After a year of eagerly waiting for the next episode of The Dream Machine, Chapter 5 has finally been crafted, and it picks up right after Chapter 4, in which Victor successfully removes the tentacle from Edie’s dream. Mr. Willard and Selma Theed are the remaining occupants in the building, and in order to fulfill Mr. Morton’s final request, Victor needs to enter their dreams and destroy their tentacles, too. Since Victor hasn’t gotten to know these neighbors yet, getting access to their rooms will prove to be tricky.
Although I knew there would be a long wait between the chapters, the reorientation was still rough. Without any synopsis, I started back in Edie’s dining room and slowly revisited each available location (excluding dreamscapes) to refresh my memory and regain a sense of what has been or could be done. Conversely, having played chapters 1 to 4 in sequence, the lack of any recap or pause aided such a smooth transition between chapters that the progression was pretty much invisible. Perhaps the episodes could have been handled better with different information presented depending on a sequential or episodic play, but since the apartment is not too large, it wasn’t long before I was comfortable again.
Unlike previous chapters, the dreamscapes seem to shed little light on the characters involved. In past iterations, Alicia’s and Edie’s dreams were manifest with subconscious clues about their personalities, history, and beliefs — for instance, Alicia’s dream is a ship full of eager-to-please Victors with her as captain ordering them around, hinting at the relationship dynamic between the two. With minimal conversation between Victor and his remaining neighbors, the lack of character development in the dreams (aside from clear-as-day personality tropes) almost contradicts the supposed sensitivity of having access to them. Perhaps one might feel differently if they play the chapters in quick succession — the hiatus may have contributed to these feelings. Be that as it may, with the story drawing to a close in Chapter 6, there isn’t much more to say while building towards the finale, as Mr. Morton’s backstory is rather resolute.
However, these criticisms are just a minor part of the game as a whole. The puzzles are excellent, with little hand-holding and even less random combining. In many point-and-clicks, the frustration arises from figuring out what the developers want you to think. Remarkably, The Dream Machine gently guides you towards the developers’ ideas while deftly avoiding bashing your head with hints. Admittedly, the puzzles this time are more confusing than previous chapters, but that may have been due to the long break. Once I figured things out, my reactions were mainly, “oh, I should’ve thought of this sooner!” and not “how was I supposed to know that?” which is the fine line that separates the exceptional and inferior games in this genre.
Identical in presentation to its predecessors, Chapter 5 is built out of clay and cardboard, retaining the surreal atmosphere that permeates both reality and dreamscape. In particular, there are two distinct areas, of which one is artfully crafted and bursting with life and nature. The music, as always, quietly lingers in the background to lend an eerie finger. Unfortunately, the chapter contains moments of zooming in on the miniatures, and at those points, the roughness of some details are painfully striking and occasionally repulsive. In some scenes, this works to the game’s benefit, but in others I was tempted to look away. Nonetheless, the medium still works brilliantly overall, and maybe even better for this chapter, as the opportunities to also zoom out provide breathtaking views of the developers’ handiwork.
Though Chapter 5 may arguably be the weakest chapter, it definitely keeps close pace with the rest. Almost all compelling components are sustained, and for fans who want to see Mr. Morton’s request through to the end and perhaps ruminate on Victor and Alicia’s future, this chapter provides a much needed stepping stone to the conclusion. Like before, I can’t wait till Chapter 6 comes out so I can be sad that I can’t play anymore.