Review by Kwing
Not the Best, but -Everyone- Should Play it at Least Once
I've gotten into discussions about whether or not video games are art, and the biggest difference, I've pointed out, between video games and paintings or music, is that they are interactive. More important than the idea of an objective is the idea of participating in the unfolding of a gaming experience. Facade is exactly this; an environment where you talk with two simulated AI robots in real-time in order to change the outcome. Let me get into the details a bit more.
The most important part of an 'interactive drama', Facade puts you in the shoes of a mutual friend of a married couple, Trip and Grace. Trip has invited you over for drinks, but soon the two of them will break into an argument right in front of you! While this is a bit odd, the depth of the characters is pretty good; good enough to make you play it several times through, and enough to make you care about the characters.
The graphics are very simple and cel-shaded. Trip and Grace are pretty simply done, but their facial expressions look extremely accurate, which is probably my favorite part about it all. The environment has things that you can pick up which are just flat, imported images, and the environment such as the walls are terribly simple. Also, depth issues can cause some serious viewing glitches. This isn't the main focus of the game, though, so I won't criticize it. The graphics do their job, though, and they could be a lot worse.
The voice acting is really good and fits perfectly, and the timing and emotion of it all is none to shabby either. There are quiet, ambient tracks that trigger during certain bits of dialogue, or when certain conditions are met, made to enhance the mood, and while I wouldn't call them exactly fitting, the music itself is very good.
The concept is very simple. You move with the arrow keys and hold Ctrl to run. You can click on objects to pick them up and click again to set them down. Clicking on different parts of Trip or Grace's body allow you to kiss, hug, or comfort them. Using any of the A-Z or 0-9 keys will make you begin speaking. When you're done typing a sentence, all you have to do is hit Enter to say it.
Grace and Trip are pretty responsive to what you say, and the AI does a pretty good job of parsing text. Depending on how much you move around, where you are in the house, or what you click or pick up, they may have different things to say to you about what you seem to be looking at. While they're primarily geared to process simple answers, those certainly aren't your only options.
As you play, the game will flow pretty naturally, except for the fact that the script is composed of prerecorded "blocks" of dialogue between Trip and Grace. Generally, initiating conversation requires you to interrupt these blocks, which can lead to a one line response, or the beginning of a new block of dialogue. Depending on what you say, you can make one of them leave the other, get thrown out of their apartment, or what have you.
Frustratingly enough, a lot of the time Trip and Grace will simply ignore you when you speak to them, even if you repeat yourself. Occasionally they will also misinterpret what you are saying, but if you're willing to speak in odd, computer-esque terms to them, you can get them to understand what you're trying to say.
Another cool thing about this game is that certain triggers are set up randomly each time you play, meaning the same actions can oftentimes result in a much different flow. The AI also logs what you say and makes it possible for Trip or Grace to bring these things up later in the game. As AI goes, it's a major, major step forward, and it does an excellent job for what it is.
Sadly, the lack of dialogue sequences is highly limited, leading to each playthrough being about 70% the same as every other playthrough, but the remaining 30% can vary greatly and turns out really well. Additionally, you can generate a .TXT of your playthrough as a script after you've finished playing. It's really a neat game, and I've already lost count of how many times I've tried it. Annoyingly enough, you have to close the whole game and reload it (which takes up to a minute) to replay it, but oh well, it's an independent game.
The gameplay is extremely quirky and the interaction is somewhat artificial, but this is the dawning of a new genre in video games, and a sure inspiration for any game developer, as well as an extremely interesting time-waster for anyone who games or theater. Since this game is free to download online, I cannot give you any higher recommendation than to at least give this game a try.
Product Release: Facade (US, 07/05/05)
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