Release Date: April 17, 2006
To many adventure-game fans, The Longest Journey was one of the last great adventure titles released on any platform. The perfect blend of epic story, deep characters, beautiful setting, and intriguing puzzles made the game an instant classic and was universally heralded by critics. Now, after so many years, delays, and cries of fan anticipation later, the long-awaited sequel is almost upon us. Fans of the brilliant original, commence anxious nail-biting … NOW!
Things have changed; that’s probably the safest way to say it. Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is a direct sequel, but it behaves so differently from its predecessor that it’s going to bother some fans of the original right from the start. Dreamfall is initially set in the not-so-distant future, which is consistent with the first game. However, whereas The Longest Journey avoided the dark and dingy stereotype of futuristic landscapes in favor of a more positive visualization, Dreamfall is at times eerily sinister, with strange corporations and organizations spying on the world’s populace and testing the limits of human rights. The undertone of Dreamfall is a bit darker than its predecessor, but it is far from discouraging. This is still the same world we came to enjoy in the original, only now fraught with even greater perils.
Funcom is billing this title as an action-adventure, rather than a strict adventure title. This is rightly so. In a move that may raise the hackles of fans of the original, Dreamfall is viewed and controlled via a third-person, over the shoulder camera. There are also instances of combat and stealth, but these tend to be secondary to the actual adventuring. Early on, our heroine, Zoe Castillo, has to make her way to the gym in order to practice her martial arts for the day. This mandatory appointment serves as a tutorial for Zoe’s fighting moves, which involved a basic attack, a power attack, and block, or guard. Combat mode is automatically triggered when an enemy threatens Zoe, which thankfully isn’t as often as it could have been. The new fighting implementation serves to break up the adventuring elements, and though a bit clunky, it isn’t overly troublesome. Aspyr seems to be aiming to draw in a wider audience to Dreamfall by incorporating action sequences into a traditional adventure game, as Indigo Prophecy did last year.
Despite the above changes that had to be stated for observation’s sake, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is looking to offer just as much fun and intrigue as the first title. The storyline, right from the onset, grabs you with sheer intrigue and propels you down a lengthy corridor of plot twists and turns. As with any great narrative, we are frequented with more questions than answers early on, giving the players just enough insight at key times to keep the hooks firmly in place and guiding them forever forward.
For characters, we meet a largely virgin cast, though a handful of old friends soon rear their familiar faces, a welcome addition that quells the fear of old favorites being forgotten. The Longest Journey was highly regarded for its fine character portrayals; from the protagonist and supporting cast, all the way down to the lowliest peripheral personas, the game delivered a deep story and game experience due in no small part to its colorful inhabitants.
Dreamfall keeps this standard, offering impeccable voice talent and carefully created people we can bond with. My early favorite, a high-tech toy ape by the name of Wonkers, invokes quiet melancholy merely by his display of unconditional love and companionship to our protagonist. He’s just a toy, a childhood gadget that Zoe grew up with, but his finely written dialogue mingled with the spot-on voice acting grabs our attention and makes us connect with him. Likewise, Zoe’s interactions with her father, friends, and neighbors are all so realistic and well-orchestrated that a steadfast bond is invoked early in the adventure.
Controls are always a daunting task for a developer to overcome when visualizing a game for both PC and console release. Certain PC genres don’t carry over well to the gamepad, but Funcom has done a good job with the transition. The menus and inventory have all been streamlined this time around, with the items you are carrying accessible by the d-pad. There is also a feature called Far Focus that allows you to examine important items and landmarks by clicking the left analog stick and sweeping it around a room. With this, you can quickly assay a room for potential clues and interactive objects. This works very well, and you’ll find yourself using it often so as not to miss anything in a particular area.
What is most important about Dreamfall is that it thus far lives up to its subtitle. Though the game is now viewed with a third-person camera and incorporates stealth sequences as well as occasional combat, this really does feel like The Longest Journey, though sporting some newly stylized duds. The main objective of the game is to solve puzzles, unravel clues, and progress the narrative ever forward. The game gives you freedom in certain situations: in one sequence, I had the option to distract someone during an important moment, or I could have chosen another tactic that would have led to Zoe engaging in combat. Choosing the path you want to take in certain scenarios will often generate different outcomes. In another conversation with a character, I was presented with multiple ways to respond to him. I opted for a threatening disposition, and he grew angry and went on a tirade about how I had better not do such a thing again, that he had friends in high places and it wouldn’t be in my best interests to be so stupid next time. It’s almost enough to make you reload just to act out alternate routes to see what else could unfold.
The puzzles I’ve encountered are all within the bounds of logic. Many adventure games ask you to discard your rationality, to think too far outside the box for quest solutions. Dreamfall, like most great adventure games, is different. Chances are you won’t be combining two improbable inventory items to figure out a puzzle here. You’ll use your surroundings and inventory accordingly, and choose conversational responses to elicit desirable outcomes. As with any adventure title, there may be times when you get stuck, but help is only a logical thought away.
I am very impressed with the way Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is turning out. The game is very close to release now, and after five years of waiting for a proper sequel, fans are about to get it. While this may have only been a preview build, the components for a worthy successor to The Longest Journey are in place. Adventure games are very seldom released these days; it may not be a dead genre, but it has definitely diminished over the past decade or so, and many of the titles that do see release tend to be missing more than they offer. Thankfully, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey refuses to sit on past laurels and instead strives to offer as exemplary an adventure gaming experience as its deservedly heralded predecessor.
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