Shaun Munro reviews Ten Dates…
In November 2020, during one of the most fraught peaks of the pandemic, Wales Interactive released an FMV game far removed from the publisher’s usual horror/thriller-themed interactive video projects. Five Dates was an FMV rom-com in which players controlled a male protagonist, Vinny, as he went on virtual dates with five ladies amid the pandemic.
The result was a creative and charming game that evidently thrived under the restrictions of its construction, but for sequel Ten Dates, returning writer-director Paul Raschid has expanded the storytelling canvas into something more cinematic, with considerably greater romantic options. While still a fundamentally simple FMV title about finding love, there’s a pronounced warmth and likeability which permeates throughout.
Beyond the game taking place in the big wide world this time around – as opposed to our protagonist’s bedroom – Ten Dates’ big hook is that players can choose from two characters – one male, one female. There’s the peppy Claire Foy lookalike Misha, and Ryan, the kindly Irish charmer she’s tricked into joining her for a night of speed dating.
Regardless of who you pick, you’ve got five suitors to choose from; four heterosexual prospects and a single gay option. As per the game’s title, this doubles the number of romantic excursions compared to the first game, ensuring that despite still being a fundamentally frothy piece of work, it feels markedly beefier and more substantial than its predecessor. It’ll take most players around five or six hours to reach all ten happy endings, though completionists will have a field day with the near-800 video clips spread across the ten dates.
Your initial “run” of the game will likely last around 60-70 minutes, and each run is divided into three rounds. The first is the aforementioned speed dating jaunt, where you spend five minutes a-piece with your five romantic possibilities. In round two you can pick two to meet on a second date, and then for the third round you have to select your final choice. As with Five Dates, you’ll also check-in with your pal in-between each round to survey how things are going and get some moral support.
Much of the enjoyment of the original game stemmed from the characters, and the same is very much true here. Though the cast is largely drawn from broad archetypes – the goth, the sporty one, the bookworm, the lad etc – once you reach a second or third date they’ll tend to reveal things which imply greater complexity. And though the emphasis is almost always on fun, the game does admirably engage with a variety of more “real” subjects throughout the dates, such as grief, addiction, lockdown anxiety, Brexit, vaccines, asylum seekers, veganism, protests, and polyamory.
But the overall focus is fundamentally on a goofy fun time. The aim of the game is observing how your dates tick and either committing to your own natural responses or, if you want to make sure you “win,” perhaps betraying your impulses and telling them what they want to hear. Sociopathic? Perhaps, but the game never forces you to do that, and a “failed” date simply means you’ll be left continuing the search for love.
As an FMV game, the options admittedly aren’t hugely complex; you’re typically picking between just two choices, but many dates do transition into a more free-wheeling mini-game of some sort. On a date with Instagrammer Brandy, for instance, you can play the card game Higher or Lower, which introduces a surprising number of branching possibilities as must’ve been quite the headache to organise on the technical side.
Generally it isn’t terribly difficult to figure out what you “need” to do to get three successful dates during most romances, though there are a few tricky moments where things aren’t immediately obvious, and some curveballs thrown in for kicks too. Occasionally, however, the game’s logical throughline gets shaky; on several occasions a date seemed to be going well, only for it to end in a rejection, seemingly because I hadn’t quite satisfied enough positive conditions for a “victory.” Yet the video clips suggested my date was having a great time regardless; such is a limitation of a lower-budget FMV game so intently built around human feeling.
Yet even with stumbles like this, there’s an overpowering likeability to Ten Dates which makes it quite tough to resist. This is in large part due to the rock solid quality of the performances throughout; we’ve all played FMV games undermined by wonky acting, but across-the-board there’s a breezy authenticity to the dates we’re watching unfold. The script may not be profoundly emotionally complex yet largely hinges itself around cute, cheeky dialogue, and can of course veer into intentional, toe-curling cringe when a date divebombs. Raschid and co-writer Zoe Morgan Chiswick also deserve credit for avoiding the dead-obvious trope of having Ryan and Misha hook up at any point; they’re platonic pals no matter how you play it, and that’s nice to see.
On the production side, this is an undeniable step-up in quality from the lockdown-produced, webcam-style video from the first game. Ten Dates is an altogether slicker beast, touting cinematic camera angles and lighting, even if it largely sticks to shot-reverse-shot typicality, and locations are repeated just a little too much throughout the dates. Still, there’s a robust, high-quality gloss overall.
As with any FMV game worth its salt these days, you can also freely skip through repeat dialogue on subsequent playthroughs, though it sometimes feels like this could be finessed a little better – you’re likely to still find yourself having to listen to some prior dialogue, presumably due to the way it’s been indexed within the game system. Also it can be a little annoying skipping to the next choice but having no idea what the question being asked is, forcing you to try and remember or just intuit from the characters’ body language. The game’s subtitling could also use some work; there are tons of incorrect transcriptions throughout.
Ten Dates admirably ups the scale and scope from its predecessor but retains what most surely enjoyed about it. Again, it feels like things could be expanded outward even more for a potential third game; let the protagonists both pick any one of the ten suitors, for instance, though this would of course require a lot more work on the video side. It’d also certainly benefit from more LGBT options beyond a single gay one each, as well as a little more diversity among its predominantly white cast, but within its own modest remit this is a success of a sequel for sure.
Like its surprisingly solid predecessor, the charming Ten Dates affirms that the FMV game might in fact be best suited to a most unexpected of subgenres – the rom-com.
+ Expands the scale and scope of the original game.
+ Strong performances.
+ Charming writing.
+ Slick production values.
+ LGBT inclusion.
– Success/failure logic isn’t water-tight.
– Dating options could be more diverse.
– Locations are repeated too much.
– Subtitles are frequently inaccurate.
Reviewed on PC (also available for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, and mobile platforms).
A retail copy was played for review.
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more video game rambling, or e-mail me here.