Title: Dreamfall Chapters
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Red Thread Games, Deep Silver, Funcom
Developer: Red Thread Games, Funcom
Price: PS4/Xbox One; £25/$30 Steam: £24/$30
TL;DR: I’ve never been so confused and so enthralled. Ever.
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Dreamfall Chapters is an odd beast. It’s an old, old series, with the first entry into the series releasing in 1999 as a humble point and click adventure game. Gonna be honest, presentation wise? This isn’t AAA fare, not even close. But for some reason, I’m going out tomorrow to buy a hard copy on disc, and maybe try and get my ancient PC version of The Longest Journey (the aforementioned, ancient predecessor) to run on my machine.
Why? Read on…
Even from that trailer, you can see what I mean, throwing the story at you thick and fast, akin to drowning a reader in molasses. The character models are stiff and awkward, with grainy textures, multiple instances of hair clipping through hoods (Anna is a particular offender) and lip sync is non existent. The voice acting is mediocre at best, though I am giving them credit for using actual British actors this time (Zoe’s VA, Charlotte Ritchie, was the voice I instantly recognised after binging Call the Midwife all the way through), though it is the tired trope of medieval fantasy in Britain.
It’s the same with the gameplay – there isn’t actually a whole lot of it. You wander around Stark or Arcadia, looking at things, and talking to people, so it’s at least a step up from point-and-click. You’re mostly stuck at a walk or a really slow run, holding down R2 to the point your fingers start to cramp. There is a lot to look at, though; while the environments do feel very boxed in and claustrophobic and because exploration really isn’t this game’s thing, Kian and Zoe do have a lot to say about talking bins and the like.
This is one of those games where the story saves the day. And yes, it’s not perfect; this is a game for its existing fanbase, pure and simple. It assumes you know who the hell that woman is in the opening cutscene, so pro tip, game devs; don’t give your two female leads the exact same skin tone and hair colour, because it leads to very confused reviewers. There’s a whole tonne of world building and lore that doesn’t get explained because the game assumes you know it all already. Most notably, who April Ryan is, and why I… should care? She’s a name, not a person. Same thing; why are the Azadi committing magical genocide? Admittedly, I haven’t finished the game yet (hence this being a one hour tour, as I’m about halfway through), but I’d really like to know this.
What was the Collapse? Why are countries pushing for a unified Europe (you can insert your own Brexit joke here), why do they all have artificial suns, and really, most of what Arcadia believes in, because I think there’s at least two different belief systems I’m struggling to keep track of. And how does Saga, as a little girl, have an American mother, a Scottish father, and somehow wind up with a Polish/Swedish/something definitely not any of the aforementioned accent?!
And whilst the dialogue can be pretty interesting, albeit poorly delivered, 99% of the time, the lack of motion capture and polish really does show, especially when the characters are interacting with each other. Zoe and Reza’s kissing scenes are awkward at best, the pronunciation Kian’s name keeps fluctuating, and there’s one unintentionally hilarious moment when Kian walks in on an Azadi general allegedly sexually abusing a Dolmari girl. When Kian bursts in, supposedly catching the guy in the act (see the screenshot above), all we see is the general kneeling down, the girl sitting on the floor and cowering, all stock still, until Kian (I quote, verbatim), threatens to “cut off his cock and shove it down his throat,” and punches him, really, really awkwardly, in the face.
Now, you’re probably assuming I hate this game as much as I did The Technomancer. And that’s where you’re wrong. Because despite all of its flaws, Dreamfall Chapters’ story really, really shines through as something the team put a lot of love and effort into. The worlds feel alive, with their own cultures and mannerisms – they have their own gods, their own swearing, their own disasters, their own organised religions, political infighting… it goes on. It builds up. And most of all, it’s damn intriguing, because despite being really confused, most of the time, I did like what I was listening to.
It may not be the best presented, but when you’ve got several sentient, intelligent races fighting against their persecution and right to preserve their own culture, that’s interesting. All of them have their own ways of going about things – there’s a nice, if slightly clunky conversation, between Kian and Lihko about how Azadi are okay with their soldiers being gay, whereas Dolmari aren’t. I got the other scene, with Enu, who gave a hilarious “Oh that’s totally fine, I can set you up with my friend!” line. It adds colour, it adds flavour, and I really do applaud the devs for having a diverse cast, for a change. It’s great to have different accents, different races, different sexualities attached to characters, as opposed to the same formula, time after time.
I’m holding judgement of the story as a whole, and the apparent choice system, until I’ve finished it. Overall, I’m really enjoying this game; yes, it looks like it waltzed straight out of the PS2, with mediocre at best voice acting and graphics. But Dreamfall Chapters follows the same vein as my beloved Beyond Good and Evil does; charming, colourful, with a fantastic story to tell. I’d really recommend it, especially considering the price.
- The lore and worldbuilding is neck deep, and it’s glorious
- A fun, diverse range of characters
- Actual British voice acting
- The graphics are low poly, grainy textured, and lip sync is non existent.
- Aforementioned actual British voice acting isn’t that good.
- Why can’t I run faster than a very slow jog?!
16 in the UK for strong language and violence, M for Mature, including blood and sexual themes, which is pretty apt. It deals with some pretty heavy themes (suicide bombing, for example), even if the graphics can’t quite give it the impact it needs.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a digital code of the game provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.