I have a confession to make: despite being in a long-term relationship, I’ve been talking to women via a dating app. My spouse approves. No, we’re not polyamorous or looking for a third to join us. Instead, I have been playing Five Dates, an interactive FMV rom-com that was conceptualised, filmed, and produced during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a fascinating idea, taking a current world event that is leading to an awful lot of us being under lockdown or quarantine and turning it into a game all about reaching out through the Internet to find someone to talk to.
Five Dates is written and directed by Paul Raschid (The Complex). Filming was done remotely, with the cast being shipped iPhones and sound equipment. The first e-mail I received talking about the project was on June 11, 2020, just before filming began. That’s how fast this game was made. At the earliest, it would have been conceived at the beginning of the pandemic reaching worldwide status, so that was March. Filming two months later. And a release mid-November, a mere eight months after that. After a release date was announced, the game was never delayed, so kudos to Wales Interactive and Good Gate Media for keeping to such a tight, quick schedule. You have no idea how excited I was to play a video game set literally right now.
The basic plot is simple. Vinny (Taheen Modak of Two Weeks To Live) is getting a bit antsy during lockdown. He’s got a great friend to talk to in Callum (Demmy Ladipo of Enterprice), but that’s male companionship. Vinny decides to join a dating app for the first time (Callum says that dating apps are popping off in lockdown) in order to meet and maybe date some new women, via video from home of course. There are five women to choose from. Three are chosen for first dates, a simple chat. Two are chosen for second dates, centred around games. And finally, one is chosen for a dinner date, when each person makes food at home and they eat together via the app. Technically that’s six dates per playthrough, but there are five dateable women so I’ll let that slide.
Each woman is very much her own person, so different it was basically impossible to mix them up — an impressive feat considering my questionable cognitive ability these days. As myself, so by proxy as Vinny, I was instantly drawn to Saffron (Georgia Small, whose only credit on IMDB has been in a documentary short), a lovely girl with big eyes and pink hair. It turns out, she’s a bit of a hippy, which happened after making lifestyle changes to improve her health. I was also drawn to Shaina (Mandip Gill of Doctor Who), a nurse who is posing with an adorable baby in her profile photo, and Maya (Marisa Abela of Industry), who is a bit more of a party girl than I expected. And we can’t forget the two other wonderful choices: Paige (Sinéad Harnett, a singer/influencer), a social media influencer (talk about art imitating life) with a lot of strong opinions, and Grace (Georgia Hirst of Vikings), a lawyer with huge career goals.
It seems as though I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself. Before meeting any of these women, Vinny must complete his own dating profile. My first playthrough, I just put in everything that applies to me, because I wasn’t looking to attract a specific girl. Let it happen naturally, I thought. The options to fill in via multiple choice are the profile photo (always go with the one that includes an animal) career, interests (x3), and star sign. Other than the times Vinny needs to make a decision during his video calls (at least a couple per date), the profile is basically the only gameplay aspect. But it doesn’t feel like a game: it feels like I am trying to find my own match, not Vinny’s.
I’ve considered why that is, why I wanted to find my personal match first. I think it’s because everything in the game feels so intimate that I don’t want to talk (or “talk”) to someone if it requires forced conversation. There is something about seeing nothing but a person’s face, maybe also their torso, on-screen that makes it feel like you’re talking directly to them. It takes all of five minutes of video dating to for this feeling to creep up on me; this is the time I felt like I actually had to tell my spouse than I’m online dating as another person. This must be what catfish feel like.
The first dates are super awkward, some to the point of being cringeworthy. Just like real life! I do not miss dating one single bit, and this is a reminder of why. The weird looks, the pregnant pauses… no thank you. The first dates especially seem to hinge on your interests, while the two-second date and one-third date are very personal. Vinny has been asked questions about things such as whether he wants children and whether he rents or owns his apartment. One date had us talking about politics, which is rarely a good topic for early dating and that is proven again here. Another was willing to open up about her own mental illness. Some of these end up in disaster, while others just bring Vinny and the associated woman closer together.
At any point during the game, you can press the touchpad to see how much the women like you. They’ll all start at roughly 50 per cent, give or take a couple points (presumably because of matching interests but I actually don’t know for sure). I once really liked a girl but said one wrong thing and her like for me dropped to the mid-30s. Don’t worry, though, I am (or Vinny is?) a rather smooth talker and got her up into the 80s during a second date. I’ve even had a woman like me 100 per cent because Vinny is just that much of a great guy.
Don’t expect a long game, by any means. A playthrough will only take a handful of hours, but there is a high replayability factor. I need to know about the girls I didn’t date at first. I need to know what happens if I change my answer to a single question from option A to option C. I need to know if changing my profile changes any of my past interactions. Basically, I need to know it all, and I’m perfectly content to speak to these girls for many more hours than is actually required to complete the game.
It’s still a bit strange for me to talk about on-camera acting in video games, despite the number of FMV titles I’ve reviewed (I may have developed a bit of an obsession). This genre toes the line between live video and game, making any criteria different from, say, an action film. That being said, I quite like the acting. Modak makes for a very endearing Vinny; he appears friendly, heartfelt, and funny. Basically, Vinny is the man a lot of us women are looking for, and that comes down to the actor portraying Vinny in an approachable and sensitive manner. I’ve spent a lot of time looking into this man’s eyes, and it legitimately feels like I’ve met him before in life.
The two other actors that really stand out to me are Georgia Small and Mandip Gill, Saffron and Shaina. There’s a good reason why I almost instantly fell for the women they portray! Small speaks with such sincerity, such tenderness, that it’s almost impossible not to want to know more about her. Gill portrays an exhausted nurse, and I definitely said a few wrong things to her as Vinny, but she oozes with charisma that made me want to try harder to get that percentage up. She looks at the camera like she’s staring through the screens and across the city, into Vinny’s soul.
Since we are still talking about a game and not a film, I do need to nitpick on a couple of technical things. The first: it’s great to have subtitle options, but there are no options to make the text to choose options from any more visible. It’s all quite small and thin at the bottom left corner of the screen, and I’ve missed it a couple of times because I simply didn’t see it. The second: I have no idea when the game saves. Actually, that might be overkill. What I should say is that I think I know when the game saves after I’ve played it for hours and have opened/closed the application, but it’s never actually clear. A little “saving” symbol would have saved me a few frustrating moments of replaying what I had already done. For what it’s worth, I believe it saves when a date with a woman ends, and talking to Callum doesn’t count as a date (I learned the hard way). The save thing I could deal with, but being unable to read the options text borders on maddening.
Five Dates basically has what I want from a game at this exact moment in time. There’s no violence, no screaming, no heavy machinery, no building, no wandering around trying to find things. Instead, the focus is on creating relationships, whether or not they turn into friendship or dating or a lifelong love. The gameplay is easy to follow since it’s all just making choices, and if you struggle with that you can even pause the choices so the game doesn’t carry on without your input. I’m not going to lie, I was initially worried about how the quality of acting would be through the performers shooting themselves through an iPhone, but it’s pretty darned good. Good enough for me to momentarily think someone may be my match, despite already having a wonderful match in the real world (I cannot emphasise how awkward this made me feel, but he found it amusing). There are a few things that I’d love to change if I could, but otherwise, I’m quite impressed at the feat of conceptualising, writing, shooting, producing, and developing a video game in eight months.