Review: Jessika Is a lot of Empty Drama with a Hollow Conclusion

Screenshot: Jessika

I remember when “full motion video” or FMV was a phrase that helped sell CD-Rom computer games decades ago. I also remember when FMV fell out of favor, and any game that had that acronym on its box was considered archaic. FMV essentially meant live actors mixed with digital gameplay. This concept has never fully gone away, and it somehow has made its way back to the mainstream—though more as another trick of storytelling than any specific selling point. Control used video to expand on the in-game lore and Her Story, and Telling Lies were all about watching videos of actors to solve a mystery. Jessika is essentially that same concept.

Jessika is an investigative adventure game. In it, you play as an employee of a data recovery firm attempting to reconstruct the events that led up to the suicide of the titular Jessika. The entire game is played from the perspective of someone sitting at a computer in a café, even with the ambience of walking people and cars passing by in the street. The UI is simple, and works like you would expect a computer to. You receive e-mails, and can interact with your coworkers and the client through a chat program.  Most of the meat of the game is done through the investigation app. You type in different search terms, and video or pictures appear. These videos usually contain clues in the form of keywords which you can then search for.

Screenshot: Jessika

If you know the right keywords, you can’t get right to the end of the game. Jessika gates off certain videos until you find specific keywords. This essentially sets up a pace for the game, and the story is told in a specific way. While the story unfolds, you find out that everything may not be quite as it seems—and someone is actively trying to get into your computer and stop you. This is represented by glitches, and even a sequence where files are being deleted until your coworker can stop the attack. It ups the tension and intrigue, but it ends up adding a layer of annoyance.

Jessika has a bunch of things that annoyed me during the few hours it took me to play through it. Chatting and looking at e-mails is the worst. I thought it was a neat, immersive touch at first, but it quickly started to wear on me. By the end, I hated the chat sound. It was a shrill beacon of annoying dialogue and interruptions to my investigation. The glitches got out of hand, too. Sometimes it would minimize the video I’m watching, or completely close all of the programs I had open. Once or twice would have been interesting, but it happens far too frequently. Who thought that was fun?

Screenshot: Jessika

Most of the story is told through the videos that Jessika recorded. These are acted well enough, and you can listen to the audio in German or English. Strangely, the English audio seemed to have a delay, and nothing she said was ever in sync with her lip movements. The actress who plays Jessika does a good job, and has a pretty good range of emotions. She transforms throughout her story arc, and the actress even makes an almost physical transformation to reflect that. It’s too bad the story didn’t live up to her performance.

Screenshot: Jessika

The story of Jessika was compelling up until it wasn’t. The mystery is presented in a way that makes you want to know more and diving into the video logs make you want to know how Jessika ended up the way she did. It’s literally a cautionary tale that resonates with the modern social climate with a message that is extremely relevant. But the pacing was off, especially towards the end. In the beginning we got a few hits, but by the end we ended up not even being able to watch all the videos without the “truth” being dumped on us. And it all ends up not making a whole lot of sense—a lot of empty drama with a hollow conclusion.

I was really enjoying Jessika through its first few hours. But in its last hour I started to get the sense that it wasn’t going to end in a conclusion that I would find satisfying. Unfortunately, Jessika left me feeling a little burnt. It has a good message to tell, but it’s story doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny—which is exactly what you’ll be doing as an investigator.

Jessika is available today on Steam.




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