DreamBreak (Playstation 4 Review)
Generally when people wake up in the morning, they stick to a standard routine. They get dressed, eat breakfast and dread going to work. Then, we clamber out the front door and reconcile our minds for the working day ahead, wishing some divine intervention will strike us out of this hellish loop. Though, our protagonist Eugene’s wish for a more exciting daily life gets suddenly realized with the worst case of deus ex machina that he could’ve hoped for.
Eugene is a simple man with a simple life. Working as a janitor at a lowly bar has Eugene in a rut with his daily life, feeling hopeless in his dead end job. Through no fault of his own, Eugene gets framed for murder and becomes wrapped up in a revolutionary conspiracy of diplomats, A.I. and a whole lot of murders, thwarting the feds and the deadliest cutting edge robots USSR has in store.
DreamBreak’s plot rapidly unfolds through a series of retro themed mini-games and a few linear puzzles sections. From start to finish DreamBreak pushes the player forward at a steady momentum, only stopping to throw in some of the retro-esque mini-games that do well to break up the streamlined walking/running segments with something a little more involving, until we are eventually back on our feet. The overall plot of the story and Eugene’s own personal motives aren’t rendered clearly visible to the player until halfway through, something that bugged the hell out of me. Eugene’s own motives for “rebelling” didn’t initially seem directly connected to the framing of a murder. Rather, he noticed a body with a secret government documents laying next to them. And rather than doing the smart thing and handing them over or, better yet, leaving them be, Eugene decides to “get Involved” in a government conspiracy and an upcoming revolt; like he had nothing better to do that day. The plot felt rather shaky and unjustified at the beginning but it all eventually made a bit more sense the deeper I got into the narrative, sort of.
As the story itself isn’t very cohesive, it may not be enough to draw many players into DreamBreak’s dystopian world. And here is where developer Aist tries to reconcile players with replicated bite-sized chunks of good ol’ 80’s arcade games. These segments consist of Eugene riding a vehicle of some manner taking down flying police cruisers and sentient robots. Some mini-games feel straight out of the arcades like Galaga/Space Invaders, whilst Eugene himself controls a lot like Lester from Another World. With movements sluggish and tank-like, each step acts as a whole string of animations before you regain control of Eugene. With majority gameplay consisting of jumping over platforms and the occasional gunfight that sees players simply react and respond to enemy A.I. by firing and blocking when necessary.
While the arcade mini-games do liven up DreamBreak’s mellow and austere nature, they themselves feel awkward to control and just rather… silly. And with the main portions of DreamBreak’s gameplay playing like a heavy footed Pitfall title, the menagerie of 80’s arcade style/genres of gameplay just don’t mix well into one. Leaving DreamBreak suffering from an identity crisis.
Thankfully DreamBreak rests on its cyberpunk aesthetic to really drive home the sense of misconduct and rebellion; slowly pushing out thoughts of poor controls and gameplay from the player’s mind. With the setting being in an alternate reality authoritarian USSR, the cramped and cold atmosphere emphasizes the desperate nature the citizens of the streets of Russia, all the while governing bodies sit idly in their militaristic superstructures, creating a very defined and realised world suitable of the cyberpunk genre. With Aist’s own defined “Cyrillic” pixel art style creating a very believable cold and foreboding look at an alternate post-cold war Russia. Everything about Aist world/character design just firmly fits into place with what a good 2D side scroller should look like.
Though DreamBreak’s creative look at Russian cyberpunk world wouldn’t be complete without an appropriate and accompanying soundtrack. Each area feels aptly adorned with synthetic beats that complete the overall tone of DreamBreak’s residences all thanks to composer Egor Gritsukov. The lively nightlife and extravagant venues are treated the upbeat notes of echoing electronica making the world feel more expansive than it is. Whilst the dreary underworld and industrial areas are ripe with heavy tones that give way for immediacy and dread.
DreamBreak had the potential to be a lot more than it currently is. However, Aist design choices for mixing in rather quirky mini games that feel oddly out of place with the main game and with DreamBreak’s main portion of gameplay feeling heavily underwhelming, puzzles too obvious and the story feeling kind of shoehorned, it’s hard to give it a thumbs up. Though I do recommend checking out DreamBreak’s musical score if you get the chance, I couldn’t suggest buying it for that fact alone. DreamBreak is nothing more than a broken dream.