Funcom’s The Longest Journey is considered by many to be one of the finest adventure games ever crafted. A truly adult story topped with great dialogue and puzzles, I’d be hard pressed to disagree, except in the case of a few LucasArts adventure titles. The second title in The Longest Journey’s series is Dreamfall. Dreamfall is a quality adventure title with one of the best stories in any recent game, but that doesn’t stop it from having some issues, mainly with its new fully 3D environments and movement and inventory control. Despite the issues in the game’s control and GUI, it is absolutely worthwhile for you to snag this game and take it through the paces.
First off, yes, Dreamfall is a sequel to The Longest Journey. While it’s not absolutely necessary to have played The Longest Journey to understand what’s going on in Dreamfall, it’s a definite plus for you to know the events of the first game. The Longest Journey introduced April Ryan, a shifter: one who can move between the modern world Dreamfall starts off in and Arcadia- a world of magic and steampunk. April Ryan plays a large part in the story of Dreamfall, but it certainly doesn’t begin with her. Players begin Dreamfall as a young woman named Zoë Castillo in her ultramodern world. She’s has everything she could ever want: a loving father, a totally sweet robot monkey who happens to be voiced by the same voice as the teddy bear from the movie A.I., and a great relationship with her ex-boyfriend. The characters introduced in Dreamfall are multidimensional characters who are easy to empathize with.
The story is complemented by extremely realistic dialogue. Zoë will swear in situations where you’d expect a young adult to swear, and April speaks exactly as you’d think someone dealing with something they’d left far behind would. The lines in Dreamfall are also delivered expertly by their voice actors. The game garners its M rating almost entirely from the dialogue. It’s far from Grand Theft Auto, because while it does contain elements that are obviously intended for an adult, it doesn’t beat you over the head with anything that’s over the top. Dreamfall, quite simply, is an expertly scribed game with one of the best stories, science fiction or fantasy, in any recent game.
Environments in Dreamfall look absolutely fantastic. Parts of Zoë’s world look like something straight out of Blade Runner’s bleak look at the future, while others look just like a suburb of an older city. April’s world is just as fabulous in a fantasy fashion. Religious zealots have started to become the controllers of regions and have erected massive towers that look just as great as the slums that have fallen into disrepair. Snow and rain will fall in the different regions, and the three characters that you play as will change their clothing based on their situation. Zoë will wear the standard duds you’d see on a girl in her early 20s at the mall while she’s waltzing about her hometown, but switches to much more bleak attire when she’s in sordid parts of the world. The characters’ faces themselves are the only major issue with Dreamfall’s graphics. Zoë looks far better in her original artwork than she does in the game itself. There’s also a bit of tearing in the characters’ faces during speech, but this doesn’t really detract from the game’s overall feel.
Where Dreamfall starts to take a fall is in its gameplay sequences. In an attempt to sell Dreamfall to a wider audience, it was given an environment that the player could fully move about in, a’la Tomb Raider or God of War. What this means, however, is that while the days of pixel hunting are dead, it does become extremely tedious to get to certain items. If two items are right next to each other, players can use a cone of vision to select one or the other of the items, but it can be a chore to position yourself just right so that the cone will hit one item or the other. The cone is actually quite ingenious for a fully-3D point and click adventure game, but it would still be a bit more convenient to have a system not unlike those in many current MMORPGs, where players can both move about and use a cursor to select things. There is no map when moving about your environments, but places are small and linear enough where you can generally figure out where you need to be going without too much of an issue. Additionally, accessing your inventory is a bit odd in Dreamfall. Players can use both the mouse wheel as well as the tab key to open their inventory. However, selection between the items can only be done with the A and D keys, which makes the use of the scroll wheel a bit unwieldy. There is gamepad support with Dreamfall, and while this does make things a little bit better, I still much prefer my games with a good keyboard-and-mouse setup first.
If only a slightly bizarre inventory were Dreamfall’s only issue with controls, however. In another attempt to appeal to a mass market, Funcom has added real-time combat sequences to Dreamfall. These sequences aren’t even as good as, say, the first Mortal Kombat game, and are extremely out of place for a game of this pacing. It may take Zoë, April, or Kian up to two seconds to actually enter a damaging animation from the point that the attack button was pushed. Additionally, Dreamfall has several sneak-’em-up sequences, as well. These sequences can drag on, and don’t make you feel like you’re being Solid Snake, but that you’re actually wasting a bit of your time. If these combat and stealth sequences had any kind of decent pacing or control, they might fit in, but as they stand, they have no place in an adventure title like Dreamfall.
The puzzles themselves are rather simple, though there are several ways to solve each puzzle. The fact that the gameplay is simplistic and not as important as the story’s pacing and dialogue in Dreamfall is actually a plus; when the game’s story is afoot, you simply become drawn in. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few tough puzzles, however, but as a whole, the story is far more important than the gameplay in Dreamfall. Additionally, players can die and must restart from their last save point during certain sequences. Perhaps it’s the fanboy in me speaking, but I much prefer the style of gameplay seen in many LucasArts adventure games where there is no defeat; where nothing can lead to your demise. What does exist of the gameplay, however, is split across three main characters, and it can be simply awe-inspiring to see a place or a sequence of events from another perspective while playing. While it’s not quite as good as the sequencing seen in Indigo Prophecy, it’s still up there as being very top-notch.
If you’re a fan at all of a strong sci-fi or fantasy storytelling, Dreamfall should be right up your alley. Even with the flawed gameplay, Dreamfall’s excellent audio, breathtaking story, and outstanding environments put it on the top of the current adventure heap. Dreamfall is relatively short, about ten hours, but chances are you’ll play through it a second time to get some of the references you missed. Quite simply, if you like an excellent story in your games, go out and pick up a copy of Dreamfall for the PC or Xbox.