Dating's a hard business at the best of times, but what if you had to go on a date using a floating hand that just won't do what you want it to? That's the premise offered by Table Manners, which follows in the footsteps of titles like Surgeon Simulator by showing how disastrous things can go when you have to manually control your hands during precise tasks.
The stakes aren't quite as high as open-heart surgery, but that doesn't mean it's any less fiddly trying to find love with a set of five disobedient digits. When we played the preview build we got to grips with the basic controls, with two buttons raising and lowering the hand, the mouse moving it around, LMB to grip, and holding RMB to rotate. That's the basic setup and it sounds easy to learn, but as you might have guessed, that's easier said than done.
For a start, on each date, you get timed tasks to complete for points in your favour, and while they start off relatively tame (lighting a candle or pouring wine) things soon get trickier, and getting flustered and forgetting the controls is a sure-fire way to get ghosted by your potential partner. Just as in something like Overcooked, missing requests is bad news, so things have to be done promptly if you're to keep the spark of romance alive.
Perhaps the most bizarre thing about the version we played is that you get penalised for not completing tasks, yet you don't get penalised for causing huge amounts of mess. One time we poured ketchup on our date and knocked a bottle of wine into their lap and they were totally cool with it, so long as we put the damned salt on their fries as requested!
Mechanically the game works smoothly enough. Admittedly some of the collisions between hands and gripped items such as bottles and fries could be improved, but the game isn't ready for full release yet, and there's a lot of leeway from the fact that things respawn if you happen to knock them on the floor (which, trust us, happens a lot).
As we've seen from games that put manual dexterity at the centre of the experience, each level is far from simple. Your first dates start off as many do, sitting at a dinner table, but soon elements like moving chairs and trays are introduced to make an already tricky task damn near impossible. These added mechanics help the core concept feel fresh and unique as you progress, although you might need a lot of practice to impress your date, especially as things progress.
While the game is launching on Valentine's Day it's not exactly the romantic game you might be wanting to play, but that doesn't stop it from being any less fun. It's a weird and wonderful test of dexterity and patience in the face of bizarre obstacles and deceptively simple tasks, and everything seems to come together to make an experience that makes you swear as much as you laugh, all while trying to get your date to like you.
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