Very last on Monday night, FATALE (creators' capitalisation) was released to a small but expectant audience. It is the third commercial release from Belgian developers Tale of Tales who you might remember for delivering Red Riding Hood tale The Path. It is an 'interactive vignette' based around the Biblical tale of the young dancing girl who called for the head of John the Baptist and jumping off from Oscar Wilde's interpration, the play Salome.
Where to begin? How to describe in familiar, mediocre terms that the world of games and even interactive entertainment has no experience of or reference points for what Fatale is.
First let me examine Fatale as a game. There is very little to it in this respect - first you explore a barren cell and are presented with extracts of dialogue from Wilde's work, all the time peculiar and halting music weaves its way through your head. In the next scene you are a disembodied force and are tasked with putting out a series of light sources. This takes quite some time and the controls are languid: easy to work out and accessible to non-game players but they feel unresponsive to experienced hands. By a third of the way through this scene I had gotten restless, though regular intrigued and confused by certain intentionally incongruous elements of the setting. And that is it, the extent of the 'game'. You must quit and reload the program in order to view the final non-interactive reward scene.
But Tale of Tales do not claim that this is a game - it is described as a 'vignette' or a 'tableau'. It is an abstract piece with silent actors and whispering voice overs with symbolism the creators do not and likely would not explain or even define in strong terms amongst themselves. Fatale is the music, the dance, the location and the people within, even the blowing of veils in the wind. It is far more art than game and I do not know even if it passes or fails in that respect. I don't even know if I like it myself.
A friend asked 'is it fun'. I have to reply that no, it is not fun. Watching a Beckett play is not fun, walking a gallery of paintings and sculpture is not fun. These are stimulating, thought-provoking pursuits and so is experiencing Fatale.
For everything else that might and most likely shall be said about Fatale, it is ToT's most polished and professional work to date and their most graphically ambitious. Besides occasional clipping errors with fluttering fabric, the palace of King Herod looks beautiful in day or night. The few people that inhabit it are imbued with life despite their stillness, thanks to the ministrations of Takayoshi Sato of Silent Hill fame.
Reviews are to a greater or lesser degree a buyer's guide. My recommendation is, whether the sound Fatale appeals to you or not, buy it. You may buy it because you appreciate the work, the novelty, the wonderful music and spoken word, or you may buy it because of what it means: that games or things that look like games can ride closer and closer to being pure art. If nothing else, so that Tale of Tales might have the funding to produce more such experiences and challenge our preconceptions once again.
FATALE, now available direct from ToT for $7 - Buy it HERE.