FATALE: Exploring Salome
Drawing heavy inspiration from the Oscar Wilde play ‘Salome’, FATALE is a game about exploring the state in which you are leaving the world, following your execution. The game, in very abstract terms, tells a story of unrequited love, cruelty, sexuality, and the abuse of power.
The game takes place across three distinct ‘acts’, each transitioning to a new phase of gameplay. In the first few minutes of the game you helplessly explore the interior of the dingy palace cistern in which you are being held – awaiting your execution. It is a small, gloomy, and lonely place with nothing to really do but wander about and wait. This claustrophobic environment is completely at odds with the world of the second act, following your beheading and ascension out of the cistern and onto the landing of a beautiful, ancient palace. It is in this act, where the bulk of the game experience lies, that the player controls the restless soul of Iokanaan (the executed man) who is searching for answers regarding the circumstances of his death.
Controls aren’t really explained to the player in game, and they aren’t really that intuitive a lot of the time. This is especially true during the more complicated second act – which involves a certain amount of clumsy, imprecise floating about. This part of the game can take a little getting used to, and feels a little bit more like controlling a jellyfish in space than an otherworldly spectre. But with a bit of playing around, what you need to do suddenly makes sense. From there, without the distraction on controls to worry about, the game is much more effective at creating the right mood.
The most interesting part of the game is the way in which it presents its themes. As a disembodied being, you explore an environment constructed in the aftermath of your execution whilst the whispered fragments of Oscar Wilde’s play’ paint a fragmented picture of the circumstances surrounding your death. As you explore this small, yet beautifully detailed location you must locate sources of light and extinguish them – mirroring the way in which your own life has just been suddenly snuffed out.
The graininess of the picture can be adjusted by tapping the ‘I’ and ‘O’ keys, allowing the player to experience this ethereal, post-life moment in as clear or foggy state as they feel it should be. Given the spiritual tone of the game, the hazier picture quality felt more in-character to me – although I welcomed the freedom to lessen its intensity. Additionally, I fear that the game might not be the best to play if you are epileptic or are prone to seizures, as there are lots of instances where the game screen flickers between extremely dark and bright colours. It isn’t constant but it does happen at multiple points throughout the game which cannot be skipped or avoided.
As a game, FATALE will really only appeal to people who are looking for something short, experimental, and interpretive. The strength of FATALE is in the way it creates mood and meaning by bleeding together fragments of environment and monologue. It comes across feeling like several scenes from a play have been frozen together in a single moment for you to observe, but which you can not alter. It won’t be to everyone’s liking; it’s certainly not ‘fun.’ But as a piece of exploratory, digital theatre it is certainly polished, atmospheric, and intriguing.
FATALE: Exploring Salome is available now on Windows, OS X, and Linux. It is available to buy on itch.io