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We should talk.

We should talk.

Written by Lee Mehr on 8/18/2020 for PC   XBO  
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We should talk. One can almost feel the anxiety in seeing those words come up in a text message. It places you in an uncomfortable light, how your previous communicative foibles have led down a road that suggests a break-up or necessary restructuring of your relationship. Developer Insatiable Cycle explores this dynamic through an interesting nuance on dialogue choices. But this student-project-turned-retail-product loses momentum upon considering its execution and price point.

Step into the shoes of a nameless woman escaping to her regular watering hole. She’s greeted by the bartender and asked what poison she prefers. It’s here the stark difference between other games is revealed: conversations aren’t sentences to select but various parts to compose. This leaves a lot to the imagination because your first big decision is selecting your desired alcohol and two permutations, like “gin on the rocks in a big mug.” After settling in with this mechanic, your following conversations with certain patrons are interspersed with text messages to your girlfriend, Sam, who’s hanging out at home. What and how something is stated will have lasting ramifications for your relationship.

This method of dialogue composition has great benefits. For one, the options can vary between three or more which provides generous latitude in what you’re aiming to suss out of a particular person. A double entendre could result in that person reciprocating, while a more serious tone could have someone open up about their past. Secondly, the UI and separated parts mesh well with what’s expected in a conversation today. Both in respect to text messages and vocal communication, the dialogue bubbles are treated no differently.

Those positives are weighed down by unfortunate negatives. Because of how ephemeral the experience lasts, the game's expectations of players navigating all the potential endings shows how much smoke-and-mirrors happens behind your choices. I’m still left utterly confused how I unlocked Ending 7: you and Sam are still dating but you’re allowed to have this guy you met on the side. I literally told him to buzz off, yet that means I’ve got feelings for him? There are strange assumptions made by the game that don’t match up, sometimes to a comical degree. What's not so humorous is when a lead-up to a conclusion results in the game freezing, as if a certain combination of choices made it impossible for the game to compute. 

These problems weed their way further into an already-unengaging story. What’s funny is the one with the most personality is the person never seen: Sam. You can feel her plucky personality through your phone, whether it’s suspicion when informing her you’re catching up with an ex or excitement if you want to work out with her. That’s a kernel of an interesting idea. Those dynamics don’t go anywhere with anyone else. Between the bartender, your ex Dante, or the patron whose date didn’t show up, their reactions are tedious and unsatisfying. Perhaps that was part of the point? If so, how the game approached multiple endings should’ve been reconsidered.

In sum, this otherwise-interesting student experiment loses steam after bemoaning over its uninspired characters and conversations that become more grating as you grind through the very-online dialogue. Some critical bugs further dampened the experience, but Insatiable Cycle is open about updating those issues.

When considering the game's origins, it’s easy to reconcile its less-than-stellar production values; nevertheless, I believe they're worth examining. Outside of the facial animations, this could pass as a Roblox game at first glance. The character models have a similar look, their pre-canned body expressions are simplistic, and the lighting is rudimentary. Even the pink-and-purple chic aesthetic looks cheap; perhaps all of the bar’s glasses are plastic too. If there’s success to be found it’s with the soundtrack. Though quite limited, the track selection meshes well with the transitive moods between each developing scene. A shame the sound design doesn’t net the same praise, but a thumbs-up is deserved for that careful emotional pacing nonetheless.

I don’t believe my ire would appear so volcanic were it not for the value proposition. It’s one thing to award modest praise to a student game; there’s a greater demand when asking for $6.99 (retail) though. Extending the first playthrough of roughly 15 minutes by multiplying said experience nine times for all the endings is a huge ask. That becomes more misguided when considering how quickly the artifice behind your decision making is revealed and the banter between patrons becomes less engaging, and there’s no alcohol left to fool yourself into thinking otherwise.

We should talk. brings about as much trepidation as when seeing those words emblazoned on my cell phone, especially because my harshness is aimed at a student game. There is an idea kernelled in this game: the value of dialogue composition versus pre-selected choices. I can imagine a wealth of possibilities to explore with that idea. But Insatiable Cycle ruins that potency with a shortened runtime practically the length of a student film and bland scenarios, whose dubious luster diminishes the more you play. If those three scary words are seen on a storefront, my best advice is to ignore it.

Insatiable Cycle's zeal in tackling dialogue choices is something to appreciate. But that can only go so far when the script is tacky, the game design is clumsy, and the retail price is terribly overvalued.

Rating: 3.5 Heavily Flawed

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Lee's gaming history spans several console generations: N64 & NES at home while enjoying some Playstation, SEGA, and PC titles elsewhere. Being an Independent Contractor by trade (electric, plumbing, etc.) affords him more gaming luxuries today though. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.

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