Published on October 23rd, 2014 | by Chris Scott0
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die Review
Summary: D4 is delightfully weird and surprisingly fresh feeling despite being just a snippet of what is to come.
Four years ago, game director and writer Swery dropped Deadly Premonition on the gaming public. That game was one of the weirdest gaming experiences I’ve had in recent memory. The gameplay and visuals felt like they were ripped from a Playstation 2 era title, while the story was an awkward homage to Twin Peaks. But, despite its shortcomings, the game just clicked with me, and I loved it. Since then I’ve been eagerly awaiting his next title. That game is finally here, in the form of D4 developed by Access Games.
D4 stands for Dark Dreams Don’t Die and is an episodic adventure game, with the two and a half episodes featured in this release being its first season. Players take on the role of David Young, an ex-Boston Police Department detective turned private investigator after his wife, Peggy, was murdered. David, suffering from the traumatic events, has no recollection of that incident other than his wife telling him to “Find D.” That is his sole motivation in life, tracking down this D. Except David doesn’t do this by traditional means. Instead, he uses a power gifted to him when he lost his memory to travel through time and space using talismans he calls momentos. These momentos have a piece of their previous owner imbued in them that allows David to transport to certain events of importance to the talisman. Utilizing an I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine mentality, David gets these momentos from his ex-partner who uses David’s special talent as a means to solving other cases that are possibly related to Peggy’s murder.
Minus the supernatural time travel aspect, it all sounds very much like a standard police procedural on television. And, while it is certainly structured in that way, right down to the 1990s era television style intro theme to each episode, D4 is so much more bizarre than that. Take, for instance, Amanda, who shows up towards the end of the prologue chapter. She looks human, and I’d venture a guess that she is one, but she acts like a cat, straight down to her first interaction with David, which sees her holding a mouse in her mouth and then trying to claw David’s eyes out. And things only get weirder from there.
As an adventure game, D4 obviously focuses heavily on story and it hits that aspect out of the park, particularly the eclectic variety of characters David meets and interacts with. From crazy cat lady Amanda to paranoid passengers on a plane loaded with conspiracy theories, D4 braces no one for the crazy train that it is, and it is delightful. But games, even story-heavy adventure ones, cannot be judged by their narrative alone. The gameplay needs to carry its weight. And thankfully D4 manages to hold its own.
D4’s gameplay relies on a handful of simplistic systems interlocking to create something deep and intriguing. For instance, every movement you make affects your stamina and using all of David’s stamina results in him being removed from his trip through time and deposited back in the real world. But this stamina can be replenished via items you can buy from Amanda (in the real world) or a mysterious cat (in trance world). These items are bought using currency the game grants you for doing just about anything in the game. So while the game encouraged me to explore my surroundings it also made me balance the stamina meter to keep me honest and on point. This balancing act flows into all of David’s activities and interacting with characters can often be delightfully stressful. Many of the characters I came across would give me a mission, like inspecting all the windows on a plane, and a time limit was imposed leaving me with a tough decision. I need the information that will come from completing the task but I also need to be able to finish the task or risk being booted back to Boston. So do I risk pushing forward into unknown activities or do I retreat to replenish my stamina? This question presented me with a real sense of urgency that often isn’t included in many adventure titles.
One thing that is included in many adventure games is action set pieces. Many times in adventure games, the action sequences are the worst aspect of the games (see The Walking Dead Season One). Against all odds, in D4 they shine as being one of the best things in the game. While not anything more than a standard quick time event, D4’s set pieces manage to mesh the game’s crazy cinemas to some perfectly placed controls both on the controller and utilizing Kinect. Yes, D4 is fully Kinect-enabled, and while the game is perfectly playable using traditional control methods, it operates wonderfully via motion control, particularly in these action QTEs. Seemingly a bit more forgiving than the traditional controls in these sequences (which also work well), D4 has players do a variety of motions that fit the actions being performed on screen, actively putting its players directly into the action. It all feels surprisingly fresh when compared to other games.
Nearly everything about D4 is done right, but it does flail a bit when one looks at what the game actually offers in its package. Season One consists of a prologue and two full episodes, and will take anywhere from three to five hours on a first playthrough. Where it ends, the game feels a bit unfinished. And I don’t mean unfinished in the sense that I know there is no more to come either. Season one just kind of ends with no resolution and with no date set for when Season Two will arrive and just feels a bit half-assed. This is a shame, because if the narrative had been fleshed out to complete a more narrow story arc, it would be much easier to recommend. Still, I loved my time with D4 and more importantly, I can’t wait for Season Two to arrive so I can continue this crazy mystery, but some people might just want to wait until D4 is a more fleshed out experience before diving in.