Dreamfall is the sequel to The Longest Journey, one of the greatest adventure games of all time. So – if you are Funcom -- after developing one of the greatest, what do you do for a follow-up? Stick with the tried and true formula? Or branch out into something different?

I’ve spent a few days in Dreamfall, and I would estimate that I’m about halfway through the game. Here are my impressions so far.

Is This Heaven? No, It’s Casablanca

First off, Dreamfall looks gorgeous and it sounds spectacular. It’s in 3D, full of magnificent color and life with a lavish orchestral score. Do you remember those large environments in The Longest Journey that you wanted to explore up close and couldn’t? Dreamfall lets you get much closer. You can look all around, peek into odd corners, pause in the market square and watch the people stroll by.

Locations in the game exhibit tremendous contrasts. Casablanca is sun-drenched and lovely. Venice outside Newport is dreary and disturbing. You walk off the decrepit sidewalks of Venice into the Fringe and the world changes as you step through the door. Later, you make your way through a ghostly, clammy underground city, then step through an unexpected portal into a room glowing with warmth and light. It’s disorienting and astonishing, and it keeps you guessing all the time.

The Big Three

There are three protagonists in Dreamfall, and these also provide intense contrasts. All are (okay, I have to say it) on a journey. Zoe has everything the world can offer, but doesn’t think she is worthy of it. April has matured into a confident leader, but is so focused on her mission that she ignores everything else. Kian is certain of his prowess, certain of his faith and certain of whom he serves. He doesn’t realize yet how these certainties can be manipulated.

Exactly What I Asked For

Dreamfall adheres to the formula from The Longest Journey in terms of telling an epic story set in the mirror opposite worlds of Stark and Arcadia. So far the story is every bit as satisfying as in the original game. The game excels at prefiguring what will happen in the plot and then gradually revealing it. The hints you receive early on are particularly poignant if you’ve played The Longest Journey.

It is possible to enjoy Dreamfall without playing The Longest Journey. But a recent play (or replay) of the first game will definitely enrich your experience, because many of the names and events from the first game are picked up and worked into the sequel.

A Much Tighter Script

Though there’s not nearly as much dialog in Dreamfall as in The Longest Journey, you will still have plenty of talking to do. You can choose dialog options while conversing with the various characters. Your choices will sometimes affect the course of what happens immediately afterwards (though I do not get the impression that your choices affect the ultimate course of the game).

Conversational exchanges are well-written and well-voiced, and they often made me feel as though I was “playing” a movie. The game has many cutscenes; these also blend remarkably well with the rest of the game. In many of the cutscenes the camera pans back to show you huge swaths of the environment, often from an overhead view.

Prepare for your jaw to drop.

Paying the Piper

Dreamfall’s full 3D environments come at a price. First, you’ll have to have a powerful computer to play the game – and an even more powerful computer to see the graphics at their best.

Next you’ll encounter many load screens as you move through these richly detailed environments. If you run straight through a town, for instance, you might encounter three load screens within a couple of minutes. The load screens go by quickly, but they do affect the feeling of immersion, particularly if you are following a character in the game; you’ll lose track of the character altogether when you trigger a load screen.

Last, full 3D means that the interface is more complicated than the simple point-and-click interface from The Longest Journey. Here this sequel takes a long journey away from the tried and true formula.

The Starbucks of Interface Options

The interface offers so many options for how you move through the game and how you view it that it’s downright confusing. You can play with mouse only (most of the time). Or with keyboard only (most of the time). Or with “mouse look” and keyboard. Or you can use a gamepad. You can adjust camera view, sensitivity of the mouse, character movement, and the camera.

Just figuring out how to tweak the options and testing each setting can take an hour or more. I've listed a setup at the bottom of this page that has worked well for me and allowed me to move easily through the game. However, even with the perfect setup, if you haven’t played a game in full 3D you will probably need to practice with the controls before you can move around without bumping into things.

Say Good-by to the Rubber Ducky

Dreamfall also diverges from the tried and true in its puzzles and challenges. Although the game has inventory and patterning puzzles that are similar to those in The Longest Journey, inventory combinations are less complex and items aren't as whimsical. The game also contains timed puzzles, stealth challenges, and even some combat.

One often repeated timed puzzle requires matching symbols in a brief time frame while some of the symbols are moving around. These particular puzzles usually take me three or four tries before I'm successful.

The stealth challenges are also, in a sense timed. You have to run quickly between locations as soon as your opponent moves away. And then there's the combat.

I happen to be a complete combat novice, yet so far (after figuring out a certain strategy) I have not found it difficult to win the combat sequences. Up to this point, there have been four fights that I haven't been able to figure out a way to get around. For those, I was glad that I took some time with the combat training at the gym in Casablanca.

Will You Take the Easy Way Out?

Deciding to play Dreamfall more like a "traditional" adventure game by bypassing most of the combat actually makes the game more difficult. Choosing this course means that you have to try out different dialog options and carefully observe the movements of threatening characters. You may find yourself tempted to take the easy way out and overcome an obstacle by delivering a few well placed kicks rather than relying on your wits and observational skills.

Nevertheless, avoiding combat when you can is, IMHO the better way to play the game.

Truth is, though I didn’t have any trouble with the combat, I found that I just don’t like it. The problem with combat (if you empathize with digital characters) is that you have to watch people getting hurt. It simply isn’t that enjoyable for me to see my opponent (or my own avatar) being pummeled into insensibility.

In Dreamfall, once the characters assume a combat stance, the game will not let you run away. But you can hit the Esc key, which stops the combat. Then you must reload a previously saved game (thankfully the game has unlimited saves) and keep trying different things until you figure out how to resolve the situation without resorting to violence.

Casablanca Dreamin’

Dreamfall loaded smoothly and so far has played for me without glitches. Overall, it’s an eye-popping, thrilling journey through the familiar and the unfamiliar. I’m at that stage in the game where I’m thinking about it all the time. I have all kinds of theories as to what is really going on. Something surprisingly similar is happening in both worlds, and I’m speculating like mad as to who is behind it. If only I could interpret certain symbols and figure out how to get past that big, ugly monster….

My Computer Specs:

Windows XP Professional
Pentium 2.80 GHz
2046 MB RAM
Direct X 9.0c
256 MB NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX
SB X-Fi Audio

My Options Menu Settings:

Under Game settings:

Camera Behavior (Mouse) -- Normal
Camera Horizontal Axis -- Inverted
Camera Vertical Axis -- Inverted

Under Mouse settings:

Mouse Mode -- Camera
Mouse Overall Sensitivity -- set at just over one-third along the line/gauge
Character Movement Sensitivity -- about three-fourths
Camera Sensitivity -- about three-fourths

Would you like to learn more about Dreamfall? Read the full review by gremlin.