Developer: Tale Of Tales
Review Date: 5/24/10
Um... Someone needs to help me out here.
After playing the provocative and wonderfully bizarre "The Path" (2009), I decided to check out Tale Of Tales' next offering, which is a meditation on the death of John The Baptist. According to biblical accounts, John The Baptist was beheaded by King Herod at the request of his young stepdaughter, Salome. Herod adored Salome and was enchanted by her dance of the seven veils, and on his birthday he promised her anything she wished. Manipulated by Herod's wife who bore a grudge against John, Salome was persuaded to ask for "the head of John The Baptist." Herod was heartbroken since he admired John, but he couldn't back out of his promise and John was executed.
In the game "Fatale" (if you can actually call it a game), you play as the disembodied spirit of John as he floats around Herod's palace the night after being killed. Salome stands next to John's severed head and stares into space, enjoying the tranquility of a moonlit night, with her mother watching sternly from afar. The objective of this exercise is to float around and put out various light sources, along with exploring the various items on the terrace. Once all of the lights are out, John ascends to heaven and the sun rises. And that's it. Game over. Huh?!? Starting up the game again shows us a video of Salome performing her bewitching dance.
I'll come right out and admit that I have no clue what's going on in this game, or what the point is. It's clearly open to interpretation, but I don't even know where to start. Presentation wise, the game is unremarkable. By default, it features a horrible grainy filter that just makes everything look like crap. Thankfully, you can alter the graininess in the settings to get a clear picture, but it's not a sticky option so you have to reset it whenever the scene changes. The graphics are pretty poor, and admittedly they're not ToT's strong suit. "Silent Hill 2's" (2001) character designer Takayoshi Sato modeled Salome, but she has numerous clipping and texture flaws. The gameplay is baffling, and it took me about twenty minutes to figure out what to do. The vague instructions aren't much of a help, and I had to read them about a dozen times before they made any sense. You basically float around, click on light sources, and maneuver a blob of darkness over them to put them out. This is a lot more difficult than it sounds because the controls are infuriating. Navigation is a complete pain in the ass and it's never intuitive how to get where you want to go. Thankfully, there's a "mouse look" option that you can enable which gives you a more manageable control scheme. I strongly suggest turning this on before you even start the game.
While the game emphasizes exploration, there doesn't seem to be a point. Several elements are oddly anachronistic and out of place, like matchbooks, a guitar amplifier, sneakers, and an iPod attached to Salome's hip. They don't make sense and don't even seem to be symbolic of anything. The only items that gave me any enlightenment were a matchbook that the executioner had with Salome's phone number in it, and the executioner's ring in (presumably) Salome's bed. I suppose the implication is that Salome is a seductress and this solidifies her "fatale" status. Sadly, the whole affair just left me frustrated, puzzled, and unsatisfied. Even with the cheap $7 price tag, I felt disappointed.