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Game Review: Dreamfall

It’s a bit tricky reviewing a game that was originally released on the XBox.  Dreamfall: The Longest Journey was released in 2006, around the same time the 360 came out.  Because of this, it probably didn’t get the attention it should’ve received.  But now that it’s been released on XBL, it’s fully playable for people like myself, who missed it the first time around.

April, Zoe & Kian

Dreamfall is the sequel to The Longest Journey, an adventure game for the PC that came out in 1999.  Like its predecessor, Dreamfall is an adventure game.  It takes place in a futuristic version of our world, which comes to be called Stark, after a mysterious “Collapse” that nearly wiped everything out.  The game starts with the main character, Zoe Castillo, in a coma, but somehow telling her story to us.  Zoe starts the game in a sort of pre-midlife crisis.  She feels she has no direction & no motivation.  She’s dropped out of college, broken up with her boyfriend, & moved back home.  However, things start to change when she starts having visions of a little girl who asks her to find someone named April.  After doing her ex a favor & going to pick up a package, Zoe finds herself being hunted by the government while she searches for clues as to where he ex has gone.  Zoe learns that she’s a “shifter,” a person able to shift into a parallel world called Arcadia in her dreams.  Now Zoe must shift between both worlds to learn what’s going on & how to save the world.  Eventually you’ll control three characters a different times.  In addition to Zoe, there’s April Ryan, the girl Zoe is asked to find & a fellow shifter who chose to stay in Arcadia to fight the Azadi, & Kian, an Azadi apostle who’s sent to convert (ie. kill) the rebel leader.

Stark’s technology is both familiar & foreign

Gameplay is what you’d expect from an adventure game.  It’s not point & click, however.  Instead, you control the character directly, & use the buttons to interact with objects by facing them.  As with most adventure games, the goal is to use your environment to reach your objective, & usually it’s not a straightforward path.  There are two mini games: a hacking game, where you have select the correct symbols from an ever-changing grid, & a lockpicking game, where you have to line up the appropriate symbols on the top & bottom of four circles.  In addition to regular clue-hunting, there are moments of stealth & combat.  Occasionally you’ll have to sneak around enemies.  And if that doesn’t work, you’ll have to fight in a sort of fighting mini game.

Narrative: Although it’s a sequel, you don’t have to have played The Longest Journey to understand Dreamfall.  The story is well-paced.  For most of the game you’ll be confused about just what’s happening, but you’re given enough information to keep you from being frustrated & to motivate you to keep going to learn more.  I will say that I enjoyed playing the story from three different characters’ viewpoints.  Most of the time you play as Zoe as she searches for her ex & tries to unravel the conspiracy surrounding his disappearance.  I liked Zoe as a character.  She’s just your average girl who gets dragged into things she doesn’t understand.  She’s a very relatable character.  When you play as April, who was the main character from the first game, you’ll be entirely in Arcadia & get to travel to exotic locations.  Kian is used less than the others, but he still has an important role in the game.  I especially like that you see a bit of evolution for his character as he comes to realize he shouldn’t blindly follow orders.  The supporting characters are also interesting, & their interactions definitely had moments that made me laugh.  That being said, the story leaves more questions than answers, & not everything is explained.  I think this is because a third game is in the works, Dreamfall Chapters.  The story is good, but the unanswered questions means I can’t score it as high as I’d like.  Score: 4

Despite the age of the graphics, it has some spectacular vistas

Mechanics: Adventure games certainly aren’t for everyone, since the gameplay can be a bit boring.  There’s a lot of backtracking & head scratching.  That being said, Dreamfall works well as an adventure game.  The game provides enough clues so that you’re not completely clueless as to your next step.  There’s no weird logic that sometimes plagues adventure games.  What you use to solve puzzles makes sense.  I have to give the game credit on its streamlined inventory system.  You push up on the D-pad to bring up your inventory, then scroll to the item you want, press up again, & if you can use it on whatever you’re facing, you press the appropriate button.  It’s very easy to use.  It’s also rather unique to switch between characters like Dreamfall does.  There’s one instance where you switch characters in the middle of a conversation.  It works well without disrupting the flow of the game.  In spite of these praises, the combat & stealth need to be address.  The combat, in short, sucks.  It’s clunky & awkward.  Tactics are useless.  Just keep using light attacks, throwing in a heavy attack if the enemy keeps blocking.  Fortunately, there aren’t many fighting sequences, & even most of those can be avoiding using stealth.  Dreamfall will in no way pass for a stealth game.  When you “stealth,” you crouch & walk slowly.  It’s more about not being heard than not being seen.  Occasionally you’ll find items you can hide behind.  But the system is flawed.  There was one point where I was hiding in a side room from a troll.  He walked in, stood right beside me, & didn’t notice me.  Neither of these break the game, but they do hold it back.  Score: 3

One of the few times I think QTE’s would’ve been better

Aesthetics: As you’d expect from a game made five years ago, the graphics haven’t held up well.  I’m sure at the time they were nice.  But now they look very pixellated.  Aside from Zoe & April, the characters’ faces look almost painted on.  Facial animations are almost non-existent.  However, some of the landscapes are breathtaking & brilliant.  Both Stark & Arcadia have very unique styles & are interesting to look at.  Stark is just advanced enough to seem foreign, even if it’s Earth, while Arcadia resembles a fantasy world with a few steampunk elements.  The audio fares better, with some nice music, even a few original songs.  The voiceacting is pretty good as well.  Score: 3

Replay Value: Relatively low.  There isn’t much reach to play through a second time.  There’s only one way to play through the game.  Score: 2

Breakdown

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Overall Score: 3

Final Words: At the time of its release, I’m sure Dreamfall would’ve gotten a higher score.  But now its flaws prevent it from being a must-have.  However, if you enjoy adventure games, it’s hard to go wrong with this one.  Hopefully this game with get a sequel that explained the plot holes.

– GamerDame

Title: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Console: Xbox, PC & 360
Rating: M
Developer: Funcom
Publishers: Aspyr Media, Micro Application & Empire Interactive
Release Date: April 17, 2006 (XBox/PC) & March 24, 2008 (360)

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Filed under 3, Adventure, PC, Reviews, XBox 360

First Impressions: Dreamfall

After nearly two weeks of not turning on my 360, I finally got around to downloading some new games.  The first was an XBox Original called Dreamfall: The Longest Journey.  Dreamfall is part of a dying breed… an adventure game.  We all remember those, right?  Where you scour the environment looking for clues & items to solve puzzles & advance the story.  Sadly, adventure games on consoles are few & far between.

Dreamfall was actually released around the same time as the 360, so despite the generally positive reviews, not a lot of people played it.  So what has my impression been so far?  So far I’ve enjoyed my playthrough, even though I’m only on the fourth level… chapter, whatever.  But the game has me interested enough to continue through, in spite of some obvious flaws.

From what I’ve gathered about the game thus far, it takes place in a slightly futuristic world.  The main character is a young woman named Zoe Castillo (pronounced Ca-sti-yo for those who didn’t take Spanish).  She’s recently dropped out of bio-engineering college & moved back in with her dad in Casablanca.  Zoe is experiencing what she hopes in a phase of lack of motivation.  She just doesn’t care to do anything that requires effort.  However, she’s began having these “visions” of a ghostly girl on the tv telling her to find someone named April.  But before Zoe can start to understand what’s going on, she’s drawn into some type of conspiracy after doing a favor for her ex-boyfriend, who happens to be a reporter.  Now he’s gone missing & she has to track him down while avoiding the Big Brother-esque government.

So far the story has me interested.  Zoe’s a relatable heroine, & I like that she’s just an ordinary girl, not some super soldier.  Don’t get me wrong, I like playing as the “chosen one,” but I find stories about unlikely heroes more engaging.  The game reveals just enough story to keep you wanting to learn more.  For example, one minute I was preparing to leave futuristic Casablanca, & the next I’m in some World of Warcraft world fighting knights with a staff.  What’s more, the character is called April, which is the same name as the girl Zoe is supposed to find.  Consider my interest piqued.

The gameplay has been adequate as well.  Nothing ground-breaking, but it works.  Zoe gets illegal tools from her friend that allows her to use her phone to hack & pick locks, which are all done through minigames.  There’s some stealth in the game, but it’s no Thief.  You basically just crouch & avoid making noise or getting in the enemy’s sight.  The combat, however, is atrocious.  I don’t expect adventure games to play like Tekken, but the controls are awkward & clunky.  Thankfully, I’ve been able to avoid most combat by using stealth.

Overall, in spite of the dated controls & graphics, I’m enjoying my time with Dreamfall & look forward to finishing it.

– GamerDame

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Filed under First Impressions