IGN Review of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Anyone who played the original The Longest Journey for the PC back in 2000 couldn't have resisted its unyielding charm. The story, sounds, wildly creative environments and stunningly authentic character interaction were enough to make it a true classic. Six years later, the sequel finally makes its appearance, and things have clearly changed. Though Dreamfall: The Longest Journey retains a few of the best parts of the original, it tacked on a lot of unnecessary gameplay elements while stripping down traditional adventure mechanics, leading to a decidedly less satisfying experience.
Dreamfall clearly tried for a more action-oriented approach, presumably to draw in more fans to the dying adventure genre. Unfortunately, the new direction doesn't lead anywhere enjoyable. There are still puzzle elements at work, involving item collection and combination to open doors, activate machinery, etc., but they've been greatly simplified from the first. Objects eligible to be interacted with are highlighted by blue brackets and are always obvious. Though there are multiple ways to complete some of the puzzles, they're generally too obvious.
You're always told exactly where to go, and along the way you'll generally find everything you need to complete whatever impasse you arrive at. After you've collected everything, it's a simple matter of combining the obvious and implementing each in a step-by-step fashion. There's disappointingly little cause to use any sort of logistical reasoning to progress outside a handful of puzzles. To be fair, there are a hanful of enjoyable puzzles. Perhaps the lockpick puzzles as well, but even those are relatively simple. Several of the game's more elaborate puzzle sequences actually have other characters guide you, telling you exactly what to do in every situation.
While playing through, it's difficult to shake the impression that intelligent design was given a back seat to painfully simplistic fighting and sneaking sequences. The combat is, for all intents and purposes, a total joke. Though it happens somewhat infrequently, you'll occasionally find yourself squared off against a foe with raised fists. Weak and strong attacks form your offensive options, and you're also able to block. Fights usually play out with the enemy constantly blocking, forcing you to use strong attacks to break through. Then they fall over and die. It's one of the most boring, imprecise fighting system ever created, and, should a sequel to Dreamfall ever be made, it should be massively augmented to make it playable or totally removed.
You'll spend a total of about 15 hours playing through Dreamfall, and a surprising amount of that will consist of sneaking sequences. Again, why is there a sneaking system when there could be intelligently designed puzzles? The sneak system is just as simplistic as the combat, requiring you to keep your distance from foes and avoid walking on broken glass to stay undetected. There's no ability to hide in shadows, no noise meters, no ability to crawl or perform special moves, nothing that could be called sophisticated or entertaining. Instead, as long as you stay out of direct sight and hide should an enemy come close, you're successful.
Despite the staggering shortcomings of the newly added "action" elements, they aren't what you're going to be spending most of your time doing in Dreamfall. Mostly, you're going to be watching characters talking with each other, and that's by far the best part of the game. Like the original, Dreamfall continues the tradition of an extremely strong storyline and intricate character interactions, both compelling enough to keep you plodding through the game's action doldrums. A warning to those curious about this game, the character interaction sequences take an extremely long time to get through, sometimes verging on ten minute conversations. Personally I'm a big fan of storyline and strong character, so I loved to see this kind of dedication to building emotion, fleshing out motivation as well as plenty of extraneous character details. However, if you're someone who couldn't care less what a character thinks and would rather just play the game, you're going to hate Dreamfall.
Since the storyline is such a huge part of why people should play this game, I can't really say that much about it. However, one criticism does unfortunately have to be made, and it involves the ending. I'll keep it as brief and vague as possible, but Dreamfall's conclusion was extremely frustrating. I think getting into any more detail would do more harm than good, so I'll just say that the rest of the game's narrative was a joy to uncover. The plot threads that guide you through Stark, Arcadia and beyond can be described as virtual "page-turners," so you'll always want to find out what happens next. You'll also revisit and get reacquainted with many characters from the first title, so those new to the universe of The Longest Journey may feel a little lost once Dreamfall's plot really gets going.
While the character interaction is very good, it does feel artificial at times. All the playable characters, of which there are three primary ones including new protagonist Zoe Castillo, are well voiced. However, since each character can only unload two lines of dialogue before the game needs to load in new speech, some of the sentences are cut up by awkward pauses. On a whole, every character in the game has a unique voice, a unique world view, and unique character traits, making each conversation or fleeting quip memorable for what's said and what's not. Sound effects are generally sharp and complement well the action onscreen. Music is definitely the strongest of Dreamfall's audio aspects, infusing each setting and scenario with an added layer of emotion and effect. Though ambient music dominates much of the audio landscape, you'll occasionally be treated to voiced tracks that, for the most part, are effective at building mood.
Options for different conversation paths occasionally pop up, all producing different responses. Unlike games like Indigo Prophecy, however, choosing different conversation options often lead to the same occurrence anyway. While Indigo's dialogue affected the fates of major characters and plot events, pursuing Dreamfall's deviations of speech and gameplay affect only minor aspects of the game. For instance, there may be multiple ways to disable an enemy or open a door, but the end result never differs. Dreamfall's ending is the same regardless of how you choose to tackle certain obstacles.
Zoe and the rest of the controllable characters exist in a fully 3D world. You'll move them around like you would in a third-person action game, which can be good and bad. It's good because it gives you free range to check out Dreamfall's refreshingly imaginative environments from different perspectives. It's bad because in close spaces, the camera gets confused and will often jam in corners and throw off your directional orientation. The imprecise camera isn't anything that wrecks the game, but it is annoying, and exacerbated during stealth sequences in cramped corridors. There's also an ability to "free-look" to an extent, allowing you to stop and highlight any object around that can be interacted with. Though this is at times helpful, it's also somewhat useless, since moving close to any object highlights it anyway.
While the game looked great on the PC six years ago, Dreamfall doesn't live up to the visual pedigree. For an Xbox game, the graphics are good, but lack any qualities that push them into the realm of awe-inspiring, something that's highly desirable for a game like this. Character models and environments on the PC are much sharper, as might be expected, but it's clear that the game's visuals were limited by creating the game on an Xbox. Many textures around the game world on the PC look like they belong on an Xbox, and each character's hair looks particularly bad. However, lighting on both the Xbox and PC remain impressive, as do the overall designs of each area. Even if you've got your AA setting cranked on a PC, however, you're still going to notice Dreamfall's Xbox graphical roots. Character animation is less impressive than the setting design. Zoe and others run stiffly around with their arms pumping in a highly artificial manner. Facial animation suffers as well and pales in comparison to something like Half-Life 2.
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