The 1980s are the only decade that could have spawned Romantic Encounters at the Dome, a text game of sexual role-playing created by Southern California psychologists. Playing as a man or woman, explore your fantasies at The Dome, an exclusive club that's like something you dimly remember from a Huey Lewis video.
It's a pre-AIDS world of casual sex and New Wave girls doing coke where you look for love. Find the mate of your dreams -- or someone who's wild, co-dependent, or trying to make her gun-toting boyfriend jealous. Make important choices: are you in over your head? Should you wake Kitty after the drugs make her pass out in bed?
The writing's top-notch, if you can get past the psychobabble ("you sense you're making meaningful connections"). Unfortunately, the parser is awful, worse than Colossal Cave in making you guess words. You soon realize you're basically stuck in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure version of a Bret Easton Ellis novel. For another approach to life simulation, see Alter Ego.
Althought the title may cause it to appear pornographic, Romantic Encounters at the Dome, is actually more of a text based adventure that journeys deep into human behavior studies. It takes place at an important social event, where you try to pick up members of the opposite sex and either get your desires quinched, or be rejected, depending on what they think of you by your social interactions.
A novel and intriguing attempt to model real-life dating that doesn't quite pull it off, Romantic Encounters at The Dome seems like a perfect program for anyone who has been rejected by his or her date one too many times: as member of the exclusive Romantic Encounters club, here is your chance to court members of the opposite sex in hopes of satisfying your desires... temporarily.
The game lets you play as either male or female, or read the thorough introduction to the game in "guest" mode. Each game session starts you in the reception area, where you are told of how many encounters are waiting for you, and in what room. Gameplay is familiar interactive fiction fare: the game's parser is adequate, and can understand complex sentences such as "MAKE A PASS AT THIS GIRL" or "WOULD YOU LIKE TO DANCE?" There is no puzzle to speak of, however, as all your time is spent in various rooms, trying to strike up conversation with different guests and trying to impress them enough to "score" (pun intended). Each encounter either ends with your desires being quenched, or rejection from your date, after which you end up again at the reception area and are given an opportunity to choose another encounter. Pressing "G" at the start also brings up a shortcut menu that lists all the encounters in the game, and all its variations and stages. This allows you to replay scenes that you failed earlier, or try a different move on the person.
It is difficult to say whether Romantic Encounters is a "good" game. On the one hand, its concept is very unique, and the writing is usually above-par or even excellent in some areas. The game is also definitely very different from "X"-rated or even mild porn titles: even the most revealing descriptions are "R" rated at best, and the game never descends into tasteless descriptions of carnal acts. On the other hand, the seemingly intelligent parser is quirky, and is very picky on your syntax being the exact phrasing it is looking for. This means that, although each person you can date has different personalities, it is difficult to figure out what to type to yield the expected results, let alone what your date wants from you. This obscurity makes the game very frustrating at times, although the brevity (each date session lasts only about 15-20 minutes of play time) fortunately helps.
Overall, Romantic Encounters is a commendable attempt at a serious dating simulation. Still, as the only game of its kind (Tsunami's Man Enough years later is a lot more shallow), it is worth playing a few times for uniqueness' sake. Just don't expect it to help you become Don Juan overnight. If you are looking for a solid and much more logical life simulation, play Alter Ego or even Executive Suite instead.
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