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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 you’ll be working through an area and the adventure is cut short because someone was alerted to your presence. The circumstances aren’t always the same—sometimes you’re 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 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 weren’t the case. Confused yet? Welcome to Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. It’s 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 there’s little more than slums and apartments. It’s 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. There’s 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. That’s where April lives.

Zoe and April are two of the three characters you’ll control in the game. The third is a zealot named Kian. He considers himself an apostle, but the people he serves couldn’t 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 that’s where Dreamfall: The Longest Journey excels. The plot rocks.

Of course, you realize this means I can’t really go into any more depth about the plot than I already have. Doing so would spoil it for you, and seriously, you’d have almost no reason to play. That’s because the actual gameplay isn’t 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, that’s 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 wasn’t immune to this dangerous trap. As a result, there are plenty of times where you’ll be working through an area and the adventure is cut short because someone was alerted to your presence. The circumstances aren’t always the same--sometimes you’re 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 don’t feel as out of place as watching a sexy girl pretend to be Solid Snake), the ones present in Dreamfall feel almost… 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 you’ve been hearing in the background while exploring some underground ruins. What if you’ve been playing with the volume turned off?

Of course, you probably haven’t 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 game’s ability to tell the story. Let me say this: the voice acting is great. Each character is unique and credible. There’s a lot of exposition, but you won’t mind because each line is delivered with personality. Best of all is Zoe. Her voice work is done so well that you can’t help but feel attracted to the character.

The graphics probably don’t 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 someone’s drugging her and she’s 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 you’re 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 you’re living out an adventure.

It’s 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 could’ve been and more like just one more title out of the many choking the market. It’s still an easy recommendation if you’re one of those people who are happy to let plot take precedence, but I’m 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 you’ve had a chance to sneak past a few robots.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (May 18, 2006)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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