"Having been a huge fan of Longest Journey, I was excited for Dreamfall. It was one of the reasons I bought an Xbox (now given away). In retrospect, I can't say I disliked the game, but I was definitely disapointed in some areas I never thought I'd be dissapointed in. "
Having been a huge fan of Longest Journey, I was excited for Dreamfall. It was one of the reasons I bought an Xbox (now given away). In retrospect, I can't say I disliked the game, but I was definitely disapointed in some areas I never thought I'd be dissapointed in.
Probably the biggest dissapointment was the main character's interaction with the environment. That might sound pretty specific, but in an adventure game, it's a big deal. I said this in my Longest Journey review, but adventure games really rely on a strong central character, since that is where you'll be getting your info on everything from the plot to "what is that little thing sticking out of the wall?" The main character is given the task of essentially running a one man show. They are the narrator, the performer, and the entertainer. In an adventure game, where you progress mostly through conversation and dialouge choices, the main character is the gameplay. In this regard, of course, some characters stand out more than others. Monkey Island's Guybrush Threepwood, for one. The cynical but confused main character of BladeRunner, Ray McCoy. The ever lovable duo of Sam and Max.
And of course, April Ryan.
April Ryan was a genius character. She was darkly sarcastic and cynical in a world that required it, but also bizarrely soft at heart. Her cynicism was a shield she put up to protect her from getting hurt. She kept herself at arm's length from people to limit her attachments, because she was immensely afraid of loss. And in the best tradition of irony, she wasn't aware of these psychological quirks. Only the player, as an outside observer, realized it. Plus, she was superbly entertaining.
Dreamfall's Zoe was not. Zoe was boring.
Now, I wasn't looking for an April Ryan clone. Zoe is a character in her own right, and a very different one from April, and that's good. It shows versatility. Whereas April is cyberpunk spunky, Zoe is more South African go-with-the-flow. She's more stable than April Ryan. In fact, that's one of the joys of Dreamfall, watching Zoe's carefully constructed idea of reality and morality plummet towards damnation and seeing her struggle to maintain her neutrality and reason. But as a narrator Zoe falls short.
In The Longest Journey, every item of interest in the world, no matter how trivial, presented April with an opportunity to espouse on its purpose, with a bit of her own personal view on the matter thrown in. Many gamers will recall the plant in the hallway, which revealed roughly the following information:
Plants were usually made of organic plastic. It grew and converted carbon dioxide into oxygen, just like real plants but it did not need nourishment of any kind.
Followed by April's quick summary:
Convenient but disturbing.
These little bits kept The Longest Journey interesting while the player was trying to figure out how to move the story forward. By contrast, Zoe seemed uneager to share much about her world. Even clicking on the most impressive looking gadgetry would elicit basic responses such as:
"That's a security monitor."
To be honest, I'm not sure whether this is actually Zoe's fault. You do get to play as two other characters during the course of the game, and they both exude the same flatness. In fact, one of those playable characters is April Ryan herself! But while she retains the same good voice acting and interesting character in dialouge, this simply vanishes when she's describing the world about her. It puts up a strange barrier between the player and the character and to me was the most lamented departure in style from The Longest Journey. It gave an unexpected blandness to the world that weighed heavily on me throughout the game.
It's possible the developers were attempting to move away from verbally exploring their world. Certainly, they seem eager to establish Dreamfall as a new gaming experience in the adventure genre. Some of the changes are good. The old point and click interface is gone, though the principle remains. You still cycle through examining various objects and people, but the system is more akin to an action game now, with targeting and free movement. It works much better than it sounds.
What doesn't work are the combat sections. Everyone who has played Dreamfall bemoans these sections. It feels almost cliche to do so myself. The main problem is not that the developers wanted to do combat, it's that they failed to do so in an engaging format. There's nothing exciting about it. It involves fighting one on one using a cumbersome and totally unnecessary system. The developers seem to have been aware of it, because combat is extremely rare and usually a quick affair when it does occur. You get the sense it was either rushed into the game as a last minute thought, or taken out of the game when it was realized that the original goals for combat weren't being achieved.
Of course, the real pay off of an adventure game is the story. It's the story that keeps most of us moving through the basic "go from point A to B" format of almost every adventure game on the market. While most games don't display Dreamfall's maturity of writing and setting, there are some problems that turn it from "breathtaking" to "overwhelming." First off, anyone coming in without knowledge of Longest Journey's plot has some serious catching up to do. Strangely, rather than Dreamfall tying in to major aspects of its predecessor's plot, it makes the connection to fairly specific points. While anyone who has played the first game should have little trouble picking up on these connections, you can't fill in the gaps for new players with a quick overview of the first game' s salient points.
Even if you have played the first game, prepared to be confused. Part of this confusion stems from the roundabout way in which Dreamfall tells its story. Much of the game focuses on a sub plot involving Zoe and an old boyfriend. Where this ties into a main plot isn't always clear, and matters become more confusing when you start switching between the three playable characters, each involved in another sub plot with its own subtle connections.
Probably the biggest source of confusion, though, stems from the fact that Dreamfall is very much a middle child. Set between The Longest Journey and an as-of-yet unreleased finale, Dreamfall becomes a difficult second act. New information, characters, and plot twists are presented at every turn, without much clue as to which are important or which will be followed up. Indeed, in the end, nothing (and I mean nothing in the infinite sense of the word) is explained. In fact, the final riveting scenes of the game consist of roughly six new plot twists. Because of this, it is hard to recommend Dreamfall with the same fervor as The Longest Journey. Much of Dreamfall's potential has yet to be realized. We won't know until the sequel (being released episodically online) whether Dreamfall was an unsalvageable mess or a carefully constructed tapestry.
I will go ahead and recommend Dreamfall for the elements it does gets right. It has interesting characters, good sound and graphics, and a detailed and engaging (if at times cumbersome) plot. If you've played the first Longest Journey, you're probably not going to be able to stay away from a sequel. If you haven't played The Longest Journey, I suggest you play it first, or at least don't discredit it on Dreamfall's account. Because despite the things it gets right, it's hard to think of Dreamfall as anything but a weak (though frustratingly neccesary) link in what we can only hope is eventually a strong chain.
Community review by zippdementia (November 12, 2008)
Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.
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