When I first played The Longest Journey (the prequel to Dreamfall), I was enthralled by the art and the story, and how it all fell together in the end to a spectacular conclusion. You can see our review of it here.
Given the complete way that game ended, tying up pretty much all the major loose ends, I wasn’t sure whether a sequel would be attempted. As the years went by I was convinced that there would be none. But now, half a decade is over, and we are blindsided with a sequel, as much as you can be blindsided by much of anything in this industry anymore. And the wait was definitely worth it. Dreamfall is a beautiful game with an in-depth story, interesting characters, and awe-inspiring graphics and sound.
The game picks up after the first one left off, but ten years down the road. You first play Zoe Castillo, a young college-age girl who does a fine job receiving the "young girl in her underwear" torch from April Ryan of the original game. Zoe has just quit college, and is moping around because she feels there is no direction in her life. Boy is she in for a surprise.
She starts having weird dreams that start to invade her waking hours. She can’t see to go near a television screen without having a ‘The Ring’ moment. And then she starts to uncover some corporate conspiracy which has got her ex-boyfriend involved, and she has to go all over the world piecing together the clues that will allow her to save the world.
The navigation interface takes a great deal of getting used to. The thing it took me a while to realize is that the forward key (‘w’ is default) doesn’t send the character forward relative to the way she is facing, but the way the camera (which is moved by the mouse) is facing. This makes it very hard to deal with before you get used to it, kind of like the first time you drive a Warthog in Halo. Unfortunately, this is a person, not a truck, so your perspective is closer in, and the default mouse settings are way too sensitive. Through practice and settings changes, eventually I was able to have her run down the street without bumping into every wall she went by.
The way combat (Yes, I said ‘combat.’ Combat in an adventure game – go figure) is handled is however very klunky, and no amount of practice will make it less so. It breaks down to a game of rock paper scissors (blocks beat quick strikes, strong strikes beat blocks, quick strikes bring strong strikes) but the way it is implemented is off-putting. You always seem to face your opponent, but sometimes the two of you can get misaligned so that you miss each other entirely. The next strike will line you up again, but you will get misaligned again soon enough. Since there is little visual indication that your opponent is preparing a strong strike, your best option is to just keep swinging blindly until you put him down. This leads to fights being either embarrassingly easy or nearly impossible. I would suggest leaving combat out of the next one, please.
There seemed to be fewer puzzle-type challenges, in lieu of the several combats and some stealth obstacles. Fortunately some of the puzzles did involve combining inventory items, but none were as elaborate as the infamous duckie inner tube/clamp/broomstick puzzle in the first one. Many of the puzzles demonstrate the high tech that is pervasive in Stark, and made you more aware of everyone’s dependence on it.
Two types of puzzles that you will find yourself doing more than once involve overcoming security. The lock-picking puzzle is reminiscent of classic slider puzzles; you turn the overlapping circles, swapping symbols between them, until the appropriate pattern lines up. The electronic hacking puzzle involves sheer pattern recognition; trying to find a symbol in a sea of similar-looking ones can be difficult, and you have to do it several times in under a certain amount of time before they make you start over.
The graphics are simply beautiful, with skylines that go on forever, and intimate detail in every surface and texture. Even the people are starting to look close to realistic. The sound track augments the visual impact of the cut scenes quite well, and reflect the mood of the world you happen to be seeing at that point.
Like its predecessor, the story is what makes Dreamfall great. This story is grand in scope and has many levels, with twists and turns that will constantly surprise you. Much of this story is revealed through cut-scenes, which are both numerous and extensive. Some might think this is too much, that the game is more movie than interactive game. Well, Mr. Tornquist had a rather large amount of story to tell, and the many cutscenes might have been the only decent way to get it all across. Well, at least it wasn’t boring to watch.
The story goes in some directions that I personally didn’t agree with. Unfortunately, I can’t get into too much detail about them without giving everything away, but I was shocked and outraged by some of the directions it went. You may feel differently once you experience it, but I will say it is never boring in any case.
The vast number of loose ends left untied at the end are a good indicator that they are hopefully making a sequel. Mr. Tornquist has said himself on his weblog that he is determined to complete the story in some form, and if the publisher doesn’t want to foot the bill for another video game, he will find some other medium in which to tell it. Personally, I think it would make a pretty good graphic novel. But because it is awaiting a sequel, the ending to Dreamfall is largely unsatisfying.
In spite of its clunky move interface, and its disconcerting story choices at the end, Dreamfall is still a very good game, and fans of the original Longest Journey will enjoy it. Just don’t make us wait another six or so years for the next one!