D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die PC Review
When you are following up Deadly Premonition, a game that was so beautifully weird and tantalisingly strange, offering without a doubt one of the most unique, yet mechanically awkward, gaming experiences in recent memories, then quite the benchmark was set out for Hidetaka Suehiro, also known as SWERY, when he announced his next game, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, from studio Access Games. The title was originally exclusive to the Xbox One and launched September 2014, but tweets from SWERY showed signs that D4 wasn’t doing great on the platform. Fast-forward to the present day and D4 has just released on Steam (most likely won’t come to another console due to the contract with Microsoft), thanks to help from Playism, a small company that helps independent Japanese developers get their work out into the Western world. With the quality of ports from Japanese developers ranging from amazing to sub-par, just how good is D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die on PC?
D4 is a very different game compared to Deadly Premonition, as SWERY switches genre from third-person shooter horror to something more in the line with adventure games, with a bit of Telltale’s quick time events thrown in for extra flavour. The game was a focus for Microsoft’s Kinect device on Xbox One, implementing motion movements to get players intuitively involved with what was going on screen, but the game also included the option for controllers for people wanting to play the traditional way. On it’s move to PC, these Kinect controls are gone (controller options still remain), replaced with modifications to inputs and the user interface to be able to play the game with just the mouse, which actually works fantastic, as all the actions in the game are either focused on point and clicking, dragging and dropping or sliding motions, and the precise input from the mouse means these actions are a breeze to perform, making it a great way to snack on food while you watch the eccentrics unfold with the game’s bizarre story and cast.
The game begins with the main character, David Young, an ex-cop, who is now a private investigator currently “looking for D”, (No! Not the D! You dirty people), as these last words uttered by his wife, Little Peggy, on her deathbed after being murdered, along with a drug called Real Blood, are his only leads into finding the suspect who killed her. David is no ordinary person, as he is blessed with a power that awoke within him after taking a hit to the head from a bullet, which allows him to use specific items, dubbed mementos, and dive into the past. David’s friend from the Boston police brings such an item belonging to a federal Marshall who was on a plane that was struck by lightning, while carrying someone involved with Real Blood. With a link to a disappearance during the lightning strike, the drug Real Blood and the federal Marshall having the name Derek, causing alarm bells for David, since he could be the D, David travels to the past to the scene of the plane accident to unscramble the mystery.
As with Deadly Premonition, the main draw to D4 is the story and the sheer outlandishness that happens during the game’s 3-4 hour tale. This time around, we’re given a mechanically better game than Deadly Premonition, since D4 is constrained to the linear traits that come with classic point and click adventure games, leaving less room for problems. Players do not physically control David, as his movement is restricted to feet symbols that when clicked on will force him to move to that section. The environments can be looked around by moving the camera or clicking on the edge of the screen to twirl David to look in that direction, while the mouse buttons are used to interact, speak or push objects (or people) to stimulate a reaction. As gameplay goes, it doesn’t do anything exceptional to stand out from other adventure games, but it’s the rest of the package that makes D4 a special game to experience.
It starts with the characters, and it doesn’t take long until we are introduced to someone else when Amanda assaults David after he investigates the racket coming from his apartment door. Amanda sounds like a normal name, but when you see the blonde girl dressed up in a black swimsuit costume with a bow in her hair acting like a cat, clawing, meowing and jumping around the place, then you know that there is something unnatural with the people in D4.
The cast of characters increases when you’re on the plane, one of two main areas of the game, the other being the apartment. The apartment is where you chill and look at David’s collection of files, watch TV, eat food and other novelties that relate to finishing small challenges, but David’s cop partner hangs here, the beer belly Forrest Kaysen (a name you might know if you played Deadly Premonition), who aids in supplying mementos for David to use to travel back into the past. He’s a fella who loves his Boston heritage, but for us non-Americans, you’ll be more in awe at how he can hoover down massive hot dogs like gulping down beer or demolish a stack of five pizza slices in a couple of seconds – this guy is a gluttony master, but even so, there’s wackier people on the plane.
With most of the time spent on the plane, it makes sense to flesh that part with memorable characters. You will have opinions on all of them, from the green haired fashion designer that goes by the name Duncan (that’s another D) to the quickly angered steward, Philip Cheney, who seems to inhale some red substance every time he’s about to let lose on someone to calm him back to 100% customer satisfaction persona. Talking to each one of them, getting to know just how bizarre – or great, depending how you look at it – these people are makes it all the more fun to converse. The game has typical adventure puzzles that are really easy to solve, or mundane tasks to accomplish for a woman who suffers from one of the worse cases of obsessive compulsory disorder I have ever witnessed, but these don’t stand out. The quick time events are enjoyable to take part in, because they offer a more outlandish cinematic approach to the action. There’s no game that exists bar this one that lets you take part in a dramatic action scene that involves smacking a glass eye with a mannequin leg… just let that sink in for a moment.
I mentioned earlier that D4 is a better constructed game than Deadly Premonition, but that doesn’t stop it from including an awkward gameplay mechanic that I wish wasn’t there. I’m speaking about the stamina metre that drains down every time you perform an action, such as looking in cupboards, investigating items or speaking to people. If you let this reduce to zero, then it is game over. Stamina is replenished by eating food found in the environment or bought from the white cat in the past that can be exchanged for coins rewarded for performing a multitude of basic actions. The problem with the stamina mechanic is that it feels included for the sake of featuring a game mechanic. You can buy an item that offers a revive on death, and there is plenty of food scattered around to keep the stamina stocked, which makes me think the stamina bar is here just to add a hidden item aspect to the game to extend its play time. If desperate times are called for, you can return back to the apartment and speak to Amanda to stock up on stamina, life points (reduced when you fail quick time events) or new clothes for David to wear.
PC enthusiasts will be wondering what graphical options D4 includes. Well, to be honest, it is rather bare bones. The resolution doesn’t go higher than 1920×1200, but PC modder, Durante, is doing what he does best and created a mod that unlocks higher resolutions. There is also Vsync, dynamic shadows and window mode options available, but that’s all you are getting. In fairness, the port itself is very good, as it runs like a dream with no hiccups in performance, and the modifications the developers implemented for the mouse are very welcomed additions. It’s just a shame that I can’t make the game look sharper on this higher resolution monitor.
With a prologue and two episodes included in this package, D4 doesn’t come to a closure as one would love to see. The final action finishes on a rather tense cliffhanger that anyone who has seen the Berserk anime will understand the frustration of not knowing what happens next after such revelations. Of course, with Berserk, you had the manga to continue with, but for D4, there is no guarantee season two is coming, so unless this game does well on PC, then we might never see what becomes of David and the rest of the peculiar cast, and that would be a huge shame.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die should do well though, because even though there isn’t much game to it, the popularity of these cinematic adventure titles do good when the price is right on Steam, and coming out with 10% discounted at £9.89 means it doesn’t hurt the wallet to to experience four hours of what I believe will be the most entertaining and off-the-wall story to grace 2015. D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die might make you want to smash stamina mechanics, but its strange aura is packed with character, unorthodox plot and is very much made from love from its director and team, and while it’s not the best game ever, it’s one that should be given the chance to live on and continue bringing something different to video games, because you can never have enough variety in one medium.