a review by Daniel Haynes
Dreamfall is a third-person action/adventure game set ten years after the events in the 1999 hit The Longest Journey. Dreamfall follows the story of three distinctly different playable characters across two parallel worlds in the year 2219. Earth has two distinct worlds running in parallel upon its surface, and only a select few people have a gift to traverse the divide between realities, through ‘shifting’ or a specific ritual. Stark, the most modern earth-like world is full of modern developed technology, and everyone is connected to the ‘Wire’ (the internet evolved, a ubiquitous part of nearly all machinery/gadgets and an integral part of life). Arcadia is a relatively primitive world full of wonder and magic, however a mysterious race called the ‘Azadi’ have been conquering wide regions and empowering the citizens with steam-powered technology and forcing a mono-theistic religion upon the masses.
The protagonist of the story is Zoe Castillo, a resident of Casablanca (a city in modern day Africa) in Stark, who at the beginning of the game is shown to be in a coma and retells recent events. The gameplay begins a week before the coma-scene. Zoe gets caught up in a conspiracy when her journalist ex-boyfriend Reza Temiz goes missing in the midst of an investigation. While she tries to find out what happened to Reza, Zoe begins to see apparitions, or ‘ghosts’ in isolated screens throughout the world, who tells her to ‘find April, save April’ (who turns out to be April Ryan, the protagonist of the original game). At certain points Zoe inadvertently travels between Stark and Arcadia and begins to uncover a plot by a Japanese toy-manufacturer, WATIcorp, to release a next-generation lucid dreaming entertainment device which would render all previous visual mediums obsolete. The device has a number of flaws, intended or otherwise which in the rush to release the device would allow mass-brainwashing, implanting of ideas (ala ‘Inception’), or even murder. April Ryan and an Azadi, Kian Alvane, are important to the unfolding events in Arcadia. Not much more can be said without spoiling twists and turns within the story and gameplay experience, but the main characters’ fates are entwined.
The game boasts one of the most refreshing, well-thought out, complex and engaging story’s of any game ever made. While many games revert to time old clichès and cheesy dialogue, Dreamfall was cleverly written and a delightful experience. The story in itself is rather like a middle part of a trilogy, and raises more questions than it gives answers at the conclusion. The game’s writer and director, Ragnar Tørnquist, assured fans that any apparent plot holes or questions left unanswered were deliberate and most would be answered in an upcoming sequel, Dreamfall: Chapters.
Now that the story itself has been addressed and raved about, it needs to be said that the game is not without its flaws. While the general movement and adventure style interaction with items and the environment is well done, other facets of gameplay leave much to be desired at particular points. Some parts, mainly a few particular stealth missions and action/fighter style combat scenes were extremely poorly done. The combat system in particular is horrendous due to shoddy animations and awful AI, but thankfully combat is a very, VERY small part of the gameplay experience itself. Tørnquist himself has acknowledged that the combat was essentially ‘broken’. Most of the puzzles within the game were simple and straight-forward, but some were surprisingly challenging and/or fun.
On a lighter note, the voice acting and score were fantastic. The lines are punchy and well-delivered, and add a further layer of immersion to the experience. The music was suited to each location and again, was of positive benefit to the overall experience and immersive nature of the gameplay.
Tørnquist has written the sequel, and will (hopefully!) get around to making Dreamfall: Chapters once he finishes work on the upcoming MMO: The Secret World. The Norweigan government has already given Funcom a grant for research and development of the sequel. Buy it, rent it, acquire it ‘legitimately’. Definitely NOT a game to miss.
This review was previously published in Dark Matter issue 2, January 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.