I was surprised when I typed Datura–the first-person exploration game from 2012, not the poisonous flowering plant–into How Long to Beat? and saw that many were completing it in under two hours. That’s great. I’m a big fan of shorter games, and yes, I’m giving you stink eyes, Dragon Age: Inquisition and Stardew Valley, for each eating up over 50 hours and not being close to completion. Ugh. For some reason, I thought this game was a really long affair with obtuse puzzles. Perhaps I was thinking of Pneuma: Breath of Life instead, though that also doesn’t seem to be an epic adventure. Instead, Datura seems to be a short affair with clunky puzzles. I polished it off in two sittings, though one could easily push through it in a single go.
Datura begins with you, whoever you are, on life support in the back of an ambulance. You are tasked with removing the cloth and wires connected to your body, which surprises the EMT helping you. This is also where the game surprised me. I mean, I knew it was a first-person exploration thing, but I didn’t realize that meant you’d see your disconnected, Addams Family-esque hand floating in front of you, moving around in a certainly unnatural manner. It’s extremely bizarre at first, but you eventually get the hang of it (I almost wrote hand of it), maneuvering it into place with the analog stick and pressing R2 to perform an action. After this, you are then transported to a mysterious forest, which serves as a hub of sorts. Here, you’ll travel incomprehensibly through time and space into different playable sequences to solve some relatively straightforward puzzles.
The game was clearly designed for the PlayStation Move controller, but I don’t have one of those. So my standard PS3 controller will have to suffice. However, this resulted in some odd, finicky control methods, with myself more or less fudging my way through some puzzle elements, like taking wooden boards off a door with a crowbar or twisting something around. There’s also a lot of tilting, which, when my controller is plugged in, is a wee difficult to do in some directions. Again, you can do it and get through it, but the whole thing reads as clumsy. Also, mashing the R2 button to “run” in the woods is annoying, especially when the speed difference between walking and running is minimal and you tire rather quickly. That said, being in the autumnal forest hub is the best part of Datura, as the atmosphere is amazing and I did enjoy finding white trees and expanding my hand-drawn map.
As far as I can tell, the purpose of each sequence is to present you and your dismembered hand with a choice. Depending on what you do, the forest itself changes to reflect your actions. Are you more sinister? Well, prepare for everything to darken and play home to flies. If you are kinder, there will be brighter areas and more butterflies. It’s a little on the nose, but wandering the woods is the most enjoyable and immersing part of Datura, so it makes a difference. I think I split the difference, being nice and being naughty. A lot of the sequences are clear in terms of what is happening then and there, but on the whole, I didn’t really understand what Datura was trying to say. I’m sure everything has meaning. Maybe this is all about the poisonous plant killing you and everything after the ambulance moment is a fever dream.
Datura wants to be a literary journey through morality. Alas, it misses the mark. The big ol’ life-changing choices are easy to make, even when it comes to issues like beating a dog to death or cutting off someone’s hand. The reason for this is that the game, while visually pretty in spots, appears goofy, and the floating hand, especially when you see it next to your other, normal hand, which is connected to an arm, has a lot to do with this. There’s no solid conclusion, save for a mirror shot at the end that shows you exactly who you are, and so this was a decent two hours in a lovely wood where the fog is thick and the leaves are endless. Man, oh man, I love autumn.