Monday 5 November 2012

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey Review (Xbox)

For the uninitiated, The Longest Journey is one of the most highly acclaimed point and click adventures in the history of the genre. It focused on the character of April Ryan, an art student with a destiny of great importance. Set in a near future April discovered she could move between what she saw as the real world (Stark) and the realm of magic (Arcadia). Dreamfall picks up some years later with a new character Zoe Castillo.

First off, it's important to point out that not having played the first game will in no way effect your understanding of what is going on. Zoe Castillo, the first of three characters players will control throughout the adventure, knows as little as any new player would coming into the series. Thus she discovers things at the same time we do which allows everything to remain cohesive and players are not left scratching their heads.

In adventure titles such as this to reveal the plot would be to take away a large amount of the game itself so instead we will focus on the many reasons that you should buy and play it through to the finish. What Dreamfall does very well is bring things to life. Characters, worlds and storylines are all presented in such a way that players should be hooked from very early on. While there are a few slow patches to begin with, things soon become very intriguing. Dreamfall is a title that just when you think it is about to get dull it gets even more interesting, indeed if it was not for the fact that sometimes we had to sleep then there would be no reason not to have played through from beginning to end in one go.

One of the main things that bring the worlds to life is the excellent art direction that makes areas look both apt and interesting. There is certainly no generic level design here with the most ordinary of locations being presented in a way that holds the illusion that the game is set in a very unique and real world. Furthermore, the contrast between the two worlds is stunning with some of Arcadia's locations being absolutely jaw dropping.

The next move to keep players hooked is the high level of scripting and voice acting. Dreamfall, is a game that relies on large amounts of conversation and unlike many games we didn't feel the need to skip through dialogue, instead waiting to let the characters speak it rather than simply reading the subtitles. This is mainly due to the three main characters being both interesting and very likable. Most games can't manage to get one character you actually care about, but here you have three that you feel a real need to protect.

The only thing that doesn't really work is the very infrequent combat. Characters have a simple hard attack, light attack and block system and it's very rigid and slow paced. Combat happens very rarely and the few times it does it's normally a formality to dispatch your opponent in order to push the narrative forward. It may only serve as a means to not have to put a cut scene in to move the plot forward but that can't hide the fact it's still a bit ropey.

As with all adventures most of your time will be spent in conversation or solving puzzles, unlike most adventures the puzzles in dreamfall are normally quite simple affairs. The game is set up so you will never have a huge amount of items on you. Most of the time it's about sneaking in somewhere to find a key or using your mobile to hack a lock via one of the short mini games. While this may seem basic it keeps the narrative fresh and moving along at a good pace.

Dreamfall is a very important game for the adventure genre; here we have, without doubt, the best transition of an adventure title from two dimensions to three. There is none of the general silliness of Fahrenheit and the pacing and puzzle structure is much better than Broken Sword 3. If the adventure game genre is to survive this is the way to do it. For the first time (and having played the first game) we see a world that was always thought about in three dimensions and unlike Broken Sword and Monkey Island the worlds of Stark and Arcadia need to be three dimensional because they come across as fully functioning worlds. The two dimensions of The Longest Journey were always holding these worlds back, now they are alive.

We have not seen a game so enthralling for a long time and the only thing that stops it from achieving perfection is the slightly bitter feeling you may feel upon its ending (for more reasons than one). It may be a little short, but then with this amount of quality it could have been any length and people would still want more. In years to come this may be one of the titles people look back to as a moment when a genre truly evolved, for now we can only bask in its brilliance. All in all and absolute work of genius that everyone needs to play from start to finish, here's hoping the next title in the series emerges sooner rather than later.


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