Dream, Patch Me
Note! This is a review in progress. So if you’re reading this disclaimer here it’s not finished yet.
Natural dialogue is something of a rarity in videogames. While we’ve come some way from the fragmented, broken-android speech of Resident Evil’s voice acting, believable ‘banter’ is something of a strange rarity still.
Game: Dreamfall Chapters
Developer: Red Thread Games
Publisher: Deep Silver
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)
Enter Dreamfall Chapters, a patched-up and remastered version of the newest instalment in the Longest Journey series and arriving over a decade after it’s older sibling, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. It’s wryly amusing but doesn’t beat you over the head with it, instead using natural flowing dialogue between characters for laughs rather than blunt stabs at jokes. The original, released in 1999, was titled The Longest Journey. So that’s not confusing at all, is it? Having the name of the series after the episode name and then dropping it entirely for the third part is helping no one here.
You may assume that a dialogue-heavy puzzle game revolving around dreams and magic has ‘crowdfunding’ written all over it, and you’d be right. Fans of the first two instalments stumped up over $1.5m to find out what happens to Zoe Castillo, who also calls herself The Dreamer as if she’s a wrestler or something. Grabbing hold of the plot is at points like trying to catch the ghost of a wasp; the second I thought I’d grasped what was happening it slipped away from me. I mean there’s three games many, many years apart across two worlds, one of which is magic and one is in the future, and… Well, it makes Metal Gear 5 look like Balamory basically.
So what you’re looking at here, lads, is a third-person speech-em-up split between two main characters, the aforementioned Zoe and a big burly chap named Kian. The game is almost stubbornly light on action, so is putting quite a lot of stock in story, characters and those puzzles.
Some of the issue with the game for me came from this dichotomy between leads. Zoe, who you play as first, is an excellent character. Entirely believable, with a dry wit and brilliantly voiced, I began the game eagerly anticipating more time spent learning about her story and uncovering more dialogue, of which there is plenty. She is also quite the purveyor of ‘bantz’; interactions between Zoe and a droid named Shitbot (I shit you not) proving a particular highlight for me.
Kian, on the other hand, is dull. A boring archetype of a noble, wrongly imprisoned gentle giant, his dialogue is rarely amusing and stilted throughout. I could not give one single shit what happened to Kian. Sorry Kian, but you’re the Andrew Ridgely in this duo, mate.
The reason you’re switching between two leads is because they’re in different worlds, obviously. Zoe exists in Stark, which is basically Earth, in the distant future. Her world is strongly reminiscent of Blade Runner and other sci-fi touchstones, all grim realism and neon lights, and it works very well. It’s not an expansive open-world, but it moves and breathes like a real world. Zoe and those around her, including sweary food-vendor Nela, slot into the environment and feel like they belong there. Kian, however, is in Arcadia; an unimaginative fantasy inspired land where magic is fine and people talk like extras from Pirates of the Caribbean. It feels dated, and it is.
Speaking of dated, the visuals aren’t doing great. Areas such as the StoryTime (an area between both worlds where users of the induced-dream machines go and not an early evening show on CBeebies) are enormously pretty indeed. Pitched as if among the stars with perpetual Northern Lights displays, the lack of interactivity of these areas is made up for in the depth of colours. Less impressive are the facial animations and character’s walking. Mouth movements rarely synch up with speech, and have a Supermarionation quality to their opening and closing. There’s also not much in the way of facial movements either, leaving the cast resembling a Botox Addicts meeting. However, I’m willing to concede that this could just be as a result of being spoilt recently with Uncharted 4 among others, and this game originally being released three years ago.
The puzzles sometimes brought a wry smile to my face, but are sometimes a little too straightforward and uninvolving. You’re given no introduction to Zoe’s abilities, including mind reading and slowing time, but once you’ve got these down it’s mostly combining objects and wandering around trying everything you can until something works. You get the now familiar dialogue choices, but sometimes these don’t give you much range, with differing replies often seemingly expressing the same character. The game also operates a decision making feature, which we’re assured makes a difference to the outcome of the game, and even points out later on that certain earlier choices have lead to certain outcomes you just experienced. Either way, a nice feature of said decision-making is that you’re given the option, if you like, to see how other players before you chose and in what percentage This is a mechanic that is interesting at the very least, as you build up a profile of your fellow gamers and their moral compasses, but never actually changed the way I plumped for a choice.
There’s enough there to warrant it being interesting, and even though there is only one interesting lead character that’s one more than many games manage.