She Sees Red: from Russia with blood

Full-motion video (FMV) games can be divisive: you either love or hate them. In the 1990s they offered a glimpse into the future with the use of real-life actors and high visual fidelity. But sadly they failed to live up to the promise, and we’ve now come to associate these titles with terrible performances and limited interactivity.

Personally though, I rather like FMV games. There’s something weirdly charming about them that makes me want to overlook their quirks and instead focus with a degree of affection. From older releases such as Tender Loving Care and The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Story, to more recent ones like The Bunker and The Shapeshifting Detective, their limitations mean they’re never the highest rated games – but they contain the stuff that guilty pleasures are made of.

After receiving an email about mature interactive thriller She Sees Red recently, I reached out to Luis from Novy PR and he kindly provided me with a review key for Rhinotales’ project. It promised ‘top-notch production values and visual storytelling’ through professional writing, acting, lighting and editing – and sounded promising. Could this be the FMV release we’ve all been waiting for, one which turns opinions of the genre around and finally delivers on all those promises made in the nineties?

The plot takes place in a popular nightclub in Russia, where several people have been murdered. A lone detective heads to the location after receiving an anonymous tip-off and follows every clue to track down the cunning criminal. But why is it that he keeps leaving plenty of evidence for her to find? And why is the nightclub owner so resistant to progressing the investigation? Nothing is as it seems in She Sees Red and you’ll need several playthroughs to figure out the whole story.

An ending can be reached in around 30 minutes and the whole game can be completed in under two hours, so this is one you can get through in a single sitting. The gameplay itself is pretty light – you simply make a decision between two options at several points and the plot advances accordingly – but I’d like to point out here that the plot itself isn’t. The FMV scenes can be rather brutal with violence and other adult themes, so don’t go into it looking for a nice story or with children nearby.

If you’re happy to play a game with limited gameplay and a graphic storyline, you can look forward to some clever writing. Narrative elements which don’t seem to make sense at the beginning are explained in your first ending and subsequent attempt, and there are a few interesting plot twists to uncover along the way. Thank goodness I’d turned on the ‘mature’ notice for the Later Levels’ Twitch channel though: we uncovered two of the four endings during our session and both of them involved bloodshed.

So why didn’t we go back in to discover the other two conclusions? Well, there didn’t appear to be a way to skip the scenes we’d already watched and we didn’t want to see them again after a third playthrough. However, I discovered a message from Rhinotales on the She Sees Red Steam page the following day which announced the inclusion of a skip feature in the pause menu back in September. Unfortunately this wasn’t obvious while playing, and I think I would have continued if I’d known about the option.

Instead, we turned to YouTube to check out the other endings. The silver-lining of not playing them for myself was that it gave me an opportunity to sit back and appreciate the work of the actors; Veronika Plyashkevich was great as the detective and Boris Polunin was the perfect choice for the nightclub owner. While some of their lines may be a little over-the-top, they deliver them in a way which makes the situation seem almost believable and Plyashkevich has an excellent knowing smile.

It’s no wonder Luis recommended that She Sees Red is played in Russian with English subtitles: I’m afraid to say the dub is pretty poor. There’s a certain scene involving a death that has to be one of the most overacted scenes I’ve ever witnessed in a video game, and I’m not sure the male actor could have uttered any more dying groans. I’m glad I played the recommended version because there’s a chance the quality of the dub would have taken my attention away from the storyline.

I’m also sorry to report that I experienced several crashes while playing this title on PC. They seemed to occur very soon after making a choice and while the first wasn’t game-breaking, the others that followed required me to reboot and restart the stream. We’d then be sent back to the decision point just before the one we’d most recently witnessed, meaning that the same scene had to be repeated. The skip function would have come in handy in this instances if we’d been aware of it.

She Sees Red,  video game, woman, detective

She Sees Red faces a tough battle. It’s better than other FMV games I’ve played, with higher production values and a storyline more serious than the B-movie horror plots we usually see. Sadly though, it doesn’t provide enough interactivity to mark a new start for the genre; but at the same time it’s too decent to have that so-bad-it’s-good factor many classic FMV fans will be looking for. I’d therefore save it for when you’re in the mood for watching a gritty detective film with an interesting twist.

Rhinotales are looking for options for their next game: do they go for another thriller with bigger and better features, or do they try a horror? Take a look at their movie director’s old work and see what you think. I’ll be watching with interest.

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