videos and not split into small segments – but that clearly wouldn’t work for the ‘game’ side of the experience.
I would have personally liked a little more variety with the video files, as well as a lower quality to indicate she was doing this herself and not with a production company behind her, but that’s purely for the immersion and atmosphere. It would have been nice to have more red herring and non-important videos as well, things you could discover and hear about that had no connection to anything you’re doing. I believe there were a number of these hidden within the files, such as the information on her dog, but I imagine some of the keywords in relation to that were the catalyst to unlocking other files later on.
Overall, I thought the experience was very good and well-presented. Although the immersion wasn’t 100% there, the actress did a great job and the in-game applications helped keep up the pretence that I was on a laptop in a coffee shop.
If you like games in which you need to manually investigate to find the answers, Jessika is for you. Nothing is handed to you on a plate or shoved into your face, you have to listen to every video, read every chat message, and examine every image you find and receive in order to uncover the hidden files that lead to the truth behind Jessika’s suicide. There’s no alternative ending or branching story, so you’ll find yourself only playing through the game once or twice in order to get everything out of it, but the experience you have is one which will stick with you for a while. Although trial and error are going to play a major part, using your own deductions and figuring out keywords without guessing is very satisfying and makes you feel like a real cyber sleuth!
If you wish to try out Jessika for yourself, to see if it’s a game you feel you’ll enjoy playing, there’s a demo available on their steam page HERE.
- - Makes you feel like a real cyber sleuth
- - The FMV segments are well-acted and of high quality
- - The entire investigation is left to you with little to no hints
- - Chat coversations that expand on the infomation yo've found are interesting
- - The virtual laptop in a virtual coffee shop is a very nice touch and builds immersion
- - The FMV, albeit being very good, is a little too high quality and can sometimes pull you out of the immersion
- - You'll only play through the experience once or twice before you've seen everything
- - Although unlocking files is easy (simply search for things and they'll unlock), it can get frustrating if you hit a wall and can't think of any more keywords
- - Some of the English dubbing doesn't match up to the English subtitles