Review by Orb
June 2003

Mode is a lost-in-the-shuffle, long-forgotten FMV title published by Corel in 1996, at a time when it was just about to shut down its game publishing arm. Corel also published Cassandra Galleries, a favorite puzzle game amongst adventure gamers.

Mode has that funky MTV-in-the-80s feel. But it has none of the overly pushy attempt to be cool that MTV's game of similar ilk, Club Dead, had. Mode is designed almost like an interactive art installation. And the number of paths the story can take, the method of communicating to characters within the game, and the style of the game itself really bear this out.

The story is a really well-defined yet simple mystery tale. You have arrived at a fashion and art party hosted by Vito Brevis, a mad genius artist-type. You have crashed the party and must find a way of securing a Dome, a silver lapel pin signifying you are "in," one of the invited, beautiful people. Part of the fun of this game is experimenting with the various story paths and character interactions to acquire the Dome, or in trying to play the game through as far as you can without getting bounced from the party for not having a Dome. These story branches actually cause the game to become more elaborate and defined, and I found myself becoming more intrigued by the characters and the story as I tried different things and sent myself down the different directions the game can take.

But the acquisition (or not) of the Dome is just one small part of the overall story. There is a deeper mystery that begins to unfold as the story progresses regarding who Vito Brevis really is and what his real intentions are.

The thing that makes Mode an exceptional lost jewel of an FMV adventure title is that the developers used a method of communicating with characters the likes of which I have not run across before. What is this device, you ask? Something called a "Mood Bar." The Mood Bar is a colored strip that runs along the bottom of the screen. The colors in the bar start at a deep fuchsia and move through reds and blues and greens. When a character communicates to you, the player, you do not respond using prewritten choices from a standard conversation tree; instead you pick the "mood" of your response. These choices totally change the outcome of the game. Entirely different things happen with same characters based on the mood used to speak to them.

This system lays in an element of surprise as to how the conversation is going to turn out, and it is surprising to see that something one character accepts as friendliness, another will dismiss as mindless fawning. I was bowled over by this whole system and found myself exploring to see how I could make conversations change the game and the game's outcome. The game has 11 different endings. I was able to find seven of them—some were short, some were very elaborate, all were entertaining.

I was also surprised by the quality of the actors. Unlike many FMV games, the acting in Mode is well-done and consistent. As this is really the main focus of the game, it serves Mode well to have this important aspect crafted so well. The game is played in the first person, and as my descriptions imply, it is completely character-driven.

There are also points in the game where the opportunity arises to actually use the dome pin on a character, and what occurs is almost sci-fi. Barman, I'll have an LSD chaser with that Budweiser!

The music is cheesy techno, played in short, repetitive loops that don't detract but do give the environment a clubby atmosphere.

There is a game-within-the-game that is presented at the party as an art piece, an interactive machine called the Mode Machine. This machine also has a bar, but this is made up of the word "mode." If you rearrange the letters in the correct manner, you are able to access more of the background story. Each letter also has an interactive element where you can click on images to make different things happen. It's a little hard to explain without seeing it, but it's a bit of a cross between pop art, modern art and performance art. Whatever the hell it is, I liked it.

There is an ongoing fashion show, which also has the air of performance art, hosted by a stand-up comedian clown in a suit who becomes more intoxicated and belligerent as the night wears on. Each time this section of the party is visited, what is featured on the stage changes, and this occurs throughout the game. In one instance, a garage band comes on stage, one member wheeled in by a nurse who covers her ears with a pained look on her face as they begin to play. How many times have you wanted to do that with a garage band?

Don't get me wrong, a lot of this game is kitschy and strange. But I felt myself inexplicably drawn into it and completely entertained. Usually I am not a big fan of character-driven FMV, but I loved this.

Jeff Green, the primary designer for Mode, still has a really interesting website up for this game. The website also features information on another Anamatics game called Midnight Stranger, which also used the Mood Bar, as well as some pages regarding a now-defunct interactive web portion of Mode called Club Mode. There's also an email address where you can request a demo of Mode.

I think the Mood Bar was a clever idea that was simply marketed poorly and underpromoted by Corel, which at the time was giving up the gaming ghost. This is evidenced at the very least in the design of the box cover, a photo of the main character wearing his Dome, which comes off like a picture of someone's waiter looking up at the sky, all bland grays and blacks and whites. The game itself is quite colorful—what were they thinking? The initial plan for Mode was quite the over-the-top dotcom starburst. There was to be a huge online crowd, with major companies such as Donna Karan and Air Canada sponsoring sections of rooms in the game, and Corel had pledged the bandwidth and was planning to spend $40,000 a month on the project, including new portions of the game to be released with regularity on CD. Obviously, this all fell through, and Corel pulled out of the gaming biz. I'm sure there's a really entertaining dotcom bust story here somewhere.

This is a very playable collector's game, and your best bets for getting yourself a copy (if this at all piques your interest) are eBay or the Game Trading ZoneThe End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Anamatics Multimedia
Publisher: Corel
Release Date: March 1996

Available for: Macintosh Windows

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System Requirements

486 DX 66
Windows 3.1x
640x480/256 colors
2X CD-ROM drive
8-bit Sound Blaster or compatible sound card
Mouse and speakers

System 7.1
640x480/256 colors
2X CD-ROM drive

Where to Find It

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