Dreamfall: The Longest Journey Review

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Publisher: Aspyr
Developer: Funcom

Platform: PC and Xbox
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium 4 1.6 GHz or AMD Sempron 2800+, 512 MB RAM, DirectX 9.0c compatible video card with 128 MB Memory, 7 GB HD space, 8x CD ROM, Windows XP or more recent operating system

Ten years ago (in the early 2200s), the world underwent what is now known as "The Collapse." The Wire – the underlying data framework that connects every device, person and vehicle around the globe – failed. Chaos ensued, lives were ruined and society was transformed. More importantly, the Balance was restored.

An art student named April Ryan, endowed with the unique ability to shift between Stark (our technological world) and Arcadia (a parallel universe of magic), managed to restore the balance between technology and magic. Had she not done so, the consequences would have been far worse than the collapse.

In the decade since the collapse, April has not returned and the world has changed. An entity called The Syndicate was formed to prevent corporations from overstepping their bounds. Furthermore, The Syndicate has created The EYE, an international police force tasked with keeping the peace. It is this world that Zoe Castillo finds herself investigating after dropping out of college. A world in which the Syndicate and EYE aren't keeping to their charter, and the Wire is falling victim to outages known as "Static."

Kyle Ackerman

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey may be a sequel to The Longest Journey in the strictest sense, but it represents a remarkable transformation in play and the adventure game genre. Dreamfall shares a setting and many characters with The Longest Journey, but it represents a metamorphosis of FunCom's adventure game franchise from a collection of challenging puzzles to a console-friendly interactive story. Don't mistake my meaning – The Longest Journey was a brilliant game with a clever and engaging tale to tell. At the same time, it was part of the old guard of adventure games, sporting hand-drawn backgrounds and point-and-click gameplay that had players combining objects using genre-specific logic to achieve outrageous ends.

Dreamfall trades in that style of gameplay for a 3D world and console-style controls that exist to support the telling of an interactive story. There are still plenty of the old adventure game conventions – players are forced to run from place to place, discovering new problems and running back to collect objects that the player (may already have known that he) needs. Puzzles have been simplified. None are particularly difficult, and inventory management is kept to a minimum, but there is just enough decision making to keep the story (written by Ragnar & Dag) feel like one that you are creating yourself.

A Tale Of Two Worlds

The story is absolutely the best part of Dreamfall. There are enough bizarre twists to supplement the tale's intuitive elements to keep players riveted throughout. It all begins when Zoe receives a Ringu-style message that appears to be linked to the Static that is interrupting worldwide computer systems. Investigating this message will have Zoe tracking the disappearance of her lover and crossing into the world of Arcadia, where April Ryan has turned into a goth chick with a death wish known as Raven (among other names).

Stark has become a futuristic dystopia in which "the corporate world operates by its own rules and the EYE doesn't serve the people." Arcadia is now dominated by a people known as the Azadi who are banning magic in the world of magic, only using it to enforce an industrial revolution in their own world. And yet the problem isn't the balance of magic and technology as in The Longest Journey. Dreams are traveling from Stark to Arcadia, but not the other way around.

To unravel this mystery, players take on the role of Zoe, investigating the doings of WATIcorp, a company that makes animated toys and personal assistants. Along the way, Zoe will travel between worlds, and players will occasionally take on the roles of April Ryan and Kian Alvane (an apostle and assassin of the Azadi). While things have changed since the Collapse, players will revisit familiar (if dilapidated) locations and meet many faces from the last game, such as the fellow with a stall in the marketplace selling "Potions... Herbs... Curiously shaped cookies!"

Avert Your Eyes

The story is excellent, and at times much darker than one might expect. The ending issatisfying (although somewhat open), especially for those who don't always want focus-tested happy endings. There are some ways in which the overlap between the original game and Dreamfall is confusing. One can only assume that The Longest Journey was designed and written as a stand-alone game. Dreamfall, on the other hand, clearly invites a sequel: the credits end with "The Undreaming is unchained." Moreover, the strength of the writing goes well beyond the compelling plot. More than most games, Dreamfall captures simple elements of life that ring true. This is the first game I've played with an uncomfortable elevator moment.

Excellent humor keeps things lighthearted, especially when the story gets deep or dark. Some of the jokes and references (and language) are off-color, but only mildly so for a game with an "M" rating. Zoe has a strong sense of irony, Crow returns for a visit, and there's even a beggar who's only "theoretically" blind. Some humor is in the background, such as the Godzilla joke at WATIcorp's HQ, but most of it comes from clever character dialog.

One last note about the world is more of a commentary on our world than on the game. The Longest Journey was released in 2000, and featured a world in which everyone and everything was connected by a network of computers with terminals everywhere. Dreamfall features a similarly connected world, but one in which people are connected by mobile devices that manage communications and most software applications. It's amazing how much can change, just over the course of a game franchise.

Smooth Animator

It's hard to say that the graphics in Dreamfall are an improvement. They are solid, and easily up to snuff compared with other Xbox games, but fall well short of state of the art for the PC. I miss the gorgeous hand-drawn landscapes of The Longest Journey, but the artists for Dreamfall still managed to create epic and beautiful settings while the programmers kept the load times short enough to tolerate the many changing scenes.

Many of the animations are impressive, particularly Zoe's actions. If it doesn't strike you beforehand, you'll notice an early character smoothly practicing T'ai Chi. But a game developed for the Xbox has to make compromises, so characters leaving an area just fade from view, people have difficulty holding and interacting with objects and the collision detection is far from perfect. Still, when the story is the focus, these are only minor distractions.

Controls For The Masses

The interface is clearly designed for consoles, and works remarkably well... on a gamepad. If you are playing this one on the PC, consider using a gamepad instead of mouse and keyboard. It's worth it to make your combat and camera usage easier. There are a few departures from older adventure games, most notably the use of combat and stealth. Certainly, there are older games that have used such dynamics, but rarely well.

Combat is simplistic and poorly implemented. In general, if you lose the battle, it's because the foe is to hard to fight. But the ease of combat makes up for the strange collision detection and awkward camera angles. Stealth is, at most, an irritation. Most instances where stealth is necessary are simply puzzles in which the player must figure out when and where there is cover. There are, however, occasions when the player has to dodge robots or scientists that are mildly irritating. The need for stealth to heighten tension makes sense, but it should have been better implemented.

Turn Off The Subtitles

It's the story that should bring you to Dreamfall, and it's the story that will keep you there. The most important tool for telling that story (after the writing) in Dreamfall is the sound. The voice acting in Dreamfall is splendid. If you find Wonkers the Watilla (the robotic pink gorilla personal assistant) reminds you of the creepy teddy bear from the film A.I., that's because it's the same voice actor.

The dialog makes it worth turning off the subtitles and taking the extra time to listen to every word – with one exception. The sorceress Na'ane stands out particularly in Dreamfall because the rest of the voice acting is superb. Na'ane's strange inflections and foreign accent would work, except that she sounds like an actress uncomfortable reading lines, and the energy and drive of any scene drops when she's involved.

Anyone who wants to see an example of great storytelling in games should pick up Dreamfall for some relaxing fun and a thoughtful plot.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 4, 2006 6:53 PM.

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