Pendulo Studios’ Vertigo begins, just like the 1958 film, with a visual and musical motif of spirals. Round and round they go until you meet author Ed Miller in the worst moment of his life. Ed narrowly survives a car crash, but he loses his wife, Faye and their daughter. Staring down at the wreck of his car in a ravine, Ed suffers a debilitating bout of vertigo, only to relive the suicide of his father shortly after. A little later, you step into the shoes of Dr Julia Lomas, a therapist called in to deal with Ed’s vertigo and why he keeps talking about a wife and child whom no one but him seems to recall.
While it’s called Vertigo, complete with the licence of Hitchcock’s name and likeness, the game makes hamfisted references to the director’s work. Yes, there are birds, yes, someone will be ripping a shower curtain to the side. But when it comes to embodying the spirit of Vertigo itself, Sight and Sound’s greatest film of all time, it falls almost comically flat.
The mystery that Vertigo the game initially presents is intriguing, if quickly soured by how unbearable its protagonist is. Ed is childish and rude to the point of hostility without any obvious reason why. His behaviour is explained away by a traumatic childhood, bluntly presented as the root of all his issues and teased out by his therapist in a series of non-consensual hypnoses. The gameplay mimics Quantic Dream’s Detroit: Become Human, from awkwardly moving the controller to open a fridge and using timed button-presses to run, to rewinding memories, an idea that actually fits the concept of a therapist analysing her patient’s recollections quite well.
Due to its big licence and popular influences, it comes as a particularly sharp disappointment that the writing in the game version of Vertigo is the worst thing about it. Awkward animation and mediocre voice acting certainly don’t help. Dialogue, presumably recorded separately by actors alone in sound booths, sounds like two people having two different conversations (“What am I going to do without my husband?” “Well, you could start by making dinner”).
You might reasonably expect that a game named after the film Vertigo would, you know, follow the plot of Vertigo, but no. Everything happens in service of an increasingly ridiculous story, which reduces a film that featured male obsession, the male gaze and the ways in which victims unknowingly facilitate their own abuse, to the vendetta of a psychopath with a seemingly unlimited supply of drugs. If you thought the film was convoluted, try getting your head around this nonsense. It is almost worth playing for the part where an elderly man is, apparently convincingly, impersonated by a 24-year-old woman in a trenchcoat and sunglasses.
This version of Vertigo portrays women in a way that is seriously difficult to stomach in a post-#MeToo era. Here, women prey on an unsuspecting man using, for instance, sex and hypnosis to lure him in and do him harm. Male trauma is of course absolutely real, but this game doesn’t have the tools to examine it with the required care, and ends up essentially saying #MenToo – and doing a significant disservice to the body of cinematic work that inspires it.
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