Indie Review: Dinner Date by Stout Games

By Jeff Mattas, Dec 17, 2010 4:30pm PST Independent studio Stout Games, founded by developer Jeroen D. Stout, has created an interactive and cinematic character study for adults called Dinner Date. The game has players guiding the subconscious of Julian Luxemburg, an average working guy awaiting the arrival of a date he's invited back to his apartment for dinner. As the game kicks off, Julian's date is already late.

The action in Dinner Date is seen from Julian's first-person perspective. Much of the player's influence over Julian's actions is indirect. The player guides the action much like a director of a film, but Julian's thoughts are his own. His internal monologue is completely voiced, and the commentary he makes is subtly influenced by how the player chooses to direct the scene, which is done by pressing various labeled floating hotkeys as they appear on-screen.

The most impressive aspect of the game is how it manages to covey a multi-dimensional character with fully-realized emotions in a relatively short time frame. Being placed inside Julian's subconscious not only makes players privy to his insecurities, doubts, fears, and even prejudices, but also provides many subtle clues that help shed light on the nature of his neuroses.

As the night wears on without any sign of his date, Julian's thoughts progressively betray layers of humanity and backstory delivered with the unfettered honesty afforded one's innermost thoughts. The result is that by the end of the game, the player will know Julian better than they would if they were introduced in real life. Furthermore, the game's original score by composer Than van Nispen tot Pannerden perfectly complements the mood and emotional undercurrent of Julian's story.

Depending on your own personality, you may not directly identify with all of Julian's decisions. You may even find him a bit whiny, or take offense to his prejudices, but it's partly these very human flaws that make him one of the most memorable (and certainly the most "real") characters I've seen in a game.

Though the player isn't supposed to "be" Julian, I couldn't help but empathize with his sorry plight. Some folks may find Julian's head a relatively uncomfortable place to be, due to the unfiltered way he's presented, and/or the subtle melancholy of his situation. That said, the game doesn't aim to create a blank-canvass protagonist that players inhabit, as much as it takes the player on a relatively linear emotional journey. On an emotional leve, Julian Luxemburg is a fully-realized character, with players riding shotgun as his subconscious. The end result is an incredibly powerful character study with the ability to encourage players to get introspective about their own lives.

Dinner Date is a relatively short experience, but the half-hour or so it'll take to complete one playthrough is packed with unique animations and wall-to-wall narration from Julian's subconscious. Despite it's linearity, many players will likely be compelled to play through at least twice, largely to piece together the protagonist's back-story and relationships. How was the date arranged? What does Julian do for a living? Why is he obsessed with quoting Byron's poetry? Personally, I turned on the subtitles for my second run, just to make sure I wasn't missing any details camouflaged by the main character's soft-spoken, mild accent.

If the game sounds interesting to you, Stout Games is currently running a special 2-for-1 deal for those who purchase Dinner Date before December 23. The game normally sells for $12.45, but all those who buy the game before December 23 will receive an extra copy to give to a friend on that day.

All that aside, gamers who see game-length as a critical value criterion might be put-off by the game's brevity. Those more concerned with having a satisfying (and intellectually stimulating) experience that dares to take a unique approach, will likely find the price of admission easily justified.

From Indie Games Channel, with permission.


This review is based on a final copy of Dinner Date, provided by Stout Games.

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