Stop me if you’ve heard this story before. A hard-boiled former detective has to use his special abilities to solve the one case that got away, the murder of his own wife. Sound familiar? OK, well let me continue a bit. So, Amanda, the woman who acts exactly like a cat, is flying through the air, while someone else is eating a stack of four slices of pizza at once. All the while, the main character is figuring out how to travel back in time once again. Now we’re getting to the good stuff. This is D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die in all its glory, but also in all its frustration.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die plays out like a traditional noir-detective story, but with the craziness that accompanies many Japanese games turned up to eleven. Coming from developer Swery65, this isn’t too surprising since his catalog of titles has earned him a reputation as a sort of auteur game designer. With D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die he has done a great job of taking a familiar story and adding in the unfamiliar and even the insane to make it feel fresh and new.
The story, as I indicated above, is quite cliche and formulaic at its base. David Young is a former Boston detective who now works as a private investigator. His wife, who he annoyingly refers to as “Little Peggy” every single time, was recently killed. Her murder could have some connection to Young’s biggest case ever “Real Blood”, and he is using his new-found ability to solve that case and the mystery of who killed his wife. That ability is the first hint of the surreal nature of the game. David Young can use special items called Mementos to leap into the past, either observing certain events or possibly changing them.
I enjoyed the twists and turns offered by these episodes, but the lack of any major payoff hurts the overall experience.
Playing out as a point-and-click adventure much like The Walking Dead, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die has you choose dialogue options, scan the area for clues, and interact with the environment through either Kinect gestures or controlling a cursor with a gamepad. Through the dialogue you will be scored on how well you remain in character, you aren’t shaping your own like in other games of this ilk. If you choose the wrong dialogue box, say insulting someone who your character would actually be nice to, you will be slightly penalized. Action scenes are played out with a standard quick-time-event system. Though the gestures and controls coupled with the limited timing and the game’s adaptability to your mistakes made them feel more interesting than past QTE sequences. The Kinect controls unfortunately never worked properly for me, so I decided to play with the controller most of the time which actually worked fairly well. If only the Kinect wouldn’t have sensed every movement I made as a signal to switch back to the opposite control option I would have been golden.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is an episodic game, with this release consisting of a Prologue, Episode 1, and Episode 2. This is currently the only thing holding the game back from being a classic narrative experience for me. I enjoyed the twists and turns offered by these episodes, but the lack of any major payoff hurts the overall experience. I was able to tolerate and sometimes enjoy the more out-there elements with the hope that I would come to some sort of understanding about how this world functions. Unfortunately the game leaves things with a cliffhanger, which does have me anxiously anticipating the next installment, but causes the preceding chapters to feel far too incomplete. Not to belabor the reference to The Walking Dead, but that game had individual episodes that featured a distinct beginning, middle, and end followed by the tease for the next episode. D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die probably would have fared better with me if by the end I felt like I had played through an entire experience with more to come later.
But the experience that is present in D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is one that few other games even try to achieve. Offering up unique elements of both story and gameplay regularly while creating a bizarrely fascinating world in which to play. Players should be warned though, if they don’t have an open-mind or a predisposition to enjoy weird things D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die might not work at all for them. There were multiple times during the game where I sat staring at my screen wondering what the hell was going on, but at the same time I was happy that a game was being a totally surprising experience. Let’s just hope that future episodes are released soon and can answer the many lingering questions left at the end of this too-short experience.
D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die
- Available On: Xbox One
- Published By: Microsoft Studios
- Developed By: Access Games
- Genre: Action-Adventure, Mystery
- US Release Date: September 19th, 2014
- Reviewed On: Xbox One
- Quote: "D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die is a unique and surreal experience from start to finish, but its episodic nature leaves players feeling unsatisfied. Open-minded gamers will enjoy the experience, but those seeking traditional story and gameplay should avoid."