Datura is a PlayStation Network exclusive from Polish developer Plastic and Sony Santa Monica. Costing just R75, it’s a short-lived experience with little replay value but should appeal to people who enjoy PSN titles such as Flower and Journey that focus on having an emotional impact on the player rather than entertaining them with thrilling gameplay.
Datura is designed around the motion controls that PlayStation Move affords, but can also be played using a combination of the DualShock 3’s buttons and its SixAxis capabilities.
Plastic’s last PSN title was 2008’s Linger in Shadows – a very surreal and impressionistic tech demo of sorts that only lasted a few minutes. Datura has a similar visual style to Linger in Shadows – one that appears more painterly than traditional graphics yet still maintains realistic proportions and colours. It’s a striking technique that makes Datura feel like you’ve stepped into a fascinating painting.
Thankfully this title is quite a bit longer and more interactive than Linger in Shadows was, ensuring that you won’t want to leave its atmospheric world until you’ve spent a good hour or so exploring all it has to offer.
Datura takes place in a foggy, insect-filled forest with two main sections separated by a sturdy gate. You can walk from one side of the forest to the other in about two minutes flat so it’s not a very large area at all. You play from a first-person perspective and must basically walk around the forest looking for things to interact with. Handling certain objects or stumbling upon ‘event triggers’ will transport you into the middle of a variety of scenarios, most of which offer you a binary choice between being bad and good.
For example, there’s one point in Datura where you are whisked away to a frozen lake and must choose between freeing a person trapped under the ice and chipping away at another section of the lake to unearth a trophy that will earn you the ‘Greed’ trophy on PSN.
You have a basic map to help you find your way around the forest and touching white-barked trees will fill in the surrounding area on your map. This only proves useful on your first playthrough, however, since Datura’s world is so small that by your second playthrough you’ll have it fully mapped out in your head.
The sturdy gate that separates the two main areas of the forest basically serves to keep you in the first area until you’ve completed Datura’s first four challenges. There’s also another locked gate in the second area that requires four additional challenges to be completed before you can witness Datura’s (unsatisfying) conclusion.
These eight challenges effectively represent the bulk of Datura’s gameplay and feel more like separate tech demos than anything else – something that is made even more apparent by the fact that this title doesn’t have a coherent narrative. One challenge has you playing a xylophone while another sees you throwing fruit at a sleeping pig. Whether you choose to play Datura using Move or a DualShock 3, frequent control issues hamper the experience. There was one section where I needed to use a crowbar to open a boarded-up door that I found impossible to complete using a standard controller, while throwing a ball at a stack of tin cans using Move just doesn’t feel as realistic as it should.
Basic movement using Move is also an issue because you aren’t allowed to pair it up with a navigation controller. You have to hold down the ‘Move’ button to walk forward and hold down ‘X’ to go into ‘free view’ mode. Datura’s control system feels clumsy most of the time (the Move setup more so than the standard controller one) and I’m very surprised that a top studio like Sony Santa Monica didn’t raise a red flag regarding this issue.
The best aspect of Datura is undoubtedly its audio-visual presentation. As I’ve mentioned, the graphics are spellbinding in their own way and the music and sound effects do a great job of enhancing Datura’s ambience and its ability to resonate on an emotional level with its audience. I must just point out that this title made me quite motion sick after about twenty minutes of gameplay so if you’ve ever felt queasy playing certain first-person games in the past then there’s a good chance this will give you motion sickness too.
While Datura’s brevity, incoherent narrative and control issues ultimately hold it back from greatness I still think that Plastic is a studio with a lot of potential. In my opinion Datura is a much richer experience than Linger in Shadows and explores some interesting surreal scenarios that just need a bit more fleshing out and tying together to form something of substance that gamers can hold on to. If you’ve got R75 to spare and want to experience one of PSN’s most artistic and bizarre titles, then be sure to add Datura to your download list.