|Review by Ugur Sener
Time has a strange way of twisting things. Through the clouded vision of memory, the old days often seem so pleasant. Wherever we are not is exactly where we want to be. As the years go by, we sometimes become wiser, we grow, and we learn. Yet sometimes we lose sight of youthful dreams. We become jaded, irrevocably tired, and disillusioned.
ZoŽ Castillo wakes up in her fatherís apartment in Casablanca. There was a time when she was passionate. There was a time she struggled to accomplish something. Now each day seems the same as the last. Completely lost and without direction, ZoŽ lets her days slip away. But just as time seems to have lost all meaning, ZoŽ is about to get caught up in the midst of a terrible conspiracy. A great and dangerous journey beckonsÖ And ZoŽ will have to answer the call.
A world away, time has not been kind to April Ryan. Ten years have passed since Aprilís great adventure. The resourceful, strong-willed, and brave woman once accomplished incredible things. Her passage through the twin worlds of Stark and Arcadia altered many peopleís lives, leaving an echo that will resonate through generations. But so much can change in ten years. April is now disillusioned. She has lost her faith and her purpose. She may not be willing to accept it, but much like ZoŽ, she needs a new direction. Will the course of a few days be enough to rekindle the dying flames?
In a different land, born to a different culture, Apostle Kian has no lack of conviction. He believes in the word of the Goddess. He takes his orders from the rulers of his country and follows them without question. Time has strengthened Kianís resolve. It has made the warrior stronger. But the apostle is about to find out how things can change in a few moments. Can a chance meeting be enough to shake the foundations of his beliefs?
Time is indifferent, time is amoral. Yet its simple passage can alter so much. Nations rise and fall, cities evolve, buildings age, people go from school to work to retirement. Dreams are fulfilled, lost, or replaced. And in a world of constant change, technology can hardly stay still. While it rapidly evolves to become more robust, efficient, and effective, its influence spreads into many facets of life.
It was six years ago when Funcom released The Longest Journey. Featuring an incredibly strong main protagonist and a truly engaging storyline, The Longest Journey delivered an extremely strong traditional third-person point-and-click adventure gaming experience. The Longest Journey did not take any chances with the core game play mechanics. Yet it still managed to deliver a unique game with memorable characters, a myriad of imaginative locations, and a host of puzzles to keep players busy. But as April Ryan says in Dreamfall, ďIt has been a long time. Things changeÖĒ
In 2006, after three years of development and six years of waiting, Funcom releases the sequel to The Longest Journey. And Dreamfall diverges from the original in every single aspect. Time has brought dramatic change to The Longest Journey saga. The static backgrounds are replaced with fully 3D environments. Instead of a game that made it a point to mention that your character could not die in its manual, Dreamfall brings us action and stealth sequences. We are given three main characters to control in a storyline that weaves many different threads. Even the most familiar locations and characters have a different feel to them. The second chapter in The Longest Journey saga is indeed radically different than the original game. How wonderful it would have been to say that all these differences add up to make Dreamfall a modern yet equally amazing sequel to The Longest Journey. Unfortunately, many of the changes actually make for a significantly lesser game play experience. However, Dreamfall thankfully still has many strong elements to make for an enjoyable adventure.
The story begins ten years after the events in The Longest Journey. ZoŽ Castillo has just about hit rock bottom in her life. She has dropped out of school and she is wasting her days at her fatherís house. But what seems to be a small favor for a friend turns into something much greater. Before long, ZoŽ finds herself in the midst of a great corporate conspiracy. Amidst cryptic messages, people who can never seem to give a straight answer, and the twin worlds of magic and science, ZoŽ searches for the ever elusive truth.
In the meantime, April Ryanís life has been completely altered from what it was in The Longest Journey. The former art student is now fighting a war against oppression. Yet her disillusionment and deep sorrow are all too visible. The story is further enriched with apostle Kian and his extremely important mission. It is a quest into the heart of the enemy. It is a journey to question his beliefs and values. As old friends return, familiar locations are revisited, the tale grows even deeper. It is a tumultuous time in the lives of many people living in the twin worlds. The mystery is great and the answers are hard to come across. Dreamfall weaves an intricate web that will propel players throughout the game and leave them yearning for more.
The story is without a doubt the strongest element in Dreamfall. Ragnar TÝrnquist has once again managed to bring a fascinating universe to life with a plot rich in mystery and intriguing characters. Dreamfall is the kind of game that will stay in your mind even when you are not playing it. You will want to race through the adventure in search of answers. Yet even before you install the game, you should realize that the mystery will not be completely solved in Dreamfall. In certain ways, Dreamfall builds on the storyline of The Longest Journey. It also opens up new threads and creates an entirely new mystery. But all of these threads are not resolved when you reach the end of the game. If you are looking for a storyline that will be completed throughout the course of the game, Dreamfall will disappoint you. The ending will leave you with many questions and more than likely a fair amount of frustration.
However, it is important to note that Ragnar TÝrnquist has every intention of completing the story. Dreamfall is just a chapter in a large saga. It is ZoŽís adventure and the core thread of the story involving her investigation will be completed. The rest of the events simply set the stage for the next installment while giving us great insight into the events that transpired in the ten years since April Ryanís original journey.
While there is a great deal of justification for Dramfallís incomplete ending, it is worth noting that the developers could have done a couple of things to prevent a great deal of player frustration. Much of the storyline that takes place in Stark, or the world of science, will be resolved at the end of the game. However, critical moments of the story do not give enough emphasis to the parts of the mystery that are explained at the end. Not having seen the ending, it is possible to focus on parts of cut scenes that will not be resolved during Dreamfall. Small efforts to restructure the presentation of a few events could have made Dreamfall feel more like a complete game. In addition, the portion of the story that takes place in Arcadia, or the world of magic, is left almost completely unfinished. Just a few more hints and a little bit of explanation would have gone a long way towards easing the irritation players may experience upon finishing Dreamfall.
The atmosphere is also an extremely strong element of Dreamfall. Right from the beginning, the gameís universe has a feeling of sorrow and hopelessness mixed with the sense that something is terribly wrong. You sense it as you find out how ZoŽ has given up on everything that was once meaningful to her. You feel it as people talk about the horrible Collapse or the spreading Static that is disrupting all networks. The government seems have an extremely tight control over the people of Stark. Many people are concerned, many more are in poverty. As you turn towards Arcadia, things are not any better. The beautiful city of Marcuria is hardly recognizable. A place where many cultures and many races once happily coexisted is now dark and twisted. The people are under strict control, unable to freely express their religious views. But there is something greater than economical problems or oppression in Stark and Arcadia. A greater darkness is fast approaching and there are not many that can stand in its way.
Designed as a full 3D game, the PC version of Dreamfall is controlled primarily through the keyboard. The interface is relatively simple and easy to learn. There are two ways to find hotspots. Interactive objects are highlighted with green brackets when you walk close to them. Alternatively, you can use the focus field to find the hotspots. Once you activate the focus field, your character will stand still and a beam of light will project from his or her feet into the environment. By turning your character around, you can search the area for active spots without having to run around.
Once you find and focus on an interactive object, the game will present a context-sensitive menu with the available commands. The commands are presented as icons around a circle. The eye icon that lets players examine objects is always available. Depending on the nature of the object you are examining, climb, use, or pick-up icons might also be available. If you are looking at another character, you will be able to choose the speech icon to talk to them.
The inventory interface is also fairly simple. You can bring up the inventory with the touch of a button. Clicking on an inventory item for the first time will select it and display a list of available commands. If you are in front of the object where you need to use the inventory item, the use command will be available. You also give items to other characters with the use command. Players can also continue scrolling through the inventory to use their selected item on a different one.
Dreamfallís interface feels like it was designed for a console game. Certain actions would have been simpler if the game was controlled only by using the mouse. However, the keyboard or gamepad controls should still be very easy to master and should not give players too much trouble.
The sequel to The Longest Journey brings us a new array of characters and a variety of locations to explore. Fans of the original game will greatly enjoy meeting a number of characters from The Longest Journey. It is certainly interesting to see where life has taken these characters ten years after Aprilís adventure. However, Dreamfall is not just a parade of characters from its predecessor. Players will have a chance to meet a number of new characters as they journey through Stark and Arcadia. Between the obligatory techie Liv and the eccentric yet amusingly clichťd Chinese shopkeeper, you will encounter a few memorable characters.
Unfortunately, Dreamfall has fewer and significantly weaker characters than The Longest Journey. ZoŽ Castillo certainly comes across as an intelligent young woman determined to find the truth. But especially during the very early parts of the game, players also see her as a tardy slacker that cannot be bothered to do just about anything. She does grow into a more determined and more likeable character throughout the course of the adventure, but she is not even nearly as strong a lead character as April Ryan was in The Longest Journey. April herself does not fare much better in this game either. Of course the story makes it very clear that April has undergone a drastic change and she is not the person we know from the original game. But nevertheless, adding the fact that players will not see much of April, she makes for a considerably less likeable character in Dreamfall.
Some of the other characters are interesting, but they lack the extra spark that many of the characters in The Longest Journey carried. No one you will encounter matches the soft-spoken insightful wisdom of Tobias or the delightfully cryptic yet thought-provoking words of Cortez. There is also a noticeable lack of people from the magical races. While there are story reasons behind the relative absence of the magical races, this sometimes causes Arcadia to feel more like our world stuck in the past than rather than an amazing world of magic. With a few notable exceptions, the characters of Dreamfall are weaker and less imaginative than the outstanding cast of The Longest Journey.
Character interaction plays a critical role in Dreamfall. Dialogues move the story forward, give us insight into the mystery, and help us learn about each character. In general, the voice acting is good and the different characters are brought to life effectively. Many of the conversations are engaging and should manage to keep players interested. Unfortunately, some of the interaction between different characters does leave something to be desired. For a game so focused on conversation, a number of lines do seem a bit forced and awkward. However, this is certainly a minor problem. If you like games with a great deal of character interaction, you will likely find much of the dialogue in Dreamfall to be quite satisfying.
Your adventure through Dreamfall will allow you to visit a variety of different locations. Players of the original game will get to enjoy some familiar locations that are sure to bring back memories. It is great to see how these places have evolved in ten years. Since they are typically in much worse condition than what you will remember, returning to these locations feels like a bittersweet homecoming. Exploring the world in full 3D can also be very entertaining. Many of the environments are depicted beautifully to enhance the underlying atmosphere of Dreamfall.
However, the places you get to visit are very different than what April Ryan encountered during The Longest Journey. The nature of the story puts players into corporate buildings or apartments where The Longest Journey featured mystical and magical lands. Some environments feel all too generic and not all that different than what you will have seen in an average game set in the not-too-distant future. Players will also see far fewer locations in Dreamfall than they did in The Longest Journey. This is primarily due to Dreamfalls shorter length and the fact that the main characters often explore the same places.
The strong story and atmosphere behind Dreamfall more than make up for minor complaints about weaker characters or fewer locations to explore. However, there is one aspect of the game that is sure to frustrate a great number of adventure gamers. Dreamfall is greatly lacking in puzzles. The game puts the focus almost completely on the storyline and the dialogues at the expense of challenging players with creative puzzles. Most of the time players will know exactly what they need to do in order to get past an obstacle. Characters will often provide you with very clear hints throughout the adventure. Even when you are not provided with very many hints, the puzzles are relatively simple and experienced adventure gamers should be able to get past them with very little effort. There are only a handful of challenges that might require you to explore an area a couple of times or watch a cut scene for a second time before you figure out what you need to do.
The relative simplicity of the puzzles can be explained by the developersí desire to maintain the focus on the storyline. After all getting stuck on an obscure puzzle that does not even fit into the storyline can be frustrating and take away from the game play experience. However, during many parts of the game, the simplicity of the puzzles goes too far. When the challenges start feeling like tiresome errands that involve little more than running all over town, the experience stops being immersive. The game also has players solve variations of two lock-picking puzzles several times throughout the course of the adventure. Including just a few more puzzles could have dramatically alleviated the problem without necessarily taking the focus away from the storyline. Unfortunately, those who do not care much about the plot and play adventure games for the puzzles will not find much to enjoy in Dreamfall.
In addition to traditional adventure elements, Dreamfall features a number of action and stealth sequences. Players will occasionally engage in melee combat or move carefully through an area to avoid detection. However, Dreamfall does give players some opportunities to avoid engaging in the action sequences. Before charging headlong at the enemy, players can examine the environment to see if a more subtle approach is available. Sometimes even asking the right questions might keep players out of combat. The availability of alternative solutions is a nice feature and gives the game some replay value. Unfortunately, the action and stealth sequences do leave something to be desired.
The combat system featured in Dreamfall can be rather problematic. First of all, the fights do not feel fluid or realistic. The movements seem clumsy and forced. To a large extent, this is caused by a small but noticeable delay between the press of a button and the actual execution of the attack. Your opponents frequently resort to constantly blocking against your strikes. Thus, players have resort to attacks that can break through the enemy defenses. The fighting is generally easy and does not really require any kind of strategy. Overall, the combat system ends up feeling significantly underdeveloped. Fortunately, players do not have to fight too many times during the game. Thanks to the fact that Dreamfall often offers alternative approaches, players might prefer actively looking for ways to avoid combat. As such, the issues with the combat system only hurt a small portion of the game. Since the fights are generally easy to win, players will hopefully get past the action sequences without too much frustration.
The stealth sequences are also generally on the easy side. In certain areas players simply have to hide behind objects to avoid being seen. In other areas, players will also have to pay attention to where they are stepping and the sounds in the environment. The stealth interface is definitely not the best implementation to date. Many of these sequences will be far too easy for players who have tried games like Splinter Cell. However, sneaking in and out of certain areas does feel very appropriate in Dreamfall. It makes sense that one of the biggest corporations in the world will have pretty tight security. It makes sense to hide from the monsters patrolling caverns. The stealth sequences should not hurt the game play experience. In fact, they may even add more excitement to a few sections of the adventure.
It is worth noting that the action or stealth elements in Dreamfall do not really turn this game into an action adventure. Just because an action game features one or two puzzles, it does not make sense to automatically label it as an action adventure. Similarly, despite the relatively easy puzzles and the existence of a few fights and stealth sequences, at its core, Dreamfall is still an adventure game. It does greatly diverge from traditional adventure elements. And the extra features have not been very successfully implemented. However, the basic mechanics of the game make Dreamfall feel and play more as an adventure game than a title from any other genre.
In the end, Dreamfall is a game with a strong storyline and a good atmosphere. The characters may not be as strong as the ones from The Longest Journey, but Dreamfall still manages to make players care about what happens to them. There are fewer and perhaps a little less interesting locations to explore, but it is still great to see how the world has evolved after the events of The Longest Journey. Dreamfall is most certainly not without its flaws. The game could have used quite a few more puzzles. The action elements should have been better implemented or completely removed. The character models could have also used some additional work. Players who are looking for a conclusion with no loose ends will be disappointed by the ending. Yet Dreamfall still manages to deliver a fun experience despite all of its problems. The game manages to keep players interested from the beginning until the end. It builds upon the storyline of the original The Longest Journey and leaves plenty of room for a sequel. If the developers learn from their mistakes in Dreamfall, the next chapter in the saga could be another great success like The Longest Journey.
Dreamfall is in just about every aspect a lesser game than its predecessor, but that does not mean it is a bad game. If you enjoy games with a great deal of character interaction and an almost complete focus on the storyline, you should still not miss Dreamfall. Days after you complete the game, you may still find yourself thinking about the story. As long as you do not go in looking for an unforgettable classic, you may come to realize that Dreamfall can be a very enjoyable game.
The final grade is 83/100.
|PC System Requirements:|
|Windowsģ XP (with service pack 2)|
|Pentiumģ IV 1.6 GHz or higher|
|512 MB RAM|
|DirectXģ 9.0c Compatible 128 MB video card|
|DirectXģ 9.0c Compatible Soundcard|
|8x CD-ROM Drive|
|7 GB free disk space|