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Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (Xbox) artwork

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (Xbox) review


"As a result, there are plenty of times where youíll be working through an area and the adventure is cut short because someone was alerted to your presence. The circumstances arenít always the sameósometimes youíre ducking around robots and shards of glass, while others you might be trying to let the sound of a train mask your movements from a watchdogóbut the frustration remains in tact."



Zoe fights like a girl. One glance at her slender, toned body tells you why this is the case, but eye candy only goes so far to address what normally would be a game-crippling flaw. Fortunately, it turns out that you almost never have to duke it out with anyone. On a more negative note, some of you will wish that werenít the case. Confused yet? Welcome to Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. Itís that sort of game.

Picture a world not so far in the future. The economy and technology have crashed, and now people live in colonies of a sort. Swanky clubs and high-tech corporations still exist, but in between it seems like thereís little more than slums and apartments. Itís a strange world, yet not all that different from the future we might easily imagine. This is where Zoe lives.

Now, imagine a world with a monstrous tower rising from the middle of a city. Ancient technology rules the day, yet there are signs that technology is about to make a quantum leap. Thereís a walled region where the magic users have been herded. There they can live and practice their craft in peace, virtual prisoners. All is not well, though. Soldiers roam the streets and people dare not speak out against a strange religion, even as assassins creep in the shadows and plan to bring their own religion to power. Thatís where April lives.

Zoe and April are two of the three characters youíll control in the game. The third is a zealot named Kian. He considers himself an apostle, but the people he serves couldnít treat him more like a puppet if they tried. When you combine all three of these principle characters--along with a supporting cast--you have the makings of a great story. And thatís where Dreamfall: The Longest Journey excels. The plot rocks.

Of course, you realize this means I canít really go into any more depth about the plot than I already have. Doing so would spoil it for you, and seriously, youíd have almost no reason to play. Thatís because the actual gameplay isnít much to talk about.

As you may already know, Dreamfall is the sequel to a six-year-old title known simply as The Longest Journey. That game was a graphic adventure, and it went over quite well. Fans waited for a sequel for a long time, no doubt figuring that when it finally came, they could expect more of the same. To an extent, thatís what they got. However, some rather unwelcome mainstays from modern games also came along for the ride.

Chief among these is the notion that stealth sections are fun. Once Metal Gear Solid popularized sneaking about in shadows, it seems every developer decided a good game could be made better with more of the same. Funcom wasnít immune to this dangerous trap. As a result, there are plenty of times where youíll be working through an area and the adventure is cut short because someone was alerted to your presence. The circumstances arenít always the same--sometimes youíre ducking around robots and shards of glass, while others you might be trying to let the sound of a train mask your movements from a watchdog--but the frustration remains intact.

Another flaw is the puzzle system. While I can appreciate that such elements belong in this genre (certainly, they donít feel as out of place as watching a sexy girl pretend to be Solid Snake), the ones present in Dreamfall feel almostÖ hollow. On the one hand, you have these simple dead ends where diving into your inventory provides the solution. Those are too easy and they highlight the fact that using items from your inventory is counter-intuitive. Then there are obscure tricks, like a puzzle based on the music youíve been hearing in the background while exploring some underground ruins. What if youíve been playing with the volume turned off?

Of course, you probably havenít been. Dreamfall has some great sound, both in terms of the ambience and the voice acting. The latter is particularly important, because it impacts the gameís ability to tell the story. Let me say this: the voice acting is great. Each character is unique and credible. Thereís a lot of exposition, but you wonít mind because each line is delivered with personality. Best of all is Zoe. Her voice work is done so well that you canít help but feel attracted to the character.

The graphics probably donít hurt, either. Zoe looks nice, from the minute you wander downstairs to visit with her father (while dressed in a nightie) to the time when someoneís drugging her and sheís slipping into the other dimension that lies buried within her subconscious. Visuals go beyond the plucky protagonist, though, and extend to each region she visits. When youíre walking through the rain-soaked streets of Newport and neon lights show in the distance while nearby homeless people stand hunched over burning barrels for warmth, the effect is spellbinding. Each locale is lovingly rendered so that you truly feel as if youíre living out an adventure.

Itís just a shame that sometimes gameplay gets in the way. Dreamfall is the sort of game that could have been a true masterpiece. Throw in a few stealth segments and some clunky menu navigation, though, and it feels less like the experience it couldíve been and more like just one more title out of the many choking the market. Itís still an easy recommendation if youíre one of those people who are happy to let plot take precedence, but Iím not sure I could describe the project as a perfect journey for anyone. Play it no matter what, but hold off on a purchase until youíve had a chance to sneak past a few robots.

Rating: 7/10

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Staff review by Jason Venter (May 18, 2006)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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