PC gaming has provided a rich bounty of simulators over the years. Hyper-accurate aircraft simulators, military vehicle simulators, space simulators, even all manner of life simulators. With Facade, we can finally add a "having to sit through a yuppie couple argument simulator" to that distinguished list.
Facade is in that nebulous "art" territory where it can get away with not calling itself a game. I'm firmly of the opinion that it is, though. It encourages you to intervene in the yuppie argument and influence it, though it leaves it up to you whether to resolve it or drive one of the parties out the door. To me, that's gameplay. Gameplay that doesn't entirely come off as intended, but gameplay nonetheless.
So you play as some faceless, speechless schmo, you choose from a set of prefab first names at the outset of every new game. You're then called by your old college bud Trip, who you apparently haven't seen in awhile. You also apparently introduced Trip and his wife Grace back in college, and it's almost their 10-year anniversary, so they want to see you. Well, Trip does anyway. You arrive at the apartment and hear them arguing about something through the door, and once inside Grace can be heard objecting to your presence from off in the bedroom somewhere.
Grace and Trip will alternate talking to you and yelling at each other, and you're free to walk about, interact with objects in a basic way, and type to speak. Typing is handled with an old-school parser, and it's kinda the central problem with the game; even if you get invested and want to play along, you can't type as fast as everyone speaks, and Trip and Grace both barrel through topics with only infrequent pauses to let you get a word in. The game encourages you to interrupt them at key moments, but it's hard to actually pull off successfully.
The parser is really the game's central feature. It's robust, sometimes impressively so, but it's also a little hinky. While the game gives you general instructions on how to play, it doesn't really explain how phrasing in the parser will be taken by Trip and Grace, and kinda just leaves you to figure out its little quirks and limitations by trial and error (like saying "it's OK" or "that's OK" will be taken as you asking "is everything OK?" or "are you OK?" instead).
A "parser break" in the style of the SCI engine Sierra adventures (like Space Quest 3, Police Quest 2, Larry 3, etc.) would have been really helpful here. Granted, it would interrupt the voice acting, but that tends to happen anyway whenever you say something. I don't have a perfect alternative to offer, but I can say that what's on hand here is impressive in its way but still pretty rough around the edges.
And as it turns out, all this parser criticism is kinda moot as you can get the "happy" reconciliation ending with nothing but well-timed "yes"es
, and even by being a particular flavor of spazzy asshole
Facade is technically intriguing, yet hard to actually sit through. That might partially be a testament to its immersive quality, as I quickly got fed up with Trip and Grace's bullshit and ended almost all of my play sessions with an abrupt dash for the exit at one point or another. But it's also ungainly to communicate with. I think someone could make serious bank by developing a game that works like the daytime soaps that women love to watch, using technology similar to this to let them insert themselves in catty arguments as either peacemakers or dealers of savage burns. I can't see taking that one on personally so feel free to steal the idea, if it works out for you and you get rich maybe kick me some Bitcoin or something on the low.