Dreamfall: The Longest Journey Review

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Graphics: 8.0
Sound : 7.0
Gameplay : 4.0
Multiplayer : N/A
Overall : 5.5
Review by Stevie Smith
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is the sequel to the PC’s original The Longest Journey, which was critically applauded but largely missed by the consuming masses as it slipped unnoticed beneath the quality radar. As with most adventure games that rely heavily on story, characterizations, dialogue, and puzzle solving, The Longest Journey series is perhaps best appreciated by those gamers with infinite patience and a willingness to slip joyously into deep narrative waters. However, gamers more suited to the general immediacy provided by the vast majority of today’s videogames may well find themselves fighting sleep within the opening thirty minutes of Dreamfall.

Dreamfall’s story is vast and, in the main, revolves around Zöe Castillo, a college dropout who lives in a futuristic version of Casablanca. Zöe’s life is seemingly stagnant and she longs for some kind of purpose when, suddenly, disturbing ethereal messages begin playing to her through television sets, and her ex-boyfriend abruptly disappears. Zöe immediately sets out to track down her missing ex, which leads to the gradual uncovering of massive conspiracies that affect not only Zöe’s world, but also differing dimensions. Zöe’s ensuing adventures even see her crossing narrative threads with a certain April Ryan (she’s playable) who was the central heroine in the original The Longest Journey, as well as a new playable character called Kian, who’s an apostle from another plane of existence.

However, unlike April’s plucky heroine and Kian’s dedicated warrior, Zöe’s character is generally witless and confused throughout—which may well cause frustration as she seemingly takes an age to grow in that regard. In fact, Dreamfall’s complex narrative might just inspire the same ignorant reaction in its players, too, as they fight to understand the story and also how Dreamfall can be classified as a ‘videogame’ when it clearly feels more like a passively experienced graphic novel. Admittedly, plot-heavy adventure games in the form of Broken Sword, etc, require a degree of patience where the slow pacing of their gameplay is concerned. But, by that very token, at least they offer gameplay; that integral ‘gaming’ element that’s in such rare supply during Dreamfall. Reading and listening to masses of story-driven dialogue and explanation is certainly a great way for character enrichment—and Dreamfall delivers with ease in that sense—but the endless (clever) layering of the game’s narrative and the largely banal nature of its puzzles all-but murders any semblance of excitement, challenge, and genuine gamer interaction.

Characters are controlled in a third-person perspective and the camera dutifully follows them around as they chat with NPCs throughout wide-ranging environments in the hopes of uncovering nuggets of story-related information. As is the way with adventure games and RPGs, a great amount of playing time in Dreamfall is spent chatting to other characters (both integral and peripheral), and then following any given instructions to seek out someone else, or perform menial jobs before promised information is delivered. Needless to say, there’s no escape from bouts of mind-numbing backtracking while immersed in find-and-fetch tasks. The game does offer up puzzles in a half-hearted attempt to impede player progress and rustle up a challenge, but most of those on show are disgracefully easy. Oddly, the game’s biggest challenge lies in its combat component, which is clunky, ill fitting, and certainly the player’s most annoying enemy. Fighting is implemented through a single-button/single-move system, where ‘A’ is ‘Light Attack’, ‘X’ is ‘Heavy Attack’ and ‘B’ is ‘Block’, all of which should make for a seamlessly simplistic experience. Unfortunately, the opposite it true, as there’s an interminable delay between each button press and the resulting on-screen action that pretty much kills any enjoyment or sense of achievement that fighting could have created.

Dreamfall’s presentation is extremely well engineered, and, in terms of visuals, everything from its futuristic and fantastical environments, well-defined characters, and ambient and moody lighting certainly help draw players into the game world. Of course, considering Dreamfall’s scope, environments that initially appear to be offering exploratory delights are often a little disappointing as door after door remains closed and locked to the player’s inclination toward real free-roaming. However, the vast collection of inviting destinations still manages to impress while successfully widening the game’s graphical ambition. Game sound is also a winning addition to the aesthetic, and vocal character performances are particularly strong—which is where so many dialogue-heavy games crumble and fall. Musical accompaniment is stylishly composed and runs alongside the game’s pacing without ever jarring players from the narrative flow but always managing to create believable atmosphere.

Yet, despite such solid aesthetic production value, Dreamfall ultimately lacks any real driving motivation with which to compel the player to endure through the masses of dialogue, explanation, and largely uninfluenced ‘gamplay’. Whether that means dutifully staring at attractive but overly long cut scenes, plowing uncomfortably through dull battles, or prompting the next line of railed speech in yet another yawn-inducing conversation, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey still fails on the most basic of qualifications: it’s not a game. Those willing and wanting to be led through an impressively layered story (that never truly explains itself and leaves many threads untied) are in for a real treat with Dreamfall. The delivery of its narrative content is brilliant, and certainly interesting—up to a point—but most players will eventually blink out of their heavy-lidded stupor and realize that they’re not really involved with the on-screen events.