Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dinner Date Review

Dinner Date, developed and published by Stout Games.
The Good: Really unique, lengthy voiced dialogue and pleasing background music
The Not So Good: Limited interaction has no bearing whatsoever on the story, very linear and extremely short with no replay value
What say you? An odd story-driven game that lacks the variety required for long-term interest and the interaction required for computer-based entertainment: 5/8

Though I have never been personally stood up at a date (I usually got rejected long before it reached that point), I can imagine that it’s quite uncomfortable and embarrassing. How long do you wait? Do you finish eating? How many hours should you dedicate to stalking your date afterwards? Well, wonder no more, as your Dinner Date has arrived. In the game, you delve deeper and deeper into the mind of protagonist Julian Luxemburg as the evening turns increasingly more discouraging. It sounds like an interesting idea (I think), but does it translate well into a game? Is it even really a game to begin with?

The presentation of Dinner Date is solid for an indie title. The single room you spend most of your time in has some nice detail, from the worn table to the various objects you may interact with along the way. The bread looks yummy, and if I liked wine that would probably look appealing, too. The most disappointing aspect is Julian’s hands, which (unfortunately) you spend a considerable amount of time staring at. There are some nice canned (and repetitive) animations when things do happen in Dinner Date. A highlight of Dinner Date is the sound design, starting with the completely voiced dialogue heard for the entirety of the game. The background music is excellently composed, a fitting balance for the mood of Dinner Date. Unfortunately, the music drowns out the audio and there is no way to balance it (there is only an overall volume control), so you’ll frequently have to rely on the subtitles to figure out what the protagonist just said. Overall, though, I was pleased with what Dinner Date brings in terms of graphics and sound.

As the subconscious of Julian Luxemburg, you are waiting for his (I assume) hot Asian date to show up for dinner. An entire game takes all of twenty minutes, and each game plays out the same as the last: the same dialogue and the same events at the same time in the same order, no matter what actions you perform in-game. This obviously has a drastic impact on replay value: once is enough and twice is more than enough, which makes it hard to recommend the game for $12.50. The completely linear game would greatly benefit from either longer exposition or (my preference) multiple endings, so you’d at least need to run through the game more than once to experience everything. You don’t have to start anew each time, though, as Dinner Date allows you to choose a chapter, eliminating the need for saved games. Still, the amount of content Dinner Date offers leaves a lot to be desired.

So, what can you do? Not really that much, actually, as you control his subconscious but not his mind (or something like that) and can only do a limited number of actions: reach for bread, drum your fingers, look at the clock, wipe your brow, et cetera. All of this is accomplished using only the keyboard (the camera view is controlled automatically) and depressing the keys prompted by the floating icons on the screen. As I stated earlier, it actually makes no difference what you do in the game, as the one-sided conversation will play out in a fixed order no matter what. It’d be nice if the character referenced what he is doing (“mmm…nice bread,” for example) at least a little bit to make you feel like part of the “action.” Really, all the buttons do is give you something to do while the story advances; you must occasionally take a swig of wine to advance to the next chapter, but other than that your actions are irrelevant. I don’t like feeling irrelevant. I think a lot of people will get turned off by the lack of interaction in Dinner Date, but it’s not really the point of the game I think: it’s like a novel you read or a TV show you watch more than a game you play, which might appeal to some. That said, Dinner Date does need more varied content to survive given the limited interaction you’ll experience during you time waiting for the elusive beauty.

Dinner Date is like a book: linear, repetitive, the same every time. But as long as you treat Dinner Date like an experience rather than a traditional game, you’ll find its compelling presentation and unique nature enjoyable for a time or two. I found the story to be decent, not great, but the first-person perspective adds much to the effective immersion of Dinner Date. That said, the “game” has two main faults: a completely linear story and a lack of meaningful interaction. You might as well be watching a movie or television show, since none of your actions change or influence the in-game events and the end result is the same every time. Two play-throughs (at twenty minutes each) is quite enough to experience all that Dinner Date has to offer. Other story-driven games like Sleep Is Death at least offers user modification to extend the life of the product; $12.50 is a steep price for a game with such a short shelf life. Still, those who enjoy story-driven games or are simply curious about the perils of the dating scene will find a different experience spending a night or two on a Dinner Date.