IFReviewed by Paul OBrian on 2006-07-19 07:51
When I first opened Dinner With Andre, I was enchanted. The game is real-world IF of a genre I've never quite seen before -- "date IF", I suppose. You play a woman who's offered to buy dinner for a co-worker, hoping to get to know him. The opening scene is of a swank restaurant, where you're just coming to the end of a wonderful dinner with your date and wondering what the rest of the evening has in store. He excuses himself for a moment, and when you reach for the check, you get a very unpleasant surprise: dinner was much, much more expensive than you thought, and your credit card isn't going to cover it. Unfortunately, it's the only form of payment you've got with you. I thought this was a terrific premise, and just a few minutes into the game I was grinning with excitement at the prospect of seeing how the rest of the plot played out.
A half-hour later, I was ready to shove my head through my monitor. I tried everything I could think of to solve that first puzzle, and was rebuffed by the game at every turn. Several of the things I tried (like "call mom on cell phone") were actually implemented, which was a pleasant surprise, but most of my ideas weren't implemented, which was no surprise at all considering how desperate some of them were (like "write IOU"). I'm always reluctant to turn to the hints in a game that's clearly well-written and bug-free, and DWA definitely fits that description. However, I really can't afford to buy a new monitor, so I swallowed my pride and checked the hints. It's rather difficult to discuss without revealing spoilers, but my feeling when I read the solution was, "but I tried that and was told it doesn't work!" Turns out I had already had the right idea, but hadn't expressed it in quite the way the game wanted. This experience of being alternately thrilled and frustrated was emblematic of my entire encounter with the game. DWA has lots of wonderful moments, and several of its responses made me laugh out loud, but I found myself thoroughly stymied in most of my attempts to get through the plot. By the end, I was relying solely on the hints to wade through the game. I don't think the problems are terribly deep-rooted, mainly a lack of gentle nudges in the text and a need for alternate phrasings in several parts. Unfortunately, due to the extreme difficulty I had with the first puzzle, I was much more ready to reach for the hints at each successive stuck point.
Once I lost my inhibitions about using the hints, I found I enjoyed the game quite a bit more. Disaster after disaster happens to the PC, and her reactions force her into several very funny situations, situations which require further wacky contortions to escape. In fact, I'm realizing as I write this that the genre of DWA isn't "date IF" -- it's "situation comedy IF". Now, I mean that in the kindest sense (that is, the "Seinfeld" sense rather than the "Major Dad" sense), but I think that this insight gets to the heart of why I had trouble with the game. Solving the game's puzzles requires coming up with the funny response that the game had in mind, and using a less funny but still sensible response, or even a different funny response that the game hadn't envisioned, puts the player at a rather unhelpful dead end. Thus, in the first puzzle I had figured out what I wanted to do, but hadn't come up with the particular funny way of doing this thing that the game was looking for, and therefore I found myself going in ever more frustrating circles. Therefore, if you're anything like me, you probably shouldn't be afraid to turn to the hints in DWA, but once you do, you'll have a pretty good time. If only we could say that about all our disastrous dates.