Facade (PC) review
"Questioning whether Façade is a game would be to overlook its importance in game design. In fact, to rant on this independent-party, low-budget, one-gigabyte download would be a failure to admit its inherent production value. Façade does not intend to be a masterpiece. It intends to be an experiment in artificial intelligence and natural language processing, allowing you to type a short sentence of dialogue at any time during a conversation. And what better place to interrupt a con..."
Questioning whether Façade is a game would be to overlook its importance in game design. In fact, to rant on this independent-party, low-budget, one-gigabyte download would be a failure to admit its inherent production value. Façade does not intend to be a masterpiece. It intends to be an experiment in artificial intelligence and natural language processing, allowing you to type a short sentence of dialogue at any time during a conversation. And what better place to interrupt a conversation than between two friends whose marriage is falling apart? Hear Trip and Grace argue over wine glasses before you even walk through the door and you know you're about to get caught in the middle. Unfortunately, you soon realize you have little to no control over the outcome of this storyline, regardless of how interactive it is. And you are forced to question the game behind this one-trick pony. Nonetheless, that trick holds a special quality that pulls you in a direction you cannot describe and forces you to rethink the purpose behind interactivity.
If you define games to need a winning condition or set goal, then Façade will disappoint. Like an experiment out of The Sims, Façade is more of an experience. There is no clear purpose other than solving the mystery of "what can I do here?" You will fiddle with the arrow keys, scrounge for words to type on the keyboard, and move about the apartment in search of something - anything - that you can interact with. Exploring for functionality, if you will. Sure, the game challenges you to solve your friends' marital issues, but nothing is ordained. You create your own goals and reach to fulfill them.
Unfortunately, Façade takes this virtue to the extreme: you are never certain whether your actions will reflect your intention. You walk into the apartment with the given role as a friend, and though you may want to save their marriage, that probably won't happen. Try to put out the fire by typing "it's okay" and you may only work to fan the flames. Look around the room for objects, like a magic 8-ball, and you will have no idea what shaking it will affect. Perhaps the best thing to do if you make a mistake is to "Try Again".
This is certainly surprising, because the game is a strong example of agency, our ability to alter the game world around us or our situation in it. Indeed, the game affords you much flexibility in what you can say. Type anything onto the screen, press Enter, and chances are that the game will recognize it. In effect, you will feel like you can make a difference at every possible turn.
Until you notice that you have no control.
Façade resembles an elaborate Goosebumps choose-your-own-adventure book, except that you don't know what options you have. Artificial intelligence imposes as gameplay that just happens to have a setting and characters that speak. Have any programming experience and you can hear the if-then statements clicking and the temporary variables swapping. The game suggests that you replay the scenario - requiring you to quit and reload Façade all over again - so you can experience each diverging path, but it only makes the clicking and swapping louder. Surely, we have to expect this. If computer code could translate human dialogue with one gigabyte of memory, Façade wouldn't exist. Still, though the game recognizes most words, characters frequently fail to respond naturally. It's one thing if you are ignored, which happens often; it's quite another to write, "You're not ugly", only for Grace to retort, "You know, insulting me isn't going to help things."
Furthermore, you will cover your eyes and your ears in disgust. The cel-shaded graphics clip more than a 3D program done in Flash. Walls have no thickness, and looking beyond the terrace window, buildings have yellow, glowing squares that try to pass for windows. Moreover, the music and sound effects are so uninteresting that silence would create more of a cadence. Voiceovers are much too over-dramatic, even for simple sentences, shifting from anger to joy and back to anger without any emotional transitions at all.
Such lack of polish insufferably dampens what Façade offers aesthetically, but it doesn't prevent you from experiencing one of the finer subtleties of interactivity: empathy. Usually, we find it difficult to empathize with in-game characters because they only have the ability to regurgitate pre-recorded speech and perform predictable actions. Façade should be commended for not only being able to stimulate your thoughts, but also your behavior and emotions. Trip and Grace are believable enough that you want to repair their relationship, and you will continue to replay the game until you have done so.
Even if you have a strict definition of a “game” or have a low tolerance for glitches, Façade is worth your while. Heck, it’s free. If you hate it, just delete it. All you will suffer is thirty minutes downloading from interactivestory.org and about an hour and a half until you never think of it again. Whatever your opinion, Façade will afford you a glance into the future of gaming – a time, perhaps, when robots and user interfaces can converse with humans beyond just “yes”, “no”, and “I do not understand your request.” Yes, the game’s interactive storytelling is one-note and isn’t reasonably portable to other games today, but it makes the point that there is a world beyond the narrative, a world that only games can tell. Behind Façade is a deep, provocative exploration into the interactive craft and an answer to the art hidden beneath the cold, programmed machinery that is the video game.
Community review by draqq_zyxx (April 09, 2006)
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