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August 2022


Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SCEI
Developer: Media Molecule
Release Date: Feb. 14, 2020

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PS4 Review - 'Dreams'

by Andreas Salmen on Feb. 27, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Dreams is a sandbox game, an endless explorative journey where players can create and share their dreams, and then surf an endless dreamiverse of single assets, games, animation, music and everything in between.

Buy Dreams

Sometimes, you review a game that feels overwhelming and you aren't sure how to start — looking at you, Death Stranding — but it's easy to build an opinion. Dreams is an entirely different beast, as it's a combination of creation tool, game collection, media platform and social network. Described as a game to create games, collaborate on new projects, and share them, there are almost no limits except your imagination. Given the challenge of reviewing such a behemoth product, we won't be able to jump into all of the nitty-gritty, but we'll weigh in about whether Dreams is the game to end all games.

Dreams is a game engine at heart, complete with tools to create games, models, movies, music, sculptures or anything else you can cram into a 3D space. A little imp on-screen is controlled with the motion controls of your DualShock or Move controllers, and you can animate or build almost anything you'd like. You can even build logic to create a game experience of your own. Experience in the field is a plus, but even if you've never attempted art, design, music or programming, it's easy to approach Dreams' creation suite. It's not a breeze, but it cuts out many things that would otherwise get in the way.

After we've completed our creation, we can share it with the world. Dreams also functions as a distribution platform and social network. We can vote on a creation, follow it or its creator for updates, and leave comments. We can also check if a creation uses assets from other creators, or the other way around. Everything is interconnected and works together cohesively. That is great on paper, but it is highly dependent upon the quality of the content on the platform.

Dreams' creativity and attention to detail are evident from the first few moments. Based on its previous titles, Little Big Planet and Tearaway, Media Molecule is known for its almost aggressive creativity and cutesy art direction. Although Dreams immediately throws you into a tutorial and offers a variety of input methods, it remains upbeat and lovely every step of the way. This is where we chose an "imp," which is the equivalent to an on-screen mouse cursor and usually motion-controlled, but we can opt for analog sticks. We learn the basics, like moving objects to decorate our home space, which other people can see in the so-called Dreamiverse. While that is fun, there's the natural desire to jump into the thick of it and actually create something.

The biggest question many people ask is whether Dreams is worth the entry fee if you can't (or don't want to) create anything. Is the content alone worth the price of admission? That is a difficult question to answer. As Dreams' content is mainly user-created, it changes rapidly over time, and not all of it is good or beefy enough to be called a game on its own yet. In the beginning, the main draw is Media Molecules' offerings that were created within Dreams, spearheaded by the feature-length movie showcase, "Art's Dream." Featuring surreal scenery and beautiful art direction, the two-hour-long film is an impressive showcase of the potential of the tools. It quickly jumps between different gameplay and art styles to show off as many things as it can. The music and story are especially great, but the gameplay feels a bit shallow at times. It almost feels like a highlight reel as we transition from beautiful cut scenes to a traditional adventure, a platformer, and eventually a twin-stick and side-scrolling shooter. It's a fun and polished experience, but given its limited length, it's hardly worth the full game price. The developer will surely add more content in the future, and there are other, smaller experiences, but how much content will we see a year from now?

Thankfully, the community is trying to catch up with full force. Dreams already had many creations in its library due to its beta and early access period, but the pace of content creation has picked up noticeably since the game's launch. You'll find a lot of impressive showcases, demos, and first attempts. Some of the available mind-boggling creations have the polished production value of proper AAA titles. The community is really into remaking existing experiences (like the famed PT demo) or creating their own games in existing IPs. There is a lot of original content that ranges from cool platformers to shooter demos. What's magical about Dreams is that no matter how simple or complex the game is, the fact that it was created within Dreams often makes you more interested and appreciative of what you're experiencing.

Given the relative simplicity of the creation process in Dreams, I wouldn't be surprised if we see actual game developers prototyping and testing gameplay ideas in the game. If Sony plays its cards right, this could become a very collaborative content platform with genuine exclusive games on a small scale. With further additions on the horizon, such as full VR support and online multiplayer, it could very well bloom into a platform to experience a variety of community creations.

Experiencing these creations is also very seamless. You can browse content in an interface that's similar to Netflix and YouTube, with load times that aren't too much longer than buffering a video on those platforms. It's extremely easy to jump in and out of experiences without dropping a beat: like, comment, follow and move on. There's also a way to automatically jump through a randomized list of creations if you want to be surprised, and I usually found that to be one of the best ways to experience a diverse subset of user creations that I would not have found otherwise.

Dreams creates an awareness around game design and development by providing simple-to-use tools and breaking down the creation experience into digestible systems. Even if you're not into that, the content and how you consume it is impressive on its own due to solid, interconnected systems that make Dreams an incredibly coherent platform to share content. No matter what you do in Dreams, the game registers and rewards you for it. You gain experience with everything you do, and you level up accordingly. The game takes into account what activities you are mostly involved in and adds titles to your user. If you play a lot, you'll be marked as a player, and if you create animations, you may be an animator or designer. It's not only what you do but also how other people interact with you. If I create an asset and publish it, it immediately becomes available for everyone to use, and if they do, I'll be credited for it in their creation and when people look me up.

In summary, the content side of Dreams is in excellent shape, since it's only been released for about two weeks. There is diverse and interesting content, a great collaborative community, and great systems to consume and interact with user creations. It's simple, interconnected and easily the most natural and feature-complete community I have seen in a while. While it isn't enough to recommend Dreams for everyone, it has the potential to grow into one of the most amazing creation platforms around. If you are interested in creating games, Dreams has a lot more to offer.

Regardless of how remarkable all of the above is, the real star is the adaptable engine and easy-to-use tools. If you've ever downloaded Unity or mingled in any other creation tool, you'll know how overwhelming it can be and how steep the learning curve is. Media Molecule has managed to reduce the creation process to a simple visual editor. Even without even looking at the tutorial, you'd probably be able to place a few shapes in an empty space. Then you can hit up the tutorials.

Dreams has loads of tutorials that encompass arranging objects, adding sound to a scene, composing your own sounds, adding logic and effects, and painting or sculpting. It can be underwhelming and tedious to go through them all if you just want to start creating, but they're pretty good. The tutorials usually present a level that has to be filled in with sounds or mechanics to reach the end of a stage. To teach you the basics, the tutorials gamify the process of adding things to a scene to make it work as intended. There are also masterclasses for bigger projects and smaller how-to videos that focus on small but specific objectives, like creating a squeaking door. With each little tidbit of information, things slowly fall into place and make more sense.

Like all things, there is a time investment to Dreams, and while it isn't as lengthy as learning game development, it isn't exactly a short period of time, either. You don't have to know code, but building logic may not be inherently easy. There's a multitude of nodes that we can use to craft things such as health bars, puzzles, elaborate environments, and inventories that react to the player's actions. It's often not a question of whether something is possible, but rather how complex the build process will be. That is impressive potential for Dreams' $40 price tag.

The same is true for placing objects that can be copied, structured and placed in a variety of ways, so repeat actions are fast and natural. I could talk for ages about the editor and its small and subtle ways in which it makes things much easier, but that would take ages to get through. Everything that you'd want to do is probably here, and it's easy to use without hindering your options too much.

A lot of that ease of use hinges on the controls. As mentioned earlier, our imp cursor is the universal tool to move and alter objects. It's moved by the motion controls of the DualShock and works amazingly well, but the controls can occasionally feel imprecise. The game has options to negate the freehand motion controls with grids to align objects or the option to snap objects to the closest right angle, but as soon as you're trying to draw something freehand, things get trickier. In those instances, the Move controllers are the better choice, and you can alternate between both input methods. Adding the possibility of mouse/keyboard controls wouldn't be the worst idea to provide more options for those who need them. If you have to decide on one control option, the DualShock with motion controls is the best general option for beginners, since it has more buttons for increased functionality.

The technical side is another aspect of Dreams. The game has a performance and resolution mode on PS4 Pro, while the regular PS4 only offers a default mode. Just like other developers, creators are responsible for keeping their creations playable, which is why each creation has three thermometers to indicate how much more can be added to a scene before it reaches a critical point and impacts performance. There are several ways to avoid this, such as cloning assets rather than creating new ones. Overall, everything I've seen so far looks clean and performs well on my Pro. Some creations stutter noticeably when people placed too many objects or added weirdly looping logic to their creations, but that is part of the experience. If it bothers you, why not remix and optimize it yourself? It's probably fair to say that Dreams will live on with the release of the PS5.

Dreams is a social network, a content platform, and a creative suite all in one. It's probably the hardest game to review, but it is easy to fall in love with it. It is incredibly polished and does exactly what it promised to. It isn't perfect, but it is as close as it can be given the game's incredible scope and ambition. There are only minor gripes I can report, and even those pale in comparison to the many things that it does right. It's unknown whether Dreams' potential is going to be realized by the community. It isn't at the point where Dreams is a must-buy for the content alone, but it's vital if you're curious about the game development process.

Score: 9.5/10

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