Ever been stood up for a date? You have? Really? I haven’t.
So to understand that sort of feeling the fine chap at Stout Games has crafted an interactive experience on those lines.
I get lost in the thoughts of a sad man in my SquareGo review.
The whole sordid question of games as art has been being bandied about with shameless abandon over the last few years leading us ever closer to the stage that developers will start to fob off any old rubbish as some sort of ‘aesthetic interactivitic experience rendered through a videogame media’. Which presumably is some art-hole gibberish for ‘not really a game’
Stout Games recent title Dinner Date, thankfully isn’t any old rubbish. It is a great many things, and while some might say that rubbish was among them, we at SquareGo wouldn’t go that far. To say it has limited appeal and will quite frankly infuriate many people is, however, very much the case.
The concept is simple enough; it’s a first person game from the point of view of a man named Julian Luxemburg, who has prepared a romantic evening and a meal for a mysterious Asian girl called Myca due at his house for 9pm sharp. Only she hasn’t arrived and our dear Julian is left sitting in his kitchen pondering the tempting bottle of Otra Vida and glancing at the ever-ticking real-time clock.
Now whilst this sounds like a setting that would mark the beginning of a Broken Sword adventure game, and offers some potential to begin a mysterious tale, it isn’t. The player doesn’t control Julian in a traditional sense, merely giving cues to his attention whilst his mind wanders. His thoughts are presented in an abstract stream of sentences that overlap and fade in and out while he sits there, through which we get a better understanding of who Julian is and how this situation weights upon his mind. As the game progresses, the optional controls appear as individual keys in little bubbles which bob around the screen like floaters on an eyeball. Each corresponding to something in the room, such as the wine, Julian’s hands or the wall clock. Eventually one will lead to the end of each of the game’s four chapters, skipping time forwards an amount and altering the situation slightly.
It’s a very unusual experience and you could see that Dinner Date is verifiable part of the ‘games as art’ movement which has been slowly emerging over the last few years. It holds a lot in common with the more abstract titles like Vanitas or Fatale: Exploring Salome; seeking to be more thoughtful and inscrutable rather than the more instinctive and visceral experiences of say, Flower.
The trouble is that despite the novelty and genuine thought and time which has gone into making Dinner Date a truly unique game, the final result seems a tad threadbare. The entire game can be completed in less than half an hour and despite the plentitude of different cues that can be focused on, the outcomes are invariably exactly the same every time. An interesting test would be to see if the game automatically begins a new chapter if left running long enough, as the game automatically runs dry of dialogue and all except the final cue after a short time during each chapter.
While it’s definitely worth looking at from both an artistic viewpoint and as an envelope-pushing experience, unfortunately, considering that the relative cost of the game for such a short experience is $12.45 (The price of two bottles of Otra Vida!), it’s impossible to recommend at its current price.
So the question becomes: are you hungry for Art?