Release Date: April 2006
Platform: PC, Xbox
Note: Originally published 27 June 2006
Why on earth should any self-respecting pure point-and-click adventure gamer even consider picking up Dreamfall: The Longest Journey? Its roster of transgressions is unforgivable:
1. It's 3D (shudder). 2. The PC version has unfamiliar controls (quelle horreur!). 3. It's got (sharp intake of breath) COMBAT.
Why bother even reading any further?
Gentle Reader, please believe me when I tell you that if you let such superficial peccadilloes keep you away from this game, then you are missing one of the most memorable interactive entertainment experiences you are likely to have for a long, long time.
I admit even I, Mr. "I Love Hybrids," was skeptical about this game. Why? I started to get suspicious when we were shown the same few scenes over and over again during previews, E3, etc. I began to wonder, "Where the hell is the rest of the game?" I had the dreadful premonition that FunCom was busily obscuring the fact that they had no game.
I am delighted to report that my fears were ungrounded!
Leave Your Expectations Behind and Go With the Flow!
That having been said, I must warn the adventure game player who picks up Dreamfall: If you come at this game with strongly preconceived ideas of what you want it to be, you may not only be frustrated, but you could miss the entire point of the experience.
Dreamfall is a different kind of adventure game. It's essentially an interactive movie. It’s much more Indigo Prophecythan it is Syberia. There are puzzles, yes, but they are few and far-between and not very hard. There's a lot of time during which you simply stare at the screen while long scenes play out. And it's all extremely linear.
However, if you give yourself over to the experience, the game can be one of the most delightful interactive entertainment experiences you've had in quite a while. Why? Simply put, because Ragnar Tornquist and his talented team know how to tell a story.
Girlfriend in a Coma
The lead character in the game, Zoë, narrates the game from deep within a coma. She's a tart, bright young woman who recently dropped out of college and is struggling to figure out her next move in life. She lives in a futuristic Casablanca and has a furry mechanical talking ape for a PDA. Her ex-boyfriend is a journalist, and it's through him that she gets swept up into an enormous tale of conspiracy, murder, and mind control. Along the way she stumbles into the magical alternate world of Arcadia and has a run-in with April Ryan, heroine of The Longest Journey.
I don't want to tell you any more about the story; it's too much fun to discover for yourself.
Though Zoë is definitely the main character, through the course of the game you'll have the opportunity to play several other characters. Who? I’m soooo not telling.
Presentation With Polish!
In addition to telling a compelling story, the game envelops you in a series of stunningly realized environments. Casablanca is a high-tech, pedestrian-friendly wonderland; Venice is a grim urban nightmare; Marcuria is a snowy, contradictory city of intrigue. Dreamfall's captivating gameworld made me think back to Myst -- remember when you'd fire up that game even when you were totally stuck on a given puzzle, because the world was just so beautiful and fun to walk around in?
Remember how wordy The Longest Journey was? I forgave it because the story it was telling was so good. The same is true about Dreamfall, except that every line of dialog is spoken. Even when the dialog scenes are long, they remain interesting. It doesn't hurt that the voice acting is superb (with several actors reprising their roles from TLJ). In an unusual step, game director Ragnar Tornquist also directed the voice production. Such attention to detail paid off big time. A particular pleasure is the return of Crow, voiced once again by the wonderful Roger Raines. Crow is a funny, wry, and weirdly touching character. He’s my favorite comic sidekick in an adventure game since Arthur in Journeyman Project 2: Buried in Time.
In fact, attention to detail is evident everywhere you look in this game. The presentation simply glows with polish and professionalism.
Calling All Graphics Whores!
The graphics of Dreamfall are a triumph of artistry over polygons. While not bleeding-edge technically, the look of the game is vivid and inviting. Particularly noticeable are lighting effects. There's one spot in Marcuria in which you come out of a tavern. The bright sunlight washing over the snowy streetscape is so yummy it just makes you feel good to look at it. The game has a great deal of graphical variety as well, from the dank urban underbottom of Venice to steamy swamps and creepy flooded caves to a sleek laboratory to a forbidding prison. Environments are full of animated details which bring the scenes to life.
Virtually every area in the game does a good job of suggesting that you’re exploring just part of a much larger whole. It creates an intriguing and heady feeling that really encourages exploration. You get the feeling that a whole set of games could fit into this vibrant gameworld.
Sounds and Music
Leon Willet’s evocative music helps provide even more atmosphere. The sound design is vivid and rich.
The game uses an innovative concept of a “focus field” that can extend from the player character’s vision. It’s basically a light cone that you can turn onto the environment as a method of examining or interacting with the world. It may remind you a bit of the way Manny Calavera’s head would turn to important environmental cues in Grim Fandango. The PC controls take a little bit to get used to, but I was up and running within about half an hour. The XBox controls feel a lot more natural.
It must be said that the plot ends up spinning more plates in the air than manages to wrap up, and the end of the game comes too soon and leaves too many questions unanswered. To assuage the frustration the player may feel at the end of this too-brief sojourn into the unreal, I can offer the following two thoughts: First, even though the story doesn’t really complete, what’s there is terrific; and second, Ragnar Tornquist insists that we won’t have to wait seven years for the next installment this time around.
The experience of playing Dreamfall is so pleasant and user-friendly that I think it has the potential to be a “gateway” game, a game like Myst or The Sims, which brings new players to computer and video games. I know lots of gamers who aren’t adventure players who are eating the game up with a spoon. The experience of playing this lovely game reminded me of not only why I play adventure games, but why I play any kind of computer games at all. For any true-blue adventure gamers out there to miss this game would be a shame, because they’d be passing on an unusually lavish treat.
Final Grade: A
System: Intel Pentium 4 1.6 GHz or AMD Sempron 2800+ or higher or equivalent
RAM: 512 MB
Video Memory: 128 MB
Hard Drive Space: 7000 MB
Other: Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c compatible