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 Tørnquist (producer, writer and lead designer of the original) was
going to be given the opportunity to continue the story.
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?
we can be pretty sure of with a game by Ragnar Tørnquist 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, Zöe
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.
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
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.
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.
centres upon Zöe'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 Zöe 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.
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 Zöe/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.
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, Zöe, April and Kian, have combat skills -- from Zöe'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.
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 Zöe's case, this is on her mobile phone,
but April and Kian also have a similar list, without need for a mobile
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
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.
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.
of a game is something that's much more difficult to define. I found that
the puzzles presented to Zöe, 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
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?
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!
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!
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
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!
What do you need to play
Windows XP (with service pack 2)
Intel Pentium 4 1.6GHz or AMD Sempron 2800+ or higher
Memory: 512MB RAM
Drive: 7GB free disk space (on your C: drive!)
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
Intel Pentium 4 2.5GHz or AMD Athlon XP 3500+
Memory: 1GB RAM
Card: 256MB 3D Hardware Accelerator Card
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)
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