Developer Stout Games
Things You Might Like
- I honestly can’t think of anything
Things You Might Not Like
- Waiting for something — anything — interesting to happen
- Compromising gameplay for monologue
- The single most linear ‘gaming’ experience you will ever have to deal with
This would have worked better as a BBC Radio 4 drama than a video game. There really is no need for this kind of thing to be passed off as a game.
1 out of 5 Kitchen Clocks
Jonathan David Lim
Do you enjoy waiting? I know I don’t. I can’t stand it. Whether that waiting involves ennui, disquietude, or good old-fashioned inattentiveness, waiting sucks. So then why, of the hundreds of potential themes that have yet to be explored in gaming, would one create an experience that involves nothing but sitting around and waiting?
And yet this is precisely what indie developer Stout Games has done. Despite the grand declaration of creating the first game in which the player controls the protagonist’s subconscious, there is nothing new or exciting or even remotely interesting about Dinner Date. With almost as much, if not more, vitriol than ESPF had for Heavy Rain, I renounce Dinner Date as little more than a failed attempt at pompous, mouse-controlled computerised filmmaking.
Here’s the basic gist of the ‘game’: you ‘play’ as the subconscious of Julian Luxemburg, a man sitting at his kitchen table waiting for a date to show up. Throughout the dull, arduous process, the ‘player’ is given front row seats to all his moaning, all his whining, all his quoting of Lord Byron done in an unapologetically flagrant attempt to sound deep and intellectual. (Stout Games do little to hide this fact, as they consider themselves an ‘intellectual games’ developer.) The ‘game’ involves watching Julian — through, of course, a first-person perspective, because how else would one become a subconscious? — eat the bread and soup he prepared for two, and drink three whole glasses of wine. This, oddly, tips him into full-blown drunkenness, at which point there is a knock at the door and this sorry excuse for a ‘game’ ends.
Now, you might be wondering, ‘Hang on. Last review, Jonathan was all about One Chance, a game so disgustingly artsy that even Jackson Pollock would look at it and think, ‘Damn, son, you call that a game?’‘ But the major difference between these two is that, unlike One Chance, Dinner Date doesn’t give you any choices. Sure, it hails itself as having a ‘unique interface’, but in reality, it’s more linear than your run-of-the-mill first person shooter.
The ‘game’ is controlled by your keyboard. Hit the key corresponding to whichever task is floating in front of you, and Julian will engage in said task. You can either: fiddle with your spoon; dip your bread into the soup; eat the soup-covered bread, or wow! maybe even not-soup-covered bread!; slosh your wine about in its glass; [insert minutia here].
This is precisely the thing gamers don’t want to have to bother with. Not only does the plot lack a compelling hook, but the ‘gameplay’ is so derivative, it may as well be the homework assigned by a literature professor who understands little of the world around him/her, and only what is said in the numerous writings of Tolstoy and Dickens (a pair of writers who, in case you hadn’t heard, are hundreds of years since dead). In this sense, Dinner Date is a pretentious, smug inclusion to gaming on the whole. It besmirches the entire industry by invoking a sense of snobbishness akin to saying ‘Super Mario Bros., for what it is worth, is little more than a child’s fantasy told through the pixelated equal of a Stephen King novel‘, and to which I would reply, ‘Fuck you. I like Stephen King.’
You see, while I do champion the ongoing efforts of independent and mainstream developers alike to consider the craft of game development as an art — the way the good folks at Extra Credits do — I do not subscribe to this model of predilection. To this sense that games can only be ‘artistic’ if solid game mechanics are forsaken in favour of long-winded monologue and repetitive action. Stout Games even go so far as to recommend its audience drink Merlot while ‘playing’ this travesty, to which I can only respond: ‘Get over yourselves.’
At best, Dinner Date is unnecessary. There are hundreds of games available that are able to evoke the same — if not a better — artistic quality to their titles without compromising gameplay, the very thing that makes a video game a game. Shadow of the Colossus springs immediately to mind. It’s a fun, gorgeous experience with a deep, compelling storyline that boasts a genuinely unique interface and provides the player with long-term satisfaction upon completion. In this regard, Dinner Date is Colossus‘ polar opposite. It may serve better as an antiquated radio drama, but not as a video game.
Jonathan David Lim
Review by Jonathan David Lim, editor-in-chief.