(A cinematic spy-thriller. Infiltration and heist on the surface, socio-political commentary underneath. 1958: Dancing With Fear - Details (ifdb.org))
♪ ♫ Bandiera Rossa… ♫ ♪
1958; Dancing with Fear is a very cinematic IF experience.
We are dropped in medias res in the head of Palomé, a woman we know next to nothing about at the beginning, but who clearly has an intruiging history.
As play begins, she is persuaded by an accomplice to accompany him into the Grand Mansion they are conveniently standing right in front of. He wants Palomé to strengthen his disguise (infiltrating a ballroom party is less conspicuous with a beautiful woman on your arm…), and he also needs her to be ready to create a distraction should that be necessary.
This wasn’t part of the plan, but reluctantly (and slightly excited by the prospect) Palomé agrees. Within minutes after entering the mansion, the plan goes south, the accomplice is discovered and the success of the mission falls upon Palomé’s shoulders.
You (the player) help Palomé by investigating the surroundings and talking to the guests at the party, some of whom are familiar from her past. This brings memories to Palomé’s mind, gradually uncovering her eventful backstory while at the same time providing clues for handling obstacles.
While the main story and the mansion it takes place in are small, the use of flashbacks adds a lot of content and substance to the game. You get to know your main character better and better, causing you to align your game-objectives with her in-story motivations.
The flashbacks and the various obstacles in the mansion play out as short scenes in a movie. This gives the game a strong forward drive, pulling the player along with Palomé’s discoveries and her memories.
It also means the game is very much on rails.
The author gives the player some leeway. Examining everything closely is encouraged. Even unimportant details will give a small insight into the personages’ lives and the social/political climate of the time period.
However, any actions other than X run the danger of going “off script”, leading to a swift discovery and a failed mission. These losing endings are just as engagingly written as the main line of the story.
To strengthen the immersion in the time-period, it’s very much worth the time to just LISTEN (or WAIT) multiple times in the ballroom. The author has gone through the effort of providing a very large variety of background murmuring and gossiping for the guests. An effort that adds immensely to the atmosphere.
When you pay attention to the clues in Palomé’s backstory, the puzzles shouldn’t be too difficult. Sometimes the order in which to tackle one or the other obstacle is a bit unclear, as some of the clues seem to be applicable to more than one situation. This shouldn’t pose too much of a problem though, and if you should go too far off script, there’s always RESTORE (or multiple UNDOs) to get you back on cue.
Dancing with Fear is engagingly and enthusiastically written. The subject matter is quite a bit heavier than magical kleptomania, but it is handled in a balanced manner. Heartwarming notes, action sequences, and personal revelations are spread throughout the game which, mingled with the socio-political background motivations, make for an equally entertaining as though-provoking IF-piece.
Unfortunately, there is a noticeable amount of typos and language errors in the text. Not enough to ruin the pleasure, but they are distracting and immersion-breaking.
At the end of the game, the player has several choices (six, to be exact, of which I found three). They make it possible to insert your own views on the matter at hand (which I’ve kept deliberately vague in this review…), and choose an ending according to your personal preferences.
A great spy-infiltration thriller with deep background. Heartily recommended.