For all the problems plaguing the game, it’s still an enjoyable romp for those who can look past its glaring flaws.
Regardless, the only consensus you’ll hear from the crusty crowd is, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to.” Needless to say, any new offering claiming to revitalize the genre has some big shoes to fill. FunCom’s Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is the second game in a planned trilogy packed with imaginative settings, interesting characters, and wonderful dialogue. It’s an ambitious game that tries hard to inject life into a dying art (and more importantly, gamers’ expectations) but ultimately loses the patient due to numerous missteps in technical execution.
Like the original PC release, Dreamfall follows the life of an ordinary young woman caught up in extraordinary circumstances (though this time two other playable characters share the stage). The game begins with Zoë Castillo comatose in a hospital bed, her father weeping at bedside. Through an out-of-body experience, she pleads for help in the hopes that someone can fix all that’s gone wrong. Before you can make sense of the situation, the clock turns back a fortnight putting you in control of the events leading up to this fateful day. What follows is a ten-hour third-person adventure spanning multiple continents and three planes of existence littered with heady exposition, puzzle solving, and (thankfully sparse) combat.
Dreamfall, like many contemporary adventure games, finds itself without a natural home. In a time when console game sales generally eclipse PC figures, it only makes sense to publish a title across platforms. Unfortunately, that results in compromises across the board in terms of graphic treatment and control. Regardless of platform, the camera and control mechanics at work in Dreamfall are flawed to the point of frustration.
Character movement inside a confined environment is difficult and disorienting, often resulting in the view spinning wildly out of control. Selection of environmental objects is typically fidgety via the Focus Field feature, which has you click the left thumbstick and rotate a blue field until it collides with the desired target. From there, a steady hand is required to maintain aim while you press the appropriate action button necessary to trigger the next event. It’s hardly an elegant solution to a glaring issue, and for most players (especially the casual crowd) it’s downright difficult to nail. When coupled with a clunky inventory system, even the simplest actions can take multiple tries to execute resulting in needless frustration.
And then there’s the combat. Inexplicably, the designers implemented hand-to-hand combat into a genre that traditionally eschews it. Considering that the majority of adventure gamers get their rocks off exploring and puzzle solving sans button-mashing violence, it’s an unnecessary gameplay component and one that’s broken to boot. Fighting controls are sluggish and unresponsive (though combat is thankfully infrequent). Still, you’ll find yourself cursing at the screen as your onscreen persona simply stands there while you get beaten to a pulp…and die.
Unlike the original, your character can take the big dirt nap in Dreamfall (though all it really means is you’ll be forced to restart at the last autosave point before the fight). Certain scraps can be avoided through “stealth” mechanics, which consist of nothing more than crouching behind an NPC or immovable object to avoid discovery. Like the combat, the implementation of stealth is shallow and unnecessary.
With all these complaints levied against Dreamfall, is it deserving of any merit? Thankfully, yes. For starters, the dialogue and voice acting in the game is top notch. While they won’t garner any awards, it’s fair to say that the performances are generally quite convincing, save for those of a few ancillary characters. Zoë comes across as a listless college dropout, spoiled by daddy’s money but looking for purpose. Her ex-boyfriend, Reza, gets her mixed-up in a high-profile investigative story full of intrigue and mystery.
Even the robots have personality: Jack Angel, known for his distinctively soothing monologues as the teddy bear in Steven Spielberg’s A.I., plays Zoë’s sidekick Wonkers, a pink gorilla bot whose sole existence is to keep her happy. There are times when the game devolves into little more than machinima, forcing the player to endure 10 minutes of exposition in between standard puzzles and FedEx quests. Considering that the Xbox demographic probably can’t relate to a wispy female European college dropout doesn’t help matters, either. Between her diatribes on her aimless life and April Ryan’s griping as the unwilling hero, the characters won’t grab everyone the same way.
The game’s visual presentation is generally strong, though each environment feels tight and constricted, much like the pod-like levels of Thief: Deadly Shadows and Deus Ex: Invisible War. Just when you get the feeling you’re exploring a rich environment the illusion is shattered by the all-too-familiar load screen. Disc access times are generally short but happen far too frequently to be ignored. But when you’ve got a moment to just look around the scenery you’re treated to interesting renditions of futuristic cities and fantastic alternate realities. It all feels largely static, though, as the linear story forces you down a predictable path from start to finish. Still, the character modeling, animation, and artistic presentation are solid.
At the end of the day, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is more of an interactive story and less of an adventure game that most had hoped for. Its shorter length (10 hours vs. 50 of the original), broken combat, and clunky camera and controls make for some frustrating gameplay—especially for old school adventure fans who aren’t interested in cross-genre experiments.
For all the problems plaguing the game, it’s still an enjoyable romp for those who can look past its glaring flaws for the simple enjoyment of a good story. Ultimately, if you are a fan of the original (and adventure games in particular) you’ll find enough to like about Dreamfall: The Longest Journey to overlook its many problems, though casual gamers and the hardcore alike will probably endure too much frustration to warrant a play through.
Review originally posted at GWN.com