Table Manners is a dating simulation game that’s taken a leaf out of Surgeon Simulator‘s book.
That goes to say that Table Manners purposefully makes its controls as awkward as possible, and frames its entire gameplay around it. Through the medium of a first date, that means trying to woo your potential suitor by awkwardly pouring a glass of wine, peppering a steak, lighting a candle and stuffing a chocolate brownie into your date’s mouth.
It’s all jolly good fun – at least, for 10 minutes or so. Taking control of a disembodied hand, I laughed loudly as I accidentally spilled tomato ketchup all over my date’s lap. She didn’t seem to mind. Sending her fries flying across the restaurant was also hilarious; as was trying to angle my hand in such a way that would allow me to complete the simple task of picking up a wine bottle.
The trouble is, it gets repetitive really fast. While Table Manners offers a variety of scenarios to work your way through, with four levels in each, I’d already lost the will to live by the time I’d even unlocked the second. Yes, a fiddly control scheme is the whole point of the game; but it shouldn’t be to the point that it’s simply not fun to play. Currently only available on PC, Table Manners doesn’t have controller support, requiring you to use the mouse and keyboard. Moving your mouse moves your hand; a left click grabs something; a right-click rotates your hand; and the ‘W’ and ‘S’ keys move your hand up and down. In theory, pretty simple. In practice? Infuriating as hell, because you’re often required to do multiple of these things at once.
It’s exacerbated by the fact that I’ve encountered numerous glitches in my time with Table Manners. I’ve frequently had items stuck to my hand even though I wasn’t grabbing anything. I’ve also had an item cling to the edge of the table in such a way that it wouldn’t fall and neither could I grab it, making it useless. If you drop an item on the floor in Table Manners, a replacement will appear (unless it’s a food item, in which case you’ll need to order another) – but this is a double-edged sword. If a glass has fallen over, it’s often easier to knock it onto the floor and let a correctly-placed one emerge rather than trying to pick it up. But I’ve also had a situation where a ketchup bottle instantly fall off the table every time it spawned, resulting in a terrifying infinite loop of ketchup.
I also can’t get over the fact that these dates can’t do anything for themselves. Seriously. My hand would be outta there pronto if this was real life. You can’t pour your own wine? You can’t feed yourself a chip? Order your own damn food and put your own ketchup on your burger! Take too long doing something they’ve asked for and they’ll rudely look at their phone; no doubt also huffing and puffing that you can’t fulfil a simple request. Assholes.
In its favour, Table Manners‘ presentation is nice. Rather than simply having a main menu and a list of missions, the game’s hub places you at a desk. A computer screen lets you change game options, while a book lets you choose your date location. Most importantly there’s a phone, loaded with a Tinder-style app, that lets you pick your suitor. You can also chat with them, or simply jump straight into a date. The chat function, however, is silly at best, with conversations ranging from morally questionable to downright nonsensical. Say the wrong thing to your date, and you’ll see yourself staring down the business end of a blocking. But get your flirting just right and you’ll be more likely to have a successful next date.
There’s also a range of customisation options on offer (also accessed from your desk) allowing you to add a bit of flair to your floating hand. Off the bat, you can choose from a range of skin tones and as you play, you’ll unlock tattoos, jewellery, fingernail colours and more. It doesn’t affect the gameplay in any way, but it’s at least nice to be able to personalise your experience somewhat.
I’d have liked to have had more fun with Table Manners, but its purposefully-awkward controls ended up being just too awkward to bear. It’s a balancing act, and sadly I feel like developer Echo Chamber Games has missed the mark. It should be silly and entertaining – and it is, for a few minutes – but it quickly devolves into frustration. Maybe involving some friends might make it a bit more enjoyable. But by yourself, Table Manners just isn’t much fun.
Here’s something nice, though. The game’s publishers and developers have partnered with NHS Blood and Transplant to encourage players to give blood. It’s part of the NHS’s Valentine’s Day ‘What’s Your Type?’ campaign as the trust is woefully short of donors with particular blood types. Table Manners and blood donation seems an odd match, but hey – I’m all for promoting good causes. When the game launches on Friday, it’ll have some ‘give blood’ messaging visible in-game, and Give Blood NHS will be giving away copies on social media.
If you want to donate blood in the UK, you can find out how to become a blood donor by visiting blood.co.uk.