I wake up in the middle of a frozen wasteland. Crawling along the hard surface, I clear away some snow with my forearm, exposing the ice underneath. It's not a wasteland at all; it's a lake. Beneath the ice is a golden chalice. A noise from behind prompts me to clear away more snow, exposing a horror underneath: A woman is trapped below the ice, and she's still alive.
The pickaxe still rests in my hand, so I immediately go to work, chipping away as the woman squirms against the surface. My heart pounds as the axe falls again and again, slowly cracking the ice. Finally, the ice gives way – directly beneath me – and I tumble into the chilly abyss, sinking down as I watch the light of sky recede into nothingness. Again, I awake in the forest, the mask in my hand, which I quickly discard.
This is a moment pulled directly from Datura. Did I do something wrong? Something right? I haven't got a clue.
Critics, myself included, are wont to use words like "experience" when describing a game. "Game" is often not the most interesting descriptor, and, frankly, it's boring to use the same terms over and over again. But "experience" is probably the most accurate word I could attach to Datura – an experience (mostly) amplified by its use of the PlayStation Move.
As Datura begins, an unnamed, unseen protagonist awakens in a moving ambulance, a blanket covering his body and electrodes stuck to his chest. From a first-person perspective, your first task is to ... remove your blanket and yank a pair of electrodes off your chest. This results in the heart monitor flatlining and the (not particularly observant) paramedic jolting you a couple of times with a defibrillator.
After you black out (die?), you wake up in a forest, at which point you are given no advice other than the fact that touching white trees will impart you with "spiritual knowledge," and a handy update to your map. Interacting with the world of Datura requires mimicking the appropriate action with the Move. For instance, to view the map – sketched in a simple spiral notebook – you must hold it up to your "face," with the paper getting closer or further away from the screen depending on where you hold the Move.
What happens next, story-wise, is essentially up to you. There are multiple vignettes to discover, each of which require players to solve a simple puzzle. This usually results in the protagonist being zipped away to a distant locale. One moment, you might be examining a tree – your strange, disembodied hand caressing its bark as you wave the Move – and the next, you might be running through a machine gun trench in a war zone, or escaping from a police van, or madly trying to save a woman from an icy death. Each of these situations generally offer a binary choice. In the previous example, you could choose to save the woman or attempt to extract the golden chalice.
Apart from a black or white dot representing your choice after each vignette, Datura offers no obvious reward or punishment. The choice isn't always clear either. Despite my attempt to save a drowning woman, I still wound up drowning myself and received a black dot for my effort.
My advice: Don't worry about it and just soak it all in. Whether you're navigating a hedge maze or floating through some kind of pyrotechnic insect rave, the experience is so bizarre and wholly unique that it doesn't really matter. No one ever speaks, and everything is left up to interpretation. Are you dead? Dreaming? Again, it's up to you.
We started the Snapshot feature to highlight games that Joystiq would otherwise lack the time or resources to fully review. In the case of Datura, a full "review" wouldn't really be fair. The whole of it is very short – I managed to "finish" in about an hour and a half – and many will immediately scoff at the ten dollar price. To those need some justification, I would put it like this: You're not so much paying to own a product as you are paying admission to witness some performance art.
I'm not guaranteeing that you'll enjoy every minute of it – in fact, the Move controls can be downright clunky at times – but the experience is definitely different. If different is something you crave, I can't recommend Datura enough.
This review is based on a PSN download of of Datura, provided by Sony.