D4 (Dark Dreams Don't Die)
It’s no surprise to anyone that the mainstream gaming industry is stuck in a rut. Bloated with safe bets and sequels, it takes a breakout hit from the indie market or an ambitious auteur of a director to make something bold enough to truly stand as interesting and unique. Representing the latter, Suda51 has been well-known for making unabashedly strange games for some time, but lesser known is SWERY, largely famed for his coffee-soaked Twin Peaks homage, Deadly Premonition. Possessing an endearingly clunky, aggressively strange charm to it, the open-world murder investigation was often hampered by strange controls, awkward systems and occasionally mundane side-quests, but shone as a beacon of weird, compelling drama. SWERY’s new opus, an episodic murder mystery called ‘Dark Dreams Don’t Die’ (D4 for short), looks to follow in these footsteps, warts and all, but does it possess the same quirky personality to establish this as a classic as well?
As far as referencing goes: absolutely. D4 is framed as a serial crime drama, right down to the Law and Order style opening credits and implausibly large Boston apartment. As stubbly white guy du jour David Young, you use your ability to ‘dive’ into the past using certain items to solve mysterious cases. These cases are only steps on the path towards David’s true goal, however: finding the person only known as “D” who murdered his wife, Little Peggy. The game opens on a case that seems unconnected: on flight AG 117 to Boston, a courier for a potent new drug called ‘Real Blood’ inexplicably disappeared mid-flight during a freak lightning strike. With no leads save for Peggy’s dying words, “Look for D”, there’s nothing to do but dive into the past and try to find the truth.
So we start off weird, and it only gets weirder. Like Deadly Premonition before it, D4’s main crux of “Look for D” is merely the foundation upon which a cast of extensively weird characters can flourish. SWERY’s meandering narrative has you wandering up and down the plane, doing everything from checking plane windows for an impressively paranoid passenger to catching clovers out of the air for a man wedged in an air vent. The commitment to characters over core story is Twin Peaks to the core, right down to the oddly-spoken dream giant and omnipresent owl; this weirdness even extends to the battles, creating many laugh-out-loud moments when all the serious murder investigation is punctuated by David running on top of barrels and having to block flying knives by spitting out his bubblegum.
How it actually plays, however, is an odd duck in a less charming way. Players can choose to use either a controller or the Kinect to navigate the game with voice functionality present in both. While they work fine, Kinect controls have the same problems Kinect controls always have: a gamepad is far easier to use than sweeping hand motions, leading to several times where unresponsive reception can actually hinder your performance. Working with both, it became clear that the action sequences were far better while using Kinect, while basic exploration was much better suited to the controller. Switching between the two is the best option for the full experience, but you won’t lose much by committing to just one.
All other mechanics are dependent on three meters: stamina, vision, and life. What you’ll be handling most of the time is your stamina bar, which depletes whenever you interact with something and replenishes with consumption of food. Vision is a kind of Detective Mode, highlighting important clues in yellow. Life, predictably, is your life, and rarely comes into play outside of action sequences. There are enough things to refill your bars just laying around that you’ll never run out, reducing it mostly to a reason to exit your dive and go have a chat with Kaysen over lunch. In the same way, the extra cases you pick up from characters can become busywork as well. Though the oddness of the dialogue and situations are their own reward, the bonus credits, stat boosts and extra costumes you gain don’t hurt either. All of it serves as a way to gather the essential clues in each chapter, ending each episode with the dramatic reveal of David putting it all together.
- Bizarre characters
- Compelling episodic story
- Consistent humour and pacing
- Kinect controls are still Kinect controls
- Core gameplay can become repetitive
Summary: For fans of Deadly Premonition, one question is easy to answer. Yes, everything is just as strange – maybe even moreso from what we’ve seen in these first two episodes. The staggered release makes for good episode ‘breaks’, feeling as if you’re following along with a season of TV rather than just waiting for the next chunk of game. Though the playtime is short – two episodes and the prologue will only fill about six hours – the quality of the writing means that it’s very easy to feel as if you got your money’s worth even if you’re taking a chance on something new. The search for “D” has been a good time so far, and what’s next can only get stranger.