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Review | Fatale

Format: PC | Genre: Art? | Publisher: Tale of Tales | Developer: Tale of Tales | Release date: 06/10/09 | RRP: $7

By Lewis Denby

fatale1Plenty of titles have played with historical or literary themes, touching on a broad range of subjects across the gaming ages.

Be it God of War’s mythological warfare or Assassin’s Creed’s 12th Century crusading, a number of projects have shown that the medium can stray boldly away from flashy science fiction or high fantasy, looking beyond World War 2 and to many years gone by as a reference point.  But where those have invariably extracted the core ideas of the source material and deposited them in a traditional gaming mould, Tale of Tales predictably head down another route.

Fresh from the relative success of Little-Red-Riding-Hood-’em-up The Path, the Belgium-based art-game pioneers have now released their new project, just seven months after their last. Fatale is a retelling of the Biblical story of Salome, more specifically citing Oscar Wilde’s 19th Century play as its major influence.  And instead of slotting the narrative into a tried-and-tested template, Tale of Tales have yet again constructed their own mechanics.

It’s the second fully-commercial release for the developer, after The Path (their previous interactive vignette The Graveyard offered both free and paid versions), and it would be silly not to discussFatale in this light.  Tale of Tales’ regular duo Michaël Samyn and Auriea Harvey have a background in digital art, and it’s only very recently that their work has been out there in the commercial domain.  Toying with highly experimental ideas that rarely emerge outside the realms of free internet releases, it’s always going to raise the question of monetary value, particularly at just half an hour long.  There’s unquestionably a market for abstract art projects, but Tale of Tales are increasingly heading towards a crossroads where their status as artists or game developers becomes a little blurry.

They are, of course, keen to point out that Fatale is not typically a game.  But in a way, it is, much more so than their previous efforts.  Its first chapter controls in a similar manner to first-person shooters, except without a gun or default mouse-look.  Its second takes place in a sort of disembodied hover, abstractly first-person but very abstractly, seeing you float your way around a courtyard extinguishing a variety of light sources, as the night’s sky fades picturesquely into the next morning.

fatale2In other words, it’s more directly interactive than may be expected.  The Path was all about the removal of interaction, and observing how digital characters responded via their own artificial intelligence.  But Fatale is all about your own actions, however limited.  It’s your task to brush darkness into the lights, and it’s you strolling around that dungeon awaiting your demise.  The result is something that creeps ever further into the region of what we might consider a game to be.

//Moving forwards?
Yet as a traditional game, it’s difficult to stomach.  Movement is once again achingly slow, and the controls feel cumbersome and unintuitive.  Fatale is unusual for Tale of Tales in that it’s played entirely from the first-person perspective, and co-designer Auriea Harvey has spoken on a number of occasions about how first-person games leave her with motion sickness.  The control mechanism is stated as an attempt to combat that, but it feels wrong, and it’s difficult to see how it would help.  Mouse-look only becomes available when you hold down left-click, which also causes you to walk forward.  And there’s no option to look around with the keyboard.  Pressing W also moves you forward, but pressing it and shift simultaneously brings you to a halt, whereas left-mouse and shift together break you out into a run.  There’s a jump button in chapter one, but never any reason to use it.  Chapter two improves things, but only marginally, its mouse-only, vaguely point-and-click-esque movement feeling far too imprecise for its own good.  Such inconsistencies only divert attention away from the frequenly thick atmosphere.

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2 Comments

    Good review. I pretty much entirely agree with respect to the game but I can’t help but feel you’re giving Tale of Tales a bit too much credit. It seems to me that The Path was stylistically great and very interestingly presented but incredibly trite. Fatale struck me as stylistically great and very interestingly presented but, leaving aside the basic story, incredibly hollow. I suspect that Tale of Tales have a major flaw as artists, they’re pretty good at communicating in an interesting and evocative fashion but they don’t actually have anything interesting to say.

    Perhaps I shouldn’t be such a cynical pessimist but the problem as I see it is if we don’t insist that artists prove to us that they have something interesting to say we end up far worse off in the long run. If we don’t discriminate against artists who fail to convey anything worthwhile then we’re also not suitably rewarding those artists who do have the amazing ability to both convey interesting things and do so in an interesting fashion by lauding them above artists who don’t have anything to say. If we travel down that road we get to the same situation the mainstream art world is in where the most successful artists are simply be those with the biggest egos to shovel their bullshit and you end up with worthless idiots like Tracy Emin receiving huge acclaim at the expense of genuinely good artists.

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