Coming Out on Top: The Review
Mark Matthews, the protagonist of Coming Out on Top, is a senior about to start his final semester at Orlin University. But he’s been hiding a secret from his best friends (and roommates), Ian and Penny. He’s gay and it is well past time to tell them. From that initially nerve wracking yet happy moment, the next few months are a whirlwind of study, tutoring, drama, the search for a boyfriend, sex, and maybe love. Coming Out on Top is a fun, crazy game that I cannot help but be addicted to. I love this game.
I play the game in the manner I promised. I pursue all of the guys at once. However, the game does not allow for going after multiple guys past a certain point. To date, I have completed Brad, Ian, and Jed’s stories. I’ve gotten some way into Alex’s and have yet to get to a third date with Phil.
Brad’s path is endearing and cute. Ian’s route is hot as hell (the final scenes are reason enough to buy this game). Jed’s story is sexy and ultimately sweet (and not what I expected). Alex’s path is, so far, revealing of a vulnerable man hidden behind a hyper competitive facade. Phil’s route, though I’ve read he lightens up, is still hampered by Phil’s initial bad attitude.
I really enjoyed the three stories I completed. But I cannot say I’m terribly fond of Alex’s story so far. And I am still not fond of Phil, even after a second date.
The writing draws the player in and doesn’t let go until he or she finishes the particular path. For a first foray into video games and video game writing, Obscura does a rather remarkable job. The various plots are interesting and well researched. The characterization is good and subtle, though the secondary characters lack depth.
I do have problems with the narrative. The explanation for why Mark waited so long to come out to his friends is still problematic for me, given that he has known Penny and Ian for years. Another problematic poor explanation is Mark not knowing that Penny’s extended family is biracial with all of its attendant baggage (not that this is the only moment where Mark comes across as being racist).
The dialogue is problematic at times. Conversations between characters are often well written. But there are moments where the dialogue bogs down in trying to be so hip that it plunges into artificiality. The worst offender, so far, is Jed’s story line where the argument for independence and authenticity comes across as cliche (I would not be surprised, however, if Phil’s story doesn’t come out as the worst offender. The second date is a pain in the ass to read through).
The biggest problem I have with the writing is the amount of text. Yes, this is a visual novel, but the amount of text, especially descriptive text, and the usage of the second person takes away from the enjoyment of the game. Especially when the reading experience is more akin to telling than showing. Again, more cut scenes would have been preferable.
Turning to the art, I’m actually torn by the cutscenes (by Doubleleaf). The scenes I have seen have all been hot and well done. But I don’t know if the anime style is really the best. Alex, Ian, Jed, and Brad are all very well done (barring Ian’s beard in some scenes). But I cannot stand how Alex looks in the cut scenes. He looks too young.
The game rocks, but it can use a more interconnected story. If you play for all the guys, you will get Alex. If you decide that you would rather swim or run the treadmill at the second gym scene, Alex’s route is cut off and you will move on to Brad. I assume if you refuse to tutor Brad after the first tutoring session, Phil’s path will open up for further advancement. If you refuse to go on the second date, Ian’s route becomes available. Finally, if you don’t go to the frat party with Ian, Jed’s story becomes available. The order of the romantic options is determined by events following the second gym scene (and if you attend the second date/ tutoring session). The fact that the various romantic options do not interact is, honestly, a disappointment. A minor disappointment.
I still love the game. I am proud I bought it. I am about to play it again after I post this. Hopefully, this game is a success and we can look forward to many sequels or follow ups to Coming Out on Top from Obscura.