Well, since I’m still reading the next book I plan to review (“The Damnation Game” by Clive Barker), I thought that I’d take the chance to review a game that I’ve wanted to play for literally years 🙂
Back in the early 2010s, I discovered both “The Longest Journey” (1999) and “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” (2006). These intelligent, profound, story-driven sci-fi/fantasy adventure games absolutely astonished me at the time. So, you can imagine my delight when I heard that this series would become a trilogy thanks to an episodic, crowdfunded third game called “Dreamfall Chapters” starting in 2014.
There was, of course, one problem. The vintage mid-2000s computer I had back then couldn’t run “Dreamfall Chapters”. So, for several years, I didn’t play it. Then, a couple of months before preparing this review, I ended up getting a vaguely modern refurbished computer. And, when a DRM-free version of the 2017 “Final Cut” edition of “Dreamfall Chapters” was on special offer on GOG a few weeks later, the decision to get it was an absolute no-brainer.
However, I should probably point out that because my computer’s Intel HD 2500 integrated graphics were just below the minimum system requirements, I not only had to turn the graphics settings to minimum but also had to tweak the game’s registry entries to lower the resolution to 800 x 600 in order to get a playable framerate (which worked a bit like a resolution scaling does). So, the screenshots in this review don’t reflect how the game probably looks with a proper graphics card and/or using the default widescreen resolutions.
I should also point out that, unlike most game sequels, “Dreamfall Chapters” should only be played after you’ve played both “The Longest Journey” and “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” (in that order). Although the game contains an optional recap video for the events of “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey”, certain important characters, important story events and at least one puzzle will make no sense whatsoever if you haven’t played “The Longest Journey” first. So, play the trilogy in order!
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Dreamfall Chapters”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS for “Dreamfall Chapters” and will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey”.
The game begins directly after the events of “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” with a short scene showing April Ryan’s body being cremated. Then, in a small house, a man waits nervously outside a door whilst his wife gives birth to their daughter.
Meanwhile, Zoe Castillo is trapped in the Storytime whilst her body remains in a coma. In this dream-world, she has several powers that she didn’t have in the waking world and she needs them. The Storytime has become filled with people trapped in nightmares by WATI Corp’s dream-machines and it is up to Zoe to rescue them. After rescuing a child from a nightmare, Zoe meets a mysterious old man who tells her that she needs to wake from her coma because she is needed elsewhere.
After waking up, Zoe’s story flashes forwards several months to the year 2200. She is living in the neon-drenched European mega-city of Propast, still suffering from amnesia despite regular sessions with a psychologist. But, this aside, her life is going reasonably well. She has a low-paying tech job and is still in a relationship, albeit a slightly rocky one, with Reza. The only problem is that there are troops on the street and Propast seems to be gradually turning into more and more of a police state.
A dystopian police state? In a cyberpunk mega-city? Who would have thought it?
Meanwhile, in the city of Marcuria in the magical parallel universe of Arcadia, Kian Alvane is imprisoned in a tower awaiting execution for betraying the Azadi. But, the night before he is scheduled to die, there is a prison riot. A mysterious man knocks on his cell door and tells him that the riot is to disguise his escape. The magical resistance needs his help….
Well, it would have been a fairly short game if he hadn’t been rescued at the last minute….
One of the first things that I will say about this game is that I really enjoyed it 🙂 Yes, it’ll only really appeal to avid fans of the first two games and it is often more like an interactive TV show than a traditional adventure game. But, if you’ve played the previous two games, then this is still an absolutely brilliant conclusion to one of the most epic, powerful and just generally intelligent stories to ever be told through the medium of computer games.
And, yes, this is very much a story-based game. It tells an epic, complex and emotionally-powerful story, with interesting characters, that blends both the cyberpunk and fantasy genres in a unique way whilst also exploring themes of fate, technology, social media addiction, politics, morality, dreams/imagination, life and death etc… If you like intelligent stories or wish that something like a HBO-style TV series also had interactive elements, then this game is well worth playing. Or, to put it another way, whilst the game’s numerous cutscenes aren’t skippable, they’re usually interesting enough that you won’t want to skip them.
Seriously, there’s probably a small DVD boxset worth of cutscenes here and they’re worth watching.
Seriously, I absolutely loved the story, characters, worldbuilding etc… in this game 🙂 Yes, I could probably pick a few holes in parts of the story (eg: the lack of foreshadowing for some later plot twists etc…), but my overall impressions of it were extremely good. This entire trilogy is gaming’s equivalent of masterpieces like like Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics, the film “Blade Runner” or Frank Herbert’s “Dune” novels.
This game tells a story that will make you laugh out loud, that will make you think, that will make you gasp, that will make you smile, that will make you cry and which will probably linger in your imagination for a long time after you’ve finished each gaming session. I’m wary of spoilers, so I won’t say too much more about it but, if you’ve played the first two games, then this is a fitting end to such a beautiful and profound tale 🙂
Seriously, this game is a really brilliant conclusion to the trilogy’s epic sci-fi/fantasy story 🙂
Still, since it is a game, then I should probably talk about the actual gameplay. Although it is frequently broken up by a lot of cutscenes, there is actually gameplay here. It consists of exploration, puzzle-solving and decision-making. Like with “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey”, this is a modern-style adventure game which uses real-time “WSAD” movement controls rather than the traditional “point and click” controls. This helps the game to feel a bit more fluid, immediate and interactive whilst also giving it a very small hint of the role-playing genre too.
Although there are only two large locations (Propast and Marcuria) to explore, I absolutely love the exploration elements of this game. After the extremely linear first hour or so of the game, the fact that the game drops you into a “Blade Runner”/”Ghost In The Shell” style cyberpunk city and then gives you the ability to actually explore it is an absolute joy 🙂
Woo hoo! Some actual exploration 🙂
Even so, there are a fair number of more linear gameplay segments too.
Yes, this isn’t exactly an open-world game and quite a few parts of the game can be a bit linear, but the fact that the two main locations are large enough to require you to use maps and/or memory to get around really help to add some intriguing exploration to the game 🙂
In terms of the puzzles, although I’m terrible at adventure game puzzles (and had to use a walkthrough frequently), they are – by adventure game standards- very logical and probably not too taxing for experienced adventure gamers.
Not only that, some of the puzzles – like this one involving testing out a second-hand robot called “shitbot” (which only apparently appears in one story branch) – are absolutely hilarious too 🙂
In other words, there isn’t really any “moon logic” (unlike the dreaded rubber duck puzzle in “The Longest Journey”) – although one puzzle requires you to know the story of “The Longest Journey”- and the things you need to solve each puzzle are usually reasonably easy to find. Even so, there are a few annoying puzzles – such as “treasure hunt” puzzles where you have to look for hidden items (and it doesn’t help that most of the walkthroughs online are written for the original episodic release of the game, since the game devs changed some item locations in the “Final Cut” version…).
Even so, the otherwise annoying “treasure hunt” puzzles (where you play as a character during the early stages of her life) include some really cool references to “The Longest Journey” 🙂
Finally, the gameplay also consists of decisions. At several points in the game, you’ll be given a choice between two options. What you choose will have an effect on how the rest of the story plays out and some of these decisions may not be as simple or straightforward as you might think (eg: sometimes doing something “good” can have bad effects etc..). This theme of unforeseen consequences is one thing that really helps to make these segments feel meaningful and the game’s world/story feel more realistic.
And, after each decision, there’s also a really dramatic “The Balance Has Shifted” animation too 🙂
These choices are given added weight via the use of the dreaded checkpoint saving, albeit with fairly frequent checkpoints/auto-saves. Whilst I can see why the developers didn’t want people going back every five minutes and trying out all of the different options, it is still a bit annoying not to have that option (especially since I’m sure the first game in the series had a proper “save anywhere” saving system). Then again, given that this game was also released on consoles, this might also explain the more primitive saving system.
Plus, if you’re into social media, then the GOG version of the game (I’m not sure how this works in the Steam version) contains an optional feature where you can connect to Facebook in order to see “helpful” statistics about what choices other players made during crucial story moments. Naturally, I didn’t use it – mostly because I wanted to actually think for myself.
Plus, the optional social media connectivity is a bit ironic in a game that is extremely critical of social media addiction.
In terms of the visuals, this game is brilliant 🙂 Even with all of the graphics settings turned down to minimum and the resolution lowered/scaled to 800×600 (via some registry edits), the game’s locations still manage to look intriguing, beautiful, detailed, unique and/or fascinating. In other words, this game is a great example of the difference between actual art and mere graphics. You can tell that a lot of actual thought and creativity has gone into some parts of the game and it is an absolute joy to behold 🙂
Even on low graphics, this area still looks absolutely epic 🙂
Plus, it’s always awesome to see neon-drenched cyberpunk cities in games too 🙂
And check out this awesome “Riven”-inspired mountain city too 🙂
In terms of sound design and voice-acting, the sound effects are reasonably good, the music adds atmosphere to the story and the voice acting is a reasonably good fit with the characters too (although Kian’s voice reminded me a bit of Sean Bean at times). One intriguing thing about the voice acting is that, unlike in many games, there’s a really good variety of accents here that really helps to make the game’s worlds feel realistic.
As for length, this is a surprisingly long game. Thanks to both it’s original episodic structure and the fact that there are a lot of compelling cutscenes, this game will take you quite a few hours to complete even if – like me – you use a walkthrough for almost all of the puzzle segments. Given that this game is the long-awaited conclusion to an epic trilogy that began over a decade before it was made, the game’s extended length feels more than justified 🙂
All in all, this is a really good game 🙂 Yes, it is more of a story-based game than a gameplay-based one and you need to have played the other two “Longest Journey” games before this one, but given the kind of story that it is telling, then this is more than justified 🙂 As long as you go into this game expecting it to be like an excellent TV series with some interactive elements, then you’ll have a lot of fun here 🙂 As I mentioned earlier, this entire trilogy of games is gaming’s equivalent of masterpieces like Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics etc… and “Dreamfall Chapters” is a fittingly epic ending to such a beautiful story 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.