Dreamfall Chapters (Playstation 4 Review)
In most mediums–in fact probably all mediums–it’s a bad idea to jump into a series in the middle. Starting a long journey at the beginning is vital. See what I did there? So, why do I find myself jumping in amidst the middle of a long running PC narrative with Dreamfall Chapters? Well, this is the first time any entry in the series has been available on a Sony platform.
Starting back in 1999, The Longest Journey burst on to the scene and in the following years received 2 sequels; 2006’s Dreamfall: The Longest Journey and 2014’s Dreamfall Chapters (the PC release of the very game we are now reviewing). I’ll be honest with you, I had no clue about the series until Dreamfall Chapters landed on my lap, but to fully understand what the series was about, I needed to become familiar with story. In short, Dreamfall Chapters is the third entry of The Longest Journey and focusses on 3 worlds; one based in a more magical time, one based in a dreary cyberpunk future, and the final being a story focussed on a character called Saga as she grows up and learns about her multiverse travelling abilities.
Going forward, we are presented with Zoë as she awakens from a coma she fell into at the end of the last game. From there, Zoë becomes an activist in support of a political campaign and starts to uncover the seedy underbelly of the campaign, all while discovering the sinister intentions of the Dreamachines that many of the populace find themselves addicted to. In the past, but continuing his own timeline, Kian breaks free from prison with the aid of rebels who had previously opposed his very existence and goes on to become a key member of the resistance. And finally we are introduced to Saga, a reincarnated character, as a baby. Saga has the ability to traverse the multiple worlds that the game presents and involves herself in changing the timelines. Dreamfall Chapters demands that the player pays utmost attention to its very involving story, with the devil firmly residing in the details.
As a newcomer to the series, I really struggled to piece together the relevance of several parts of the story, but as it started to come together in Book Three I found myself settling into the story. Lines are well delivered and there is a clear thread throughout the universes that builds towards one conclusion. Like many adventure games, your interactions and decisions will impact on the story as it draws to a close. It’s a standard and expected affair in adventure games, but the implementation is well done and the impact of some decisions is very clear – even if a large number of the decisions are presented in a very obvious and binary manner.
Much like the decision based story, Dreamfall Chapters also clings on to the gameplay tropes of the genre. Placing puzzles around some vaguely open plan play spaces. Even with a run button, navigating these areas often felt slow and the puzzles therein could barely be called that at times. Some puzzles relied on you to exercise the process of walking about the maps as opposed really putting your mind to work. A good example would be in relation to finding a missing person: in this scenario very little information is provided, but if you walk by a certain area it prompts the next step of the quest. It’s hardly food for thought when the main crux of a puzzle or investigative work doesn’t leave much of a crumb trail. Other puzzles rely on set pieces placed carefully around the play space, but with little else to interact with, meaning that the answer is relatively clear by through exploration alone.
Thankfully the worlds you are forced to explore are very much alive. Kian’s more renaissance styled world, Arcadia, is packed with different people and feels lived in. There’s a clear history within Arcadia and many of its inhabitants cling to it and the feuds that happened therein. Visually, there are a few cracks where textures meet and the actual design of the world could do with a little less brown, but it is by no means ugly. Then you have the other side of Dreamfall Chapters’ story, Europolis and Zoë’s dream worlds. Europolis is the same dystopian future we have seen in pop culture for years–dull greys contrast against the neon aesthetic we expect from those settings–but it’s really the people that make it interesting, from the rusty to robots to the relatively diverse cast. Ultimately, the worlds could do with a polish and issues with camera and frame rate creep in from time to time, but it’s never as jarring as some of the audio cues.
Unfortunately, there is nothing really standout about Dreamfall Chapters’ audio mix or even its soundtrack, but the delivery of dialogue and differing accents and characters all keep it interesting. One major flaw I would point out is that many of these characters speak over each other and some automatic in-world cutscenes overlap with NPC dialogue in the environment, meaning key dialogue can be lost in these moments.
As a standalone title, I found Dreamfall Chapters very hard to get into but those who do get absorbed are in for a treat. The story and delivery are fantastic and there is a lot to take in within the worlds, even if these worlds are let down by a few visual faux pas and dull puzzles. Ideally the title would have come with the full story, but for players looking for a more involving and complex story than your standard Telltale game, there is a lot to be said about Dreamfall Chapters, but don’t expect Life is Strange level of involvement and delivery.