Fatale: Exploring Salome
Every once in a while, I come across a game that I hate with such intensity that I don’t feel bad in the slightest about hurting anyone’s feelings. In the world of indie gaming, where development teams can usually fit in a Volkswagen and often read every review of their baby, you must really understand how much I dislike Fatale: Exploring Salome to even discuss it. While developers Tale of Tales describe it more as an interactive experience than a game, that doesn’t excuse the fact that I was bored out of my mind the thirty wasted minutes I spent “playing” it. Maybe I should back up.
.
Fatale is independent art game that supposedly tells the story of Salome, a dancer in King Herod’s palace, and by “tells the story of,” I mean “features a topless woman who apparently is.” This is all explained in the readme and on the game’s website, but the closest Fatale ever comes to admitting this is through floating Oscar Wilde quotations. According to the manual, once again, the story is loosely based off of Wilde’s play “Salome,” a work that I can safely say without reading is much better than its adaptation. But as it is hiding behind the classification of “arty game,” Fatale deftly avoids explaining itself in the slightest. All of these Wilde excerpts appear in the mind-numbingly boring opening, which involves six-and-a-half minutes (I timed it) of walking around in a boring cellar playing with wooden box physics, waiting for the quotations to appear. There’s really nothing to do but wait for the game to let you move on except curse your rapidly-developing carpel tunnel syndrome induced by the terrible controls. It’s clear that the developers wanted this experience to “immerse” you, but without any substance or skillful presentation, the whole segment leans more toward holding your head under water while you suffocate.
Who is this woman?

To quote another play, "Words, words, words."

After the game decides you’ve had enough of being bored in a cellar, some dude comes along and, spoiler warning, puts you out of your misery. You then inexplicably transform from nameless, faceless, supposedly-blank-canvas-on-which-to-project-yourself-but-really-just-a-worthless-jerk-with-an-inner-ear-disorder into a floating camera that somehow manages to control worse than Captain Cellar Rat. This is exacerbated by the fact that the game apparently is sick of doing all the work and commissions you to spend 20 minutes trudging through various obstacles to accomplish approximately 45 seconds of gameplay. Among these obstacles are the aforementioned controls from hell, an unnecessarily long period of waiting between each so-called interaction, and a disturbing lack of reason to do anything besides look at Salome’s digital boobies. Fatale’s interactive gimmick consists of a little mini-game that involves looking for a light, waiting five seconds, clicking it, placing the cursor over it, waiting five more seconds, and right-clicking. This little adventure is repeated about ten times more than it takes to get old. Its only function is to show you the various confusing features of the environment that are not nipples.
BEWBS

Think pious thoughts...

The gameplay is simply unbearable, mostly due to the fact that it serves no purpose other than as an excuse to get players to look at the environment. “Why must all these candles be put out?” say players.  ”Who cares! Just look at our shit!” retorts the game. You see, without any entertainment value of its own or even a simple purpose, the gameplay falls flat on its face. Take another indie game with pretension leaking out its ears, Braid. Sure, its budget stretched the constraints of the term “indie,” but it still provided fun and interesting time puzzles in between ambiguous, philosophical text boxes. Fatale, on the other hand, is like having just the text boxes and instead of puzzles, the player has to press a button every 30 seconds. It really seems futile to try to package a bullshit emotional experience into the format of a game without any actual gameplay. If all they player can do is watch, then why not make it a movie or a slideshow? Why bother giving them the false sense of participation? Even when compared to games like Heavy Rain, which some consider merely a movie with quick-time events, Fatale utterly fails. The player is never presented with an opportunity to influence the story or a chance to miss a command, the only choice is either to click the mouse to keep going, or not to click it to stay put. This facade of interactivity really highlights the fact that the best games can immerse the player without having to rely on vague symbolism or pretentious nonsense. Though it’s a first person shooter, Half-Life 2 did a much better job of endearing me to its female character, Alyx, without any nudity whatsoever. This may be due to the fact that Alyx is an actual character with an actual personality rather than a lifeless statue. It’s safe to say that Alyx’s hug at the beginning of Half-Life 2: Episode 1 affected my emotions at least four hundred times more than Salome’s entire dance during Fatale’s epilogue. It’s not even poor characterization, it’s no characterization at all.

On that matter, the player character is almost even more of a mystery. The clueless dipshit in the dungeon at the beginning of the game is hardly role playing material, despite the claims of Tale of Tales. That is, unless you get a fancy out of pushing crates around. The developers say you’re supposed to fill in your role and your crime, so I guess they just expect you to think up the most ghastly sin imaginable to warrant such a horrifically dull penance. Your avatar in the second segment has even less of a personality, as he’s basically just noclip’s alcoholic cousin. In this mode, you’re not even allowed the illusion of roleplay since no one in the scene will acknowledge the floating camera in their face. Expecting players to fall in love with someone by making them observe the person topless via hidden camera seems less heartwarming and more voyeur. For the epilogue, the game realizes that whoever is operating the camera obviously has no idea what they’re doing and puts it on a tripod to watch Salome as she gets down. Gets down and boogies, that is, not anything else, you pervert. The main problem, though there are many, with these three player character stand-ins is that they only exist as a viewport into the game world, not as characters themselves. Thus, there really is no interaction, only observation, and the player’s actions, insignificant though they are, cannot logically be tied to any human being. While this may not seem like a huge issue, when you consider that Fatale’s entire purpose is to connect you with Salome, it becomes apparent that without a real player character to act as a medium, you’re not doing any “exploring” at all, only looking.

Sally

I’m certainly not against the idea of a blank slate protagonist, as evidenced by my Half-Life example. Note, however, that Half-Life is a shooter and Gordon Freeman’s main purpose is to aim at things for the purpose of stuffing them with bullets. In adventure games, the protagonist is often the most interesting character and without a personality, the games quickly shift to nothing more than puzzles. A personality allows the protagonist to explain their motivations and give assistance to the player. For example, in Shifter’s Box, the character of Sally drives the entire game with her need to return home. Without her emotions and relatability, the game would be no more compelling that a common “escape the room” flash game. Her fears of being stuck in every dimension but her own act to motivate the player to find Sally’s way home for her. By contrast, the avatars in Fatale have no drives, motivations, desires, opinions, or credibility whatsoever. If instead of simply shoving players in the husk of Blandy McLightsout, Tale of Tales had instead given him an actual physical presence, the game might have been less crap. I think they started on the right track in the cellar scene by one, letting the player move boxes to show that, yes, they do exist, and two, having the prison guard acknowledge their existence by slicing off their existent head. Sadly, what would have been a decent setup for a stroll around the terrace becomes nothing more than an out-of-place aside when the game takes away your body. I understand that maybe in the second section, you’re supposed to be a ghost or something, but wouldn’t it have been much better if Salome would look at you while you stared at her breasts? That is, if by “much better” you mean “a thousand times more awkward,” which highlights the inherent creepiness that Fatale exudes.

It’s pretty obvious from the way the game presents itself and the way Tale of Tales rants about it on their website, but Fatale was not made to play or sell as a game. I’ve clearly obliterated any pretensions Fatale has to actual gameplay, but what is the developers’ purpose in distributing this app? Most regular games aim to earn money or at least acclaim. Despite that Fatale is offered to purchase both from their website and on Steam, I don’t think Tale of Tales is looking at Fatale as a cash cow. It seems more likely that Fatale exists for the other major raison d’être in the indie gaming development circle: to make a point. But what point is it, exactly? That candles are bad? That Salome was a bitch? That some people are willing to fork out good money for a substitute for sleeping pills and some digital knockers? If I had to hazard a guess based on something other than my own poor experience with Fatale, I’d say that Tale of Tales is trying to go the Peter Molyneux route and convince people that they can connect with an emotionless denizen of the uncanny valley. According to their website, the developers actually expect players to “fall in love with Salome,” ignoring that A) she does nothing besides stand around looking cross and performing a little dance number, B) she beheaded her last crush, and C) not everyone will immediately swoon for a digital woman just because they can see her tits. The sad thing is that the developers sound so sincere whenever they claim that their experience is joyful or that it stimulates the imagination. Fatale is at the very least a project that shows real heart behind it. But with all the good intentions, you might ask, why not share their experience with the world freely? Well, to pay for the really long topless dancing animation, of course! I fully understand the need to break even, but I wish they would have put those development dollars into more important gameplay aspects than a meticulously animated ballet, which is admittedly very well done despite not using motion capture. Of course, I could be totally wrong and Fatale is supposed to be Tale of Tales’ one-way ticket to hookers and blow.

There was going to be another picture here, but I refuse to play through the game a third time. Hint: It was more boobs

Please don’t buy this game, please, PLEASE. When it came time for me to get pictures for this review, I literally said out loud, “Oh shit, now I have to play this game again.” I admit that this sort of arty game is highly subjective. While I found Avatar to be a mildly entertaining yet poorly written CGI-fest, I know for a fact there are people out there who would gladly sell their mothers to terrorists if they could live on the planet Pandora. But if, as a developer, your game’s success rides only on the off chance that some people will have their heartstrings pulled and be moved by it, you probably aren’t going to reach as wide an audience as you hoped. I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, well that’s just his opinion and I’m the kind of person who forms emotional attachments easier than a brainwashed newborn puppy.” Well, if you think you are that kind of person, here’s a little test to see if you’ll like Fatale or not. Did you think that the only improvement for the character of Queen Amidala from the Phantom Menace would be if she got her tits out? If so, congratulations, because you have just found a new best game ever.

Drew’s Score: 1/5 starks


DDQScore: Two melons made of asphalt and sadness.

Drew Wellman will be in his bunk.