I so wanted to love Deadly Premonition, Hidetaka ‘SWERY’ Suehiro’s bonkers but ultimately broken love letter to Twin Peaks. I’m a huge fan of the TV show, and loved the way in which the game captured the surreal atmosphere of David Lynch’s unforgettable drama / supernatural / psychological / thriller / horror / murder mystery series, but honestly, that game had far too many problems to be considered a genuinely enjoyable experience. It had its moments (plenty of them in fact), but despite its unquestionable high points, the underlying technical issues ultimately tarnished the overall experience.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die on the other hand, while still utterly bonkers, and certainly not without its technical shortcoming, is, while not as memorable as Deadly Premonition, a better made and subsequently, more enjoyable experience. The premise isn’t as immediately likeable as that found in Deadly Premonition, but as a first episode, offers more than its fair share of satisfying SWERY branded insanity. The game’s may have very little in common in terms of mechanics and storytelling, but make no mistake, this is the work of one of the industry’s few auteurs, and is immediately identifiable as the work of its primary creator.
As David Young, the occasionally Bostonian hero of the piece (his accent comes and goes at it pleases), you are tasked with finding ‘mementos’ that allow him to travel through time and space, because, you know, he got shot in head. This power, which is never truly explained, leads to a plane and an investigation into one of the passengers with links to a mystery drug and an apparent knowledge of the character, ‘D’, somebody who is alluded to in his dying wife’s last words. We don’t know why this crazy drug and its rather odd side effects (turning folk inside out is one of the more serious ones) are linked to his wife’s death, we have no idea who or what ‘D’ is, and all the while, David’s place in his wife’s murder is also shrouded in mystery – if that all sounds pretty strange, it’s because it is.
The storyline across the prologue and opening two episodes covered in Season 1 ranges wildly from the absurd to the oddly touching with the whole experience made increasingly offbeat by SWERY’s distinctive storytelling techniques and the unique representation of mostly American characters through a decidedly Japanese lens. The story is undoubtedly odd, but it’s these characters that really push the experience over the edge, and like Deadly Premonition, make D4, despite its shortcomings, a game that is very easy to like.
Initially planned as a Kinect only title, D4 now has the option to play with a traditional controller. Neither system is perfect, but while the use of the controller is unquestionably preferable for extended sessions, there is something about the physicality of the Kinect control scheme that fits in perfectly with the D4 experience. As always, there are technical issues along the way (as there always are in Kinect-inspired experiences), but there is no getting around the fact that D4 was clearly designed with Kinect in mind and thusly feels like the more natural fit during gameplay……put it this way, putting down a toilet seat (one of the first things you do in the game) is a lot more enjoyable with Kinect than it is without.
Made up of either basic gestures or very simplistic commands, D4 is more about the storytelling than it is about the actual gameplay experience. Falling somewhere between Telltale’s story driven adventures and the more hands on likes of Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls, D4’s gameplay rarely goes beyond the most basic of inputs with only the surprisingly effective QTEs and a collection of decidedly basic puzzles providing anything approaching traditional gameplay.
Saying that though, simply questioning those on the plane is entertaining enough with the consistently fantastic characters combining with the ever present ‘sync meter’ to great effect. Said ‘sync meter’ gives you an going score linked to how consistently you react in character, giving you the option to take things in your own direction or play the meta game and keep your answers in line with David’s character.
Further to this, you’ll also need to keep an eye on your stamina gauge which plummets each and every time you complete an action. This gauge, required for your ability to pick out interactive objects can be subsequently refilled from food and drink found on the plane or from the fine cuisine found in your apartment’s kitchen. You can visit your apartment at any point during the game via magic powers or whatever, and while the implementation of this gauge does feel largely irrelevant, it does at least encourage you to visit your apartment in which you can converse with your partner or have a chat with the odd lady who acts like a cat who may or may not actually be a cat…..as I said, this is an odd game. These moments add a bit of variety to proceedings by providing an additional location while delivering a nice change of pace from the on-board shenanigans constantly taking place.
Like its predecessor, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die certainly won’t be for everyone, but like, Deadly Premonition, those who click with its quirky storytelling, unique cast of characters and strangely endearing mechanics will find an experience quite unlike anything else on the market. It’s far from a polished experience, but it has clearly been made with love and, if nothing else, certainly represents a step-up in technical quality for SWERY developed video games. The idiosyncrasies we have come to expect are all present and accounted for; they’re just wrapped in a slightly more consistent package which ultimately means a more enjoyable gaming experience for all involved. As for what season 2 will bring? I wouldn’t even hazard a guess.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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