Dreamfall

 
 

 

Genre:   Action - Adventure

Developer:     Aspyr

Publisher:    FunCom

Released:  April 2006

PC Requirements:   see review

Walkthrough

 

  

Additional screenshots

 

 

by gremlin

 

What is it?

This is one of the most heavily anticipated games of the last five years. The original Longest Journey won plaudits from across the gaming industry when it was released in 2000 (March in Europe, September in the US), and I've considered it a game against which to compare almost every other adventure game I've reviewed. So, like many adventurers, I was pleased to hear that Ragnar Trnquist (producer, writer and lead designer of the original) was going to be given the opportunity to continue the story.

However, the bad news started to filter out quite soon after the joyful announcement; the sequel was to be <gulp!> an action/adventure game! As far as I can tell, Ragnar then had to spend the next two years defending his decision, and trying to ensure that Dreamfall would be given a fair hearing upon its arrival.

So, did he succeed? Well, in some respects he did I, for one, decided to wait and see what the new game was like upon release, and in the meantime I became much more experienced in action/adventure games. I hope this doesn't mean that you, the thoroughbred adventurer, will stop reading right here, because I think this game might have something to interest you too.

Is there a plot?

One thing we can be pretty sure of with a game by Ragnar Trnquist is that there will be a significant plot to explore this was certainly the case with The Longest Journey (TLJ), and he's kept up that part of the bargain, as Dreamfall also has plenty of story to tell. Dreamfall begins in a mysterious monastery with a character revived from TLJ, Brian Westhouse. Brian gets a pretty raw deal in this opening gambit. And then, just as in TLJ, we move onto the main protagonist, Ze Castillo, who, like April Ryan before her, starts the game in her underwear in her bedroom with no idea of the complex cross-world, inter-world mystery that awaits her.

In case you're wondering, April herself does get a look in. This game is set some ten years after TLJ, so she's somewhat older, possibly wiser, and certainly much darker in her outlook. She's also stuck in Arcadia now, living as a freedom fighter, or terrorist, depending upon your perspective.

There's also a third key protagonist in Dreamfall -- Kian Alvane, a so-called Apostle, or military missionary. You will get to assume the roles of all three characters at various parts of the story. However, I can go no further into this without spoiling things.

Of course there are other characters from TLJ (in addition to Brian Westhouse) who return to the story. It was nice to have Crow return one of the less annoying sidekicks from the broad pantheon of game sidekicks.

The plot centres upon Ze's search for Reza, a missing friend and investigative reporter, and for April Ryan, about whom she receives strange messages on video screens around her home city of Casablanca. This leads Ze to a variety of places in Stark and Arcadia, of course. April also has her objectives within Arcadia, and so, eventually, does Kian, although you only get to play Kian for a few limited parts of the game.

It is strange to return to Newport after so long, and to see how much can change so enormously in ten years, and still make sense!

How do you play?

This is an action/adventure, as I've already mentioned, so the gameplay and controls are, by default, more suited to the action player. Movement is controlled from the keyboard, and the camera from the mouse. However, unlike most action games, you can change the controls in the Options section of the menus so that the game can be almost entirely controlled using the mouse. There are still keys to be used for accessing Ze/April/Kian's inventory items and for combat. Yes, combat. I'll come back to that in a little while. But while we're on the subject of options, you may find it helpful to spend some time experimenting with the control options in particular, until you are happy with moving around. I found I had to invert both the mouse axes before I was satisfied, but I didn't have to make many other changes. There are also the usual sound and video options, and you can also use a game pad with the game.

Okay, let's get this issue covered now. Yes, there is combat in Dreamfall and I won't suggest that it's trivially easy combat, but it certainly isn't difficult. The game auto-saves regularly (and always at the start of a combat sequence), so should you fail, you don't lose much in terms of game progress. Then again, I don't personally see that the game itself would have lost much if it had handled all the combat for you. In fact, many of the combat sequences can be avoided (though not all of them as far as I could tell) by better use of the protagonist's ability to be stealthy, or simply by choosing a slightly different path.

Each of the three characters, Ze, April and Kian, have combat skills -- from Ze's karate to Kian's sword and April's staff. In each case, you have two main forms of attack: slow and fast. The fast attack is where you use a quick move to inflict light damage, whereas a slow attack takes longer (exposing you to a higher likelihood of retaliation) but does more damage when successful. So, I would suggest that most gamers will be able handle the combat in Dreamfall with a little luck and persistence. For comparison, I would say the combat is similar to, though more slickly implemented than, that in Dragonriders of Pern.

One of the perennial problems with third person 3D action games is positioning your 'body' so that you can interact with objects in the environment. Some games do this well, some very poorly. Thankfully Dreamfall is one of the better ones. There are two modes of interaction first is the roaming focus box a simple pulsing box around the nearest object with which you can interact. If you left-click while the box is visible, you'll interact with the object or person highlighted. The second mode of interaction is the focus beam mode. When you right-click, your current protagonist stands still and a white strip is projected on her surroundings showing where her attention is directed. You can rotate this beam 360 around yourself picking up all the possible green focus boxes in the vicinity. This is very handy if you think you might have missed a hot spot. In both cases, when you left-click you'll get a little submenu of actions 'look,' 'pick up,' 'speak,' etc., displayed as simple icons.

The overall plot of Dreamfall is very linear. You don't get much choice in the order in which you address things, and there is rarely more than one puzzle available at a time. All the same, all the characters have access to a journal of objectives; in Ze's case, this is on her mobile phone, but April and Kian also have a similar list, without need for a mobile phone.

There are quite a lot of conversations in Dreamfall, as you would expect in a sequel to The Longest Journey. I found the conversations to be well scripted, and well voiced and I rarely felt the need to skip lines (which you can do with a right click). I did find that there were, however, a few occasions particularly in middle phases of the game, where I didn't appear to do anything for easily five minutes at a time, whilst the current protagonist dealt with everything for me. There are often occasions where you choose the conversation branch to be followed, but these decisions don't appear to actually affect the plot, just the emotions and attitudes displayed during the particular conversation. For example, the first time you meet Crow again, you can either be 'apologetic' or 'dismissive,' and whilst the script is different, the outcome of the conversation is the same.

Notable Features

For me the best features of Dreamfall are the environments, the story and the pacing of the game through the mix of puzzles, conversation and exploration. I've already covered the plot above, so I'll not go into any more detail on that here, but I think this is one of the strengths of both Longest Journey titles. Indeed, I think it's the main reason the original game did so well.

The environments in Dreamfall are a fascinating mix of primordial, fantastical, domestic and futuristic, though strangely they're almost all urban or semi-urban settings! The city of the Dark People is somewhat more, shall we say, 'environmentally friendly' than the cities you and I know today. The colour palettes are varied some almost monochromatic, some bright and vibrant, some reassuringly solid, but all well chosen for their purpose. Many of the places in the game contain many more 'hot spots' than just those required to move the plot forward. There is plenty of colour and there are extra background characters, many of whom have interesting bits of dialogue themselves.

The pacing of a game is something that's much more difficult to define. I found that the puzzles presented to Ze, et al., were rarely difficult; the solution rarely being out-of-sight of the puzzle (where an inventory item was required). The puzzles are nicely varied some are inventory based, some pattern matching, some involve changing the environment, some involve sneaking, and one requires you to use a sound combination. However, with regard to the sound puzzle, the combination can be guessed instead, should the sounds prove too difficult. Anyway, the upshot of the variety of puzzles meant that I was rarely stuck anywhere for very long, which made for a game experience that kept me wanting to play on and on almost like the 'just five minutes more' effect of the best casual puzzle games like Bejeweled.

Of the inventory based puzzles, there are a few that involve combining objects in the inventory, but there's nothing as obtuse as the puzzles around the police station or the theatre in Newport in TLJ. Fancy a soda, anyone?

Oddities

Now that we've covered the positive features, there's a fly in the ointment. For many people, this will be the first 'feature' you encounter with Dreamfall: if you don't have 7GB free on your OS disk (the one with your Windows and Program Files folders), you can just forget this game for the time being. When you start the Dreamfall installer, it checks that you have enough space -- not on the disk on which you might like to install the game, but only on the one on which your current version of Windows is installed. No option, no choice, no 'carry on anyway' option, just "you don't have enough space." Goodnight, Vienna. That is, of course, until FunCom or Aspyr decide to pull their collective fingers out and figure out how to distribute an alternative installation program that hasn't got this bug.

Now, this may not be an issue on a bog-standard Dell machine where the entire 120GB hard disk is a single C: drive. But my machine is homebuilt custom job with a half dozen partitions mounted just how I want them, and this has never proved any kind of problem in the four years since I built it ... until now. After some serious fiddling, I did manage to solve the issue for my machine (technical details available upon request), but after all this effort, FunCom you'd better hope this game is worth it!

Conclusions

The grade I've given this game below is based upon the content of the game, but relies on FunCom or Aspyr sorting out the installation problem. And quite frankly, whoever tested the installation program deserves a C- for effort, as this really is a very basic error that should have been picked up by somebody before this hit the shelves!

However, the game itself deserves much more credit. Bugs in the game were few and far between I had a few graphical glitches when some particularly complicated robots were in view, but nothing I couldn't work around. The game never crashed or hung, and given how marginal my PC was in comparison with the minimum requirements for this game, this is nothing short of a miracle!

I don't think this game suffers for being an action/adventure hybrid, though that is not to say this game couldn't have been developed in a manner similar to The Longest Journey. The story is compelling, if sad, and in need of completion by another sequel, and I enjoyed the variety in the puzzles. There are timed sequences, some combat, some stealthy sections, one maze, one sound puzzle, several pattern matching puzzles, plenty of conversation (with nowhere near as much swearing as in TLJ), beautiful, mysterious and fascinating environments, enjoyable characters and good music to go with it all.

All in all, I had a ball playing this game, and you can add me to the list of people eagerly awaiting the third instalment of the story. I just hope it doesn't take another six years to arrive!

 

Grade: A-

 

What do you need to play it?

Minimum Requirements

   OS: Windows XP (with service pack 2)

   CPU: Intel Pentium 4 1.6GHz or AMD Sempron 2800+ or higher

   Memory: 512MB RAM

   Hard Drive: 7GB free disk space (on your C: drive!)

   Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c compatible

  Video Card: 100% DirectX 9.0c compatible 128MB 3D Video Card with latest drivers

  Disc Drive: 8x speed CD-ROM drive or 2X DVD-ROM drive

 

Recommended Requirements

   CPU: Intel Pentium 4 2.5GHz or AMD Athlon XP 3500+

   Memory: 1GB RAM

   Video Card: 256MB 3D Hardware Accelerator Card

   Sound Card: Creative Audigy Series Sound Card

(I used Win XP (no service pack), AMD XP 2400+, 512 MB RAM, and ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP a very marginal specification given the requirements, but it was possible to play the game with reasonable performance)

5-2006

 

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