In production for nearly three years now, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is shaping up to be one of the biggest adventure games in years. As the sequel to 2000's highly acclaimed adventure game The Longest Journey, Dreamfall promises an epic adventure that spans time and dimensions. It also promises rich, detailed worlds to explore, along with plenty to do, as we recently discovered when we got an updated look at the game. We last saw Dreamfall at E3 in May, so naturally, it has come a long way since then.
First, we should note that Funcom is still keeping a very tight lid on the story details, so we only got glimpses of different parts of the game in action, and we got little sense of narrative in our demonstration. Still, what we saw was very enticing. You'll begin Dreamfall by playing as Zoe, a mysterious young woman who has strange visions that haunt her wherever she goes. And from what we saw, her locations will range from her plush apartment with a killer view to the attic dojo where she practices her martial arts, which is as good a place as any to discuss the combat system in Dreamfall.
Combat in adventure games is a tricky thing, because if you wanted a fast-paced experience, you'd just buy an action game and not an adventure game. With that said, the combat in Dreamfall isn't a frenetic, button-pushing exercise like it is in a fighting game. The fighting moves at a slower pace, so when you're controlling Zoe you can time your attack or your block. You don't need to worry about combo moves or anything, as your distance to your opponent determines the type of attack. If you're in close, it might be a light jab. But if you get some distance between you and your opponent, it might be a harder attack, like a high kick or a roundhouse kick. We saw Zoe battle her sparring partner as they circled around, kicking and punching at one another. In other sequences, we saw different characters in combat, with one using a sword, while another was using a staff. The basic principles remain the same, though, so you don't have to worry about relearning the combat system for each character.
Since the game is being developed for the Xbox as well as for the PC, Funcom designed it so you can play using one of three control schemes. PC players will most likely feel at home using the keyboard or mouse, or a combination of the two, while Xbox players can use the gamepad.
We couldn't help but be impressed by the game's size and scale. Though it starts with Zoe, it will hop to different characters in different worlds and different eras. Before you know it, you've gone from a futuristic cityscape to a fantasy realm and beyond. In the fantasy world, you'll explore medieval-like cities, as well as encounter some of the many strange characters who you can interact with throughout the game. One of Funcom's goals is to create all-around interesting characters, rather than rely on the clichéd caricatures found in so many games. The conversation system is fairly easy to use. When you're talking to someone, you'll be presented with a circular menu with potential discussion options. Just press in the direction you want the conversation to go, and that's it.
The puzzle system also looks interesting, as you'll do everything from figuring out how to unravel a medieval traffic jam in a narrow street to cracking security codes when trying to break into a top-secret facility. In another situation, you have to figure out how to distract a museum guard in order to get past him, and that involves some creative thinking, as well as making good use of the other characters around you. There are stealthlike elements in the game as well, such as when you have to dodge security robots in a hallway. Don't worry, though, because if you're having nightmares of Splinter Cell-like difficulty, the stealth-action sequences in Dreamfall won't be anywhere near as difficult, and you'll be given plenty of places to hide when a robot gets too close. All in all, Funcom says that there's at least 12 to 15 hours of gameplay in Dreamfall, and that's assuming you play it as an action game and blitz your way through it. Realistically, adventure game fans will want to take a slower pace and follow a lot of the side quests. Do that, and there's around 35 to 40 hours of gameplay. And you'll be able to replay the game and explore different avenues, as well.
Dreamfall has excellent visuals. Even though there's no cutting-edge look here, there's something appealing about the clean art style that the developers adopted for the game. We saw both the PC and the Xbox version in action, and it looks good on both, though the Xbox version of course runs at a lower resolution than the PC version. The developers have spent a lot of time researching the voice cast, and while they didn't get any big-name stars, they did get plenty of voices that may sound awfully familiar to you, and there's a reason for that. To find the voice actors, the designers watched plenty of movies and made notes of whose voices they liked. Then they went and got those actors for the game. They made some great choices, too. For example, Jack Angel, the voice of Teddy in Steven Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence voices a similar type of character in Dreamfall, and you'll recognize that it's a perfect fit when you hear and see his character. The team has been busy recording voices in London, Ireland, New York, and Los Angeles to provide life for the more than 5,000 lines of dialogue in the game.
Again, we only got glimpses of the game in action, so there are many unanswered questions that remain. Of course, Funcom wouldn't have it any other way, and that's good news for the fans of The Longest Journey and adventure games in general. What's the deal with Zoe's visions? How does the story span three worlds? Where will it all go? We'll find out when Dreamfall ships in the spring of 2006.